How-To: Get the Most From Safari

I’ll admit to having been pretty flighty about my choice of browsers in the past. Camino one month, Safari (s aapl) the next, Chrome (s goog) the week after; I’ve been jumping from one browser to the next, chasing performance and features for quite a while now.

Recently though, I’ve made a commitment to spend less time worrying about what other tools might have to offer, and more time exploring the potential of those right in front of me. For good or ill, I’m casting my lot with Safari, and making sure I get the most from it.

Learn the Shortcuts

Like the guy in the movie says, “Learn them, know them, live them.” Shortcuts get you where you want to go, only faster. There are tons of shortcuts available in Safari. If you want to have a look at them all, there’s actually an HTML doc with an exhaustive list bundled right in with the browser. Setting out to learn them all at once would probably do more harm than good, so here’s a list of essentials to get you off to a good start:

  • Tabs. I usually end up with a lot of tabs in my windows, so being able to deal with them without leaving the keyboard is nice. Pressing Control+Tab will select the next tab in the window, while pressing Command+W will close the current one.
  • Bookmark(let)s. I’ll talk about some essential bookmarklets a bit later, but pressing Command+1 will activate the first bookmark, Command+2 the second, and so on.
  • Opening Links. I’ll often just read through a page, clicking on interesting links and letting them load into tabs in the background while I continue on. To do this I’ve set my preferences to open links in new tabs on Command+Click. This is one of the few keyboard commands I’ve actually got mapped to my Magic Mouse, where it’s a three finger click (mapping gestures on the Magic Mouse requires a third-party tool like Better Touch Tool).
  • Navigating Search. The next one isn’t strictly a Safari shortcut, but it really works well with all the rest. On its experiments page, Google has a Keyboard Shortcuts option that lets you navigate through the list of Google results using your keyboard. The J key selects the next result, and the K key will select the previous one. Combine this with Safari’s Search Results Snap Back ( Command+Option+S ) which will jump back to the last Google results page viewed in the tab, and I can go from TextMate to search results and back, all without touching the mouse.
  • Reading. In other browsers, I’ve used the great Readability bookmarklet to pull out text content from a site. It gets rid of all the clutter on the page and loads the text of the article into a nice, easy-to-read layout. In Safari 5, this is baked right into the browser; you can toggle this Reader mode by pressing Command+Shift+R. For scrolling, simply pressing the Spacebar will scroll to the end of your current view, while Shift+Spacebar will scroll up.
  • Address Bar. This last one is simple but important. Pressing Command+L puts focus on the address bar and selects its contents. I use this all the time for quickly grabbing a copy of the current URL, for entering a new one, or in combination with a press of the Tab key to get to the search field.

Plugins and Extensions

When it comes to plugins and extensions, I’d prefer to have none if I could. Maybe that’s just because every Add-On you installed used to slow Firefox down when that browser first came out. It’s less of a problem these days, but I still like to keep my plugin library short.

  • Click to Flash. This is a “must have” in my opinion. Simply put, it blocks all unwanted Flash objects on the screen until I want them; when I do, I just click on the placeholder to load the Flash.
  • 1Password. Another “must have” as far as I’m concerned. 1Password helps me get a handle on all my credentials by generating and remembering complex passwords for me.
  • Ultimate Status Bar. This nice little extension gives Safari an auto-hiding, Chrome-style status bar that disappears when it’s not needed. It can also expand shortened URLs and display file size info.
  • Type to Navigate. Type to Navigate lets me type the text of any link on the page to select and then open it. Pressing Command+G selects the next instance of the text on the screen and Command+Shift+G selects the previous. As a bonus, I can also press Command+I when focused on a link to send it to Instapaper. The potential for this one is huge, though I’ve noticed a couple pages it can’t quite seem to navigate

There is a crazy number of Extensions available for Safari these days, so do have a look and find the ones that best suit your needs.

Hidden Preferences

There’s one hidden preference that’s a required setting for me: forcing tabs. I hate having a bunch of new windows always popping up, so I set this option to force all new window links to open up in new tabs instead. To enable this, just open up (in your Utilities folder) and use the defaults write TargetedClicksCreateTabs -boolean command.


I manage all my proper bookmarks over at Pinboard, but I do have a few key bookmarklets that I need to make sure are available from Safari:

  • Read Later. This one sends the current URL over to Instapaper for later reading. I use it any time I come across something I know I’ll want to read when I get the chance.
  • Send to Pukka. I use Pukka to manage all my bookmarks over at Pinboard. This bookmarklet sends the current URL, along with any selected text on the page over to Pukka, creating a new bookmark on Pinboard using the selected text for the description.

I’ll probably add a new shortcut or two as I need them, but for the most part, I’m happy with the functionality this provides. I spend so much time in the browser these days that it only makes sense to learn to be as efficient with it as I can. No matter which browser you use, do yourself a favor and take some time to learn the shortcuts, explore the preferences, and find the add-ons that best suit your needs.

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