Web Browser Basics

There are several web browsers in use at any given time. Here are the main ones in use on desktops and laptops as of April 2019 in order based on highest popularity.

Chrome has 63% market share followed by Microsoft Internet Explorer at 10%, Apple Safari at 9%, Mozilla Firefox at 9%, and Microsoft Edge at 8%

Across all devices (phones, tablets, desktops, laptops), Apple Safari moves up to be the second-most popular browser. This is important to remember, because iPads and iPhones will open websites in Safari by default. In general, most web-based products work the best in Chrome, since almost all developers optimize for Chrome first.

Why sign in to the browser?

If you sign in to the browser, you will be able to see your bookmarks and browser extensions on every computer, tablet, and smartphone where you sign into the browser. This means you can have the exact same bookmarks at work, at home, and on your phone. If you log into a classroom or work computer, sign in to the browser and you’ll see your bookmarks and extensions there too.

Zooming In and Out

You can make web pages larger and smaller using keyboard commands. You can also jump back to the default size of the webpage in one step.

PC Keyboard    Mac Keyboard
Zoom In CTRL-plus CMD-plus
Zoom Out CTRL-minus CMD-minus
Jump to Default Zoom     CTRL-zero CMD-zero

Terminology of the Browser

Within the browser, there are windows and tabs. Often, when you insert links, you are given a choice between opening a website in the current window or a new tab. In most cases, a new tab will be preferable.

Image showing the physical location on screen of various functions like tabs, URL pane, and Tools menu

What is the cache?

Your Internet connection is slower than your computer. To speed up site loading, some graphics and logins are downloaded to the hard drive of your computer through the browser so that they don’t have to download the next time you visit the page. Squirrels cache acorns for the winter. Browsers cache graphics for the next time you visit the site.

What are cookies?

A cookie is a small table of data that is stored by the browser on the user’s computer. They are typically used for storing logins and for customizing the website to be the version you are used to seeing. Tracking cookies are used by commercial websites to pay attention to what the user is doing on the site and deliver targeted notifications and ads.

Chrome Browser Tools Menu

Visual of the layout of the tools menu dropdown (descriptions of each are included in the post)

There are several important items in the “Tools” menu of Chrome:

  1. Print what you’re seeing in the window (save as PDF or actually print)
  2. In “More Tools” you’ll find the “Clear Browsing Data” option. When you call tech support, they almost always ask you to do two things:
    • Reboot the computer
    • Clear the browsing data (also referred to as clearing the cookies and cache)
  3. Bookmarks is how you manage your bookmarks folders and organizational structure, as well as which folders display on the bookmarks bar.
  4. Incognito Windows are windows that store no cache or cookies from the user. These are useful for several reasons:
    • If someone other than you (student, partner, colleague) needs to log in to a site on your computer, have them do it in an incognito window so that none of the data is saved and so that none of their logins replace your stored logins.
    • If you want to check whether a link is generally available to anyone who clicks on it (e.g. did you really make it shareable?), use an incognito window to check
    • If you know that there is a lag in seeing changes on a site you’ve altered, then try looking in an incognito window (no cache has been saved there)

You can find a nice printable version of this article here: Web Browser Basics

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