9 Common Browser Problems and How to Fix Them

Screenshot: Gizmodo
Screenshot: Gizmodo

We all rely on web browsers to get us through the day, so a problem with your browser of choice can have a serious impact on productivity (or Netflix binges).

The good news is that troubleshooting browser problems isn’t too difficult — the process is similar for a lot of the issues you’re going to come across. Today’s browsers come with a variety of built-in tools for self-repair, too, so you should be able to get everything running smoothly again within a short space of time.

Here are some of the most common problems you might come across in your browser, and what you should do to fix them.

1. Slow performance and page loads

Screenshot: Gizmodo

Assuming your internet connection speed isn’t too blame (which you can check here), sluggish browser performance and page loading can have a number of root causes.

You should already be running the latest version of your browser, but just check anyway: Help then About Google Chrome from the Chrome menu; About Firefox from the Firefox menu in Firefox for macOS; Help then About Firefox from the browser menu in Windows; Help & Feedback then About Microsoft Edge from the Edge menu; or About Safari from the Safari menu in Safari for macOS.

Is an extension dragging down the performance of your browser? Disabling add-ons one by one is something you can try to see if it has any effect — More Tools then Extensions from the Chrome menu; Add-ons from the Firefox menu; Extensions from the Edge menu; and Preferences then Extensions from the Safari menu.

If it’s not an extension that’s slowing everything down, it might be a corrupted cache of data. You can easily blitz these temporary files and give your browser a fresh start — you’ll have to log in everywhere again, so keep those passwords handy.

In Chrome, open up Settings from the menu then pick Clear browsing data. In Firefox, you want Preferences from the menu, then Privacy & Security and Clear Data. For Edge, it’s Settings, Privacy and Services, and Choose What to clear under Clear browsing data on the menu. And in Safari, open the Safari menu and pick Preferences, Privacy, and Manage Website Data.

In all cases it’s the cache and the cookies you want to focus your attention on. In Safari, the cache option is hidden — you need to go to the Advanced tab in the Preferences pane, then tick Show Develop menu in menu bar. Then open up the newly revealed Develop menu and pick Empty Caches.

If you’re still experiencing problems, uninstall and reinstall your browser — if a clean reinstall doesn’t work, something besides the browser might be affecting performance. That something could be malware, which we discuss in more detail below.

Chrome, Firefox, and Edge all have a single reset settings option, though it’s missing on Safari. In Chrome, Restore settings to their original defaults is at the bottom of the main settings pane; in Firefox, choose Help then Troubleshooting Information from the menu to find the reset option; and in Edge, pick Reset Settings from the main settings menu.

2. URL suggestions you don’t want

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In your travels across the web, you might pick up URL suggestions that you don’t want to see cropping up as you type out links in the address bar. The most comprehensive way of clearing the decks here is to delete your browsing history, using the data clearing methods we described in the last tip.

If you want to remove a single URL suggestion without erasing the whole of your browsing history, you can do this in Chrome, Edge ,and Firefox. In Chrome or Edge, type out an address until you see the suggestion, then tap down to it using the arrow keys and hit Shift+Delete (or Shift+Fn+Delete on a Mac). For Firefox, the process is the same, except you just hit Delete (or Backspace) at the end.

For Edge, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, you can dive into your browsing history and remove the single site on its own, if you can find it — but the browser bar option might be easier if there’s one particular suggestion you don’t want to see, and you don’t want to turn off the auto-suggestion feature altogether.

3. Pages don’t appear as expected

Screenshot: Gizmodo

Garbled pages can happen due to a problem with your browser, or the server holding the page, or your internet connection, or something else entirely. After trying a quick refresh, your first bit of detective work should be to load up the page in another browser on another device if possible, which will tell you whether or not the issue is at your end. If your system isn’t at fault, you might just have to wait this one out.

Another tell-tale sign is whether or not the problem is restricted to one site or many sites. If it’s the latter, it’s more likely something is going wrong with your browser, or your internet connection isn’t doing its job properly. Quickly switching to a different browser should help you decide whether it’s the former or the latter.

If you manage to narrow down the source of the problem to your browser, try clearing the local file cache, as we described in the first tip above — this will force the program to reload everything on the page and should fix the issue. If not, systematically disabling extensions one by one (see the first tip above), or uninstalling and reinstalling your browser are usually enough to get everything working properly again.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

But there are other reasons why certain sites might not look like you think they should, and sometimes the fix is more basic than you might think. Have you unknowingly zoomed into a page, for example? This will show as a magnifying glass or percentage label in the address bar in Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, which you can click to reset the zoom level; in Safari, check the View menu.

There are also various other configuration settings that can affect how webpages appear on screen, though these vary from browser to browser. In the case of Microsoft Edge, for example, choose Appearance from the Settings pane and you can adjust the fonts and colours used for sites.

You’ll find similar options under the Appearance heading in the Settings pane for Google Chrome, and under Language and Appearance on the General tab on the Preferences page for Mozilla Firefox. Safari doesn’t offer the same sort of customisations.

4. Autofill isn’t working properly

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One of the bugs that crops up time and time again in support forums is some kind of malfunction in the autofill feature now included with most browsers. Stuff goes missing, or doesn’t save, or doesn’t work as expected.

First of all, check to see if the feature is switched on: Settings then the options under Auto-fill in Chrome; Preferences, Privacy & Security, then the options under Logins and Passwords in Firefox; Settings then the options under Profiles in Edge; or Safari, Preferences, then AutoFill in Safari.

If the feature is enabled, it’s the usual suspects that might be to blame — corrupted data somewhere in the browser’s logs, or a third-party extension interfering with the functionality (especially a form filler or password manager). Clear the cache and check your add-ons as laid out in our first tip above, and if you identify an extension that’s causing problems, see if there’s an update for it rather than removing it completely.

5. Repeated random browser crashes

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If your browser keeps crashing without warning, go back to the first entry in this list and do everything we told you to do there, because a lot of the troubleshooting steps are the same. Is your browser up to date? Are your extensions all working properly? Do you need to reinstall or reset your browser?

For crashes rather than a general slowdown, extensions or even particular websites are more likely to be the cause. If you’re running a beta version of your browser, try switching back to the stable channel to see if this helps to clear up the issues.

Anything else on your system could be causing compatibility problems too. Did you just install a printer that crashes browsers instantly? Are you sure? Unfortunately, it’s not very easy to work out exactly what other factors might be involved, beyond uninstalling and reinstalling all your hardware devices and software programs one by one and trying your browser software again each time.

As a general rule, keep everything up to date — your device drivers, your other software, and your operating system as a whole. This should help to minimise compatibility problems and stop anything else from interfering with your browser.

6. Too many pop-up windows

Screenshot: Gizmodo

Pop-up windows are an unavoidable part of the web, especially when online regulations change, but if you’re noticing a sudden abundance of them, then it’s possible that a malware or adware program has taken root on your computer.

The culprit might have installed itself as an extension or as a separate program, or it might be completely hidden from view. Use whatever antivirus software you have installed to run a thorough scan for problems, and for an extra sweep, run a no-install, on-demand scanner (like Microsoft Safety Scanner or ClamWin Portable).

We’ve solved problems like this in the past by purging our browser of cookies and cached data, so follow the instructions we laid out in the first tip in this list if you’re still having problems with overbearing pop-up windows. An ad-blocker app might help you to rein in some of the worst offenders and maybe identify the root cause at the same time, but just remember to whitelist your favourite sites.

7. Pages don’t work as intended

Screenshot: Gizmodo

The difference between webpage and web app is more blurred than ever (if there even is a difference any more), and apps running in your browser can break for a variety of reasons — a badly configured extension, for example, a plug-in designed to block ads or trackers on the web, or broken code in the app itself.

Besides everything we’ve already mentioned — so checking your browser extensions and settings, clearing out the cache, and so on — it’s worth taking a look at the permissions that a particular website or app has access to. If these haven’t been set correctly for whatever reason then it can cause breaks in functionality.

These options are under Site settings in Chrome settings; Privacy & Security and Permissions in Firefox settings; Site Permissions in Edge settings; and Safari, Preferences and Websites in Safari. If you’re having problems with one site in particular, see if it works in another browser.

8. Broken images and video

Screenshot: Gizmodo

If you’ve established that there’s nothing wrong with your internet connection (see the previous step), then problems loading media files can come down to the settings in your browser. Underlying technologies such as JavaScript can have an impact on how certain files are handled.

The relevant options should be enabled by default in your browser, but it’s possible that you’ve deliberately or inadvertently switched them off. You can find official help online for making sure these media plug-ins are enabled: Click through for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox tips, which you can also adapt and apply to Edge and Safari.

If the problems persist, then it’s back to our old troubleshooting fall-backs: the browser cache update, reset, and full uninstall and reinstall that we mentioned back in the first tip. Third-party extensions can also interfere with the way media is displayed on the page, especially if they’re doing something like blocking ads or modifying content, so that’s another possible cause to troubleshoot.

9. The homepage keeps changing

Screenshot: Gizmodo

When your homepage keeps changing without your permission, even after you’ve set it back several times, this is a sure sign that an extension or a rogue piece of malware is ignoring your wishes and directing you somewhere else — possibly to a site that’s built to earn affiliate clicks, or to further infect your computer.

Using the steps we outlined in the first and the seventh tips above, shut down any browser add-ons you aren’t sure about, and get a thorough security scan of your computer up and running (and maybe seek the help of on-demand scanners like Windows Safety Scanner and ClamWin Portable).

If that’s not enough to make your choice of homepage stick, then a browser uninstall and reinstall (or a settings reset, if the option is available) might be enough to clear out whatever’s getting in the way of the browser settings.