Getting started with Safari

Christopher Breen
15 June, 2013
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Throughout these lessons I’ve casually thrown around such phrases as ‘launch Safari’ and ‘when you do this, Safari will open and take you to…’ And I’ve felt reasonably confident in doing so because, after all, if you’re currently sitting in front of a Mac there’s a very good chance that you’re reading these words within Apple’s web browser.

Still, that doesn’t mean that we can skip over Safari, particularly given how much time you’ll spend with it. So on to Safari we shall go. In this lesson, I’ll examine Safari’s major interface elements.

The view from above

When you first launch Safari, it takes you to Apple’s home page. You’re welcome to leave it as the page you’ll always see when you launch the browser, but you can change that setting. I’ll show you how to do that when we later talk about configuring Safari. For the time being, let’s take a tour.

At the top of the window you’ll see the name of the site you’re visiting. In this case, ‘Apple’ appears as the title. Below the title are the Back and Forward navigation buttons, the Share button, the search/address field, the Refresh button and the Reader button. Below that is, by default, the Bookmarks Bar, which includes Reading List, Bookmarks, and Top Sites buttons in addition to buttons for any preconfigured sites or folders; by default, these items include Apple, iCloud, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and Yahoo links as well as News and Popular folders. (Folders are identified by the downward-pointing triangle next to the name, which hints that when you click such an item, a list of associated bookmarks appears below.)

Safari's default toolbar.

On the far right of the Bookmarks Bar is the plus (+) button, which you use to add a new tab. Clicking this button exposes the previously hidden Tab Bar. As should be clear, the Tab Bar allows you to have multiple sites open in a single window. To move between them, simply click the appropriate tab. To close a tab, hover your pointer over it and click the small X that appears on the left of the tab. By default, when you create a new tab you’ll go to the Top Sites view, which displays a grid of thumbnail images that represents the sites you’ve recently opened or frequently visit.

Using the search/address field

When you first start using Safari, your primary avenue for making your way from site to site is the search/address bar. If you’re accustomed to an older web browser, you may wonder what this search-slash-address business is about. Prior to Safari 6 (the version that ships with Mountain Lion), the browser included two separate fields; one was for entering addresses such as ‘’ and the other was for searching the web using terms such as ‘iPhone’, ‘Constantinople’ or ‘muskox’. The two are now combined into a single field.

When you type something in the field, you’ll see a list of suggestions. In many cases the suggestions are for search terms. Select one of these terms, and by default Safari will take you to Google’s search page, where you’ll find a list of results.

Safari will autofill websites you've visited previously.

However, if you’ve previously visited a website with a matching name –, for instance – that site should appear as the first suggestion (called the Top Hit) and be entered into the field. Press Return, and you’ll go to that site. If you’re looking for a specific website, but its name doesn’t appear as a Top Hit (because you haven’t visited it before), wait for the list of suggestions to appear. Near the bottom of the list you’ll spy a ‘Go to Site’ entry, followed by the words you entered. Select it to go to that website.

One thing you’ll want to be careful about is banging on the Return key too quickly, particularly when you’ve entered a web address that Safari is aware of. If Safari hasn’t had time to retrieve the address from its History (a repository for sites you’ve visited in the past) and you press Return, you’re likely to end up at Google rather than at the site you entered. Patience is a virtue in such cases.

Navigation options

As with a bag of M&Ms, one nibble leads to another and, before you know it you’ve traipsed from one end of the world wide web to another. You have a couple of ways to make your way back along the path you trod. One is to use the Back and Forward navigation buttons to the left of the search/address field. A single click on the Back button takes you to the previous page you visited. Click Forward, and you reverse course and move to the page you just retreated from.

If you use a trackpad with your Mac, you can swipe two fingers left or right to move between recently visited webpages. And speaking of gestures, if you have multiple tabs open, you can view a large preview of each. Just pinch two fingers together, and open tabs will be reduced to elements on a single screen. Use two fingers to swipe between them. Click the one you want to view, and it enlarges to fill Safari’s window. The other windows become tabs.

The Back and Forward buttons are convenient, but they can make for slow going if you need to move through dozens of sites. A faster method is to click and hold on one of these buttons – do so, and you’ll see your entire path back or forward. Just select the page you wish to revisit from the list that appears.

Click and hold on the Back or Forward button to view your trail.

Note: Safari treats each new window or tab as a separate journey. So, for example, if in Tab 1 you’ve visited Sites A, B and C, and are currently viewing Site D, clicking and holding on the Back button will produce links to A, B and C. If you open Tab 2 and visit Sites E, F and G, clicking Back will show you only E and F. This tab is wholly unaware of A, B, C and D because they never appeared within it.

However, you have a way to see every site you’ve visited recently, regardless of which window or tab you used. That’s the purpose of the History menu. Click it to find a list of the sites you’ve visited. The list will display just under 20 sites. If you’ve visited more than that, select Earlier Today to display any other sites you’ve visited in a submenu. And if you need to go further back still, choose an earlier day from one of the commands that appear near the bottom of the History menu.

If those results are still too recent, choose History > Show All History. The Bookmarks window will open, History will be highlighted, and you’ll see a long list of days below. Click the triangle next to the one you wish to explore to see its contents. Optionally you can enter a keyword or site name in the Search field. Any history items that match will appear in a list underneath.

One other travelling shortcut to keep in mind is Command-Option-S (or History > Search Results SnapBack). If you’ve conducted a search and taken a series of winding paths in your exploration but would like to return to the original search results quickly, press this key combination.

Leaving tracks

What I’ve told you so far will serve you well during a single Safari session, but web browsers aren’t the sort of application that you launch only every couple of weeks. We use them day after day, and tend to revisit favourite sites time and again. And, because we do, it makes little sense to type in a well-visited site’s address every time we want to see what new things Site X has to offer.

And so, instead, you create Bookmarks. Like their real-world counterpart, Safari’s bookmarks serve to mark a place to which you intend to return. For example, if you’re interested in reading these Mac 101 lessons each week, it would make sense for you to bookmark their home: Just travel to that page, select Bookmarks > Add Bookmark (Command-D), and in the sheet that appears, choose where to store the bookmark. Your choices include the Bookmarks Bar, Top Sites, within one of the folders in your Bookmarks Bar, or in the Bookmarks menu. If, in the field beneath, you find the suggested name to be too long, enter one of your own and click Add. The bookmark will be added to the location you chose. To revisit that site, just select the bookmark, and you’re on your way.

A quick Command-D and you've added a bookmark.

Alternatively, if you’d like to add a bookmark to the Bookmarks Bar, just click the small icon that appears to the left of the site’s address in the search/address field, and drag it to the Bookmarks Bar. The new item will take up residence where you placed it and push any others in its way to the right. To visit that site, click once on the bookmark.

And if you’d care to treat a bookmark as you would an application, click that icon and drag it to the desktop. It will turn into a Web location file. Double-click that file, and Safari launches and takes you to the associated website. You could even gather such files together in a folder and then place that folder in the Dock. Then, click and hold on the folder, wait for the contents menu to appear, and select the site you wish to visit. Safari launches and brings you to the site.

Organising your bookmarks

After accumulating a load of bookmarks, you may find them to be a bit unwieldy. Thankfully, Safari offers easy ways to organise them. Click the Bookmarks button in the Bookmarks Bar (or choose Bookmarks > Show All Bookmarks) to reveal the Bookmarks pane. Along the left side, you’ll see the Collections heading, which contains History, Bookmarks Bar and Bookmarks Menu entries.

When you select an item in the Collection area, any associated bookmarks and folders appear in the main portion of the window. You can rearrange the order of these items by clicking and dragging them to a new position. You can drag them to a different category item too; for example, if you’d like a bookmark that currently resides in the Bookmarks menu to appear in the Bookmarks Bar, select the Bookmarks Menu category, click the item you want to move, and drag it to the Bookmarks Bar category. (Or, in this case, drag it directly into the Bookmarks Bar.)

The bookmarks pane.

In this same area you can create folders. To create a folder that appears in the Collections pane, click the small plus (+) button at the bottom of the pane. A new folder called ‘Untitled Folder’ will appear. Click it and rename it. Now drag any bookmarks you wish into it. You can then place this folder wherever you like. For example, you might place it in the Bookmarks Menu, select Bookmarks Menu, and then drag it to the top of the list. Or you could drag it to the Bookmarks Bar, where it will appear with its title and the triangle icon indicating that it holds bookmarks. You could even drag a folder to the desktop to create a folder full of web-location files. Or drag the folder into the attachments area of a new email message to share the enclosed web-location files with a friend or colleague.

You can also create folders within collections or other folders. To do so, select a collection or folder and then click the plus (+) button that appears below the bookmarks area. You’ll get a new folder; again, name it, move bookmarks into it, and place the folder in a logical location. To leave the bookmarks pane, just click the Bookmarks button in the Bookmarks Bar or choose Bookmarks > Hide All Bookmarks.

There’s much more to Safari, but you’ve got the lie of the land now. We’ll dig into its details in the coming weeks.

by Christopher Breen, Macworld

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