back to article Google Chrome deletes Backspace

Google's Chrome browser no longer lets you go back to your previously-used page with the Backspace key. As explained on this code review page “0.04% of page views navigate back via the backspace button and 0.005% of page views are after a form interaction.” “The latter are often cases where the user loses data. Years of user …

  1. veti Silver badge

    Long overdue

    Mapping backspace to "Back a page" was always a dumb idea, and I'm delighted they've seen the light at last.

    I'm surprised that Google, of all people, were the ones to make this usability blunder in the first place. I thought they were all for people editing stuff online, which is precisely the activity most likely to be affected.

    1. Justin Clift

      Re: Long overdue

      Yeah, backspace changing the page while editing a text field has bitten me in Opera on occasion. Hopefully this changes propagates into Opera in the near future.

    2. Sureo

      Re: Long overdue

      They couldn't have just made it an option or something?

      1. VinceH
        FAIL

        Re: Long overdue

        "They couldn't have just made it an option or something?"

        Or better still, when responding to backspace, look at the cursor:

        Is it in a form field? Do a backspace, otherwise use it for page navigation.

        Since I have a form open (this reply) in Firefox, I've just hit backspace. It performed a backspace. Opening another tab and visiting a couple of pages without forms and then hitting backspace, it performs navigation.

        This should not be rocket science.

        1. bpfh
          Alert

          Re: Long overdue

          What about somthing like what Facebook does: "Are you sure you want to navigate away from this page and abandon what you started to enter in a form field"?

        2. Updraft102

          Re: Long overdue

          VinceH, that is how it behaves. The problem is that many things steal the focus from the form on the page, and the user may hit backspace editing a comment (like I am doing now) and have the web page go back, losing whatever was in the editor field. It was a big annoyance for me until I changed the user pref to make Firefox stop doing that.

          1. VinceH

            Re: Long overdue

            "The problem is that many things steal the focus from the form on the page, and the user may hit backspace editing a comment (like I am doing now) and have the web page go back,"

            What would steal the focus from the form, but keep it on the page?

            The only time I've encountered the focus being stolen is when it ends up in another window - usually another application. In which case, backspace will affect that window or application, rather than the page with the form being edited.

            The only thing I can think of might be something stupid in any scripts on such a page. (Perhaps this is another benefit of NoScript?)

        3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Long overdue

          Or better still, when responding to backspace, look at the cursor:

          Is it in a form field? Do a backspace, otherwise use it for page navigation.

          That's what most browsers already try to do.

          It fails when idiot web designers create their own pseudo-form page elements using scripting. And that happens all too often.

          For example, many Firefox users have complained about not being able to type a slash in a "form" on some web page, because the input areas are actually just scripted div elements, and Firefox by default uses the slash key to activate its (largely useless) quick-search feature. Firefox doesn't know the pseudo-form-element is an input element, so it intercepts the slash.

          Page-element focus can be tricky anyway, particularly for users who have configured implicit focus changes (e.g. with the misnamed "X Mouse" setting on Windows, or the implicit focus policy long supported by many X window managers). And having the behavior of the backspace key change based on focus violates the Principle of Least Surprise.

          I've occasionally used Backspace for navigation, but precisely because it was element-focus-sensitive I've switched to using Alt + Left-Arrow. While I'm generally not a fan of UI changes, and particularly not changes to accelerators, removing the backspace accelerator probably makes sense.

      2. Naselus

        Re: Long overdue

        "They couldn't have just made it an option or something?"

        Now come on, we can create self-flying machines to drop bombs 11,000 miles away that can hit within 12 inches of a pre-programmed target using geolocation based on real-time satellite data, but do you honestly think we have the kind of tech that would allow us to present some kind of 'settings' menu where you can define your own key mapping? That's just science fiction voodoo.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Long overdue

      I'm glad Alt+F4 still speeds up page loads though.

      1. bdj

        Re: Long overdue

        This causes instability on my machine, perhaps google should look at fixing this as well.

      2. Swarthy Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Long overdue

        No, Alt+F4 closes the window.. Ctrl+F4 is what speeds up page loads.

      3. Jonathan Richards 1
        Mushroom

        Re: Long overdue

        Alt-SysReq-b works better on Linux systems...

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Long overdue

      I'm surprised that Google, of all people, were the ones to make this usability blunder in the first place.

      They weren't: browsers have been doing it for years but it did seem to affect their form handling more than most.

    5. Novex

      Re: Long overdue

      I've had this problem in Firefox and a while ago now also in IE. I always hated it. Maybe the other browser suppliers can get rid of it too?

      1. Updraft102

        Re: Long overdue

        You can easily fix that in Firefox. Type about:config into the url bar, and copy-paste browser.backspace_action into the search field. Set the value to 2 and you're good!

        I agree, it was a terrible "feature." Mozilla lets the user decide; Google decides for you.

        There are tons of examples when Google could have left things up to the user, but opted for a "one size fits all" solution instead... like when they removed tablet mode (unified button/notification bar at the bottom, which conserves vertical space but requires more width, so it works best with devices held in landscape modes, as most tablets are but phones are not) from Android (in JB) in favor of making tablets behave like large phones (separate button and notification bars, bottom and top; it uses more vertical space but works well when horizontal space is limited, so it works best on devices held in portrait orientation, as most phones are but tablets are not), with the excuse being that people could become confused if they didn't find the buttons where they expected when switching from a phone to a tablet.

        It's a specious argument, as when my tablet mode was removed for the JB upgrade, I could see that the notification bar was now on top, and that the main action buttons were now centered on the bottom instead of on the left. There was no confusion; I'm not a sphex.

        Even if it was not possible to convince Google of how silly the "confusion" argument really is, it would have been really simple to have a tablet default to "big phone" mode and allow users to select the tablet mode, but that's not how Google rolls.

        Another example from Android was when they decided that the URL bar will self-hide in Chrome. On a phone, the URL bar takes up valuable screen space, so they decided it was better to make it hide itself (even though disappearing UI elements has long been on the "bad practice" list). Users who preferred the utility of always having the location and controls on the screen, especially tablet users who have more screen space to work with, would simply have to live with it, as Google had decided how it was going to be. No user preference... just Google's way or the highway.

        1. Novex

          Re: Long overdue

          You can easily fix that in Firefox. Type about:config into the url bar, and copy-paste browser.backspace_action into the search field. Set the value to 2 and you're good!

          Thanks for that. It appears that in the version of Firefox I'm using on Linux Mint it's already set to 2. I haven't experienced the backspace causing back paging in Linux, and maybe that'll be why.

      2. Unicornpiss
        Meh

        Re: Long overdue

        Agreed, I've always found this useless too. If you want easy navigation, install "mouse gestures" or a similar plugin, or get a keyboard with forward and back buttons. (which is why I still use an ancient IBM keyboard)

        For that matter, eliminating about 50% of the "features" that make Windows 8 and 10 more "convenient" to use would be wonderful too. IMHO the swipe, mouseover, and drag shortcuts for actions like switching apps or maximizing windows end up being useful maybe 2 out of 10 times, and inadvertently triggered the rest of the time, usually when you're trying to do something utterly different and just aren't paying attention. You just don't need 16 ways to do the same thing, with possible exceptions for dining, drinking, and copulating. There's a reason auto makers don't put your hatch release on the steering wheel or double-tap the accelerator to brake. Maybe if you start using Windows at 3 years old and grow up using these things, they could become intuitive, but for the rest of us (or at lest me), most of them just add aggravation.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Long overdue

          If you want easy navigation, install "mouse gestures" or a similar plugin, or get a keyboard with forward and back buttons.

          And take my hands off the home row? That cure is worse than the disease.

          (Alt + Left-Arrow is a lousy accelerator for the same reason, but at least those are keys I use frequently, so they're easy to touch-type. Random non-standard single-purpose only-on-some-keyboards keys like Forward and Back buttons are much more disruptive.)

  2. Phil Kingston

    As an avid Backspace user, I'll be sad to see this function go.

    Never had an issue losing form data with it either.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Well, ain't you the clever one? I've suffered a lot with this. On a page with a form the behaviour of the backspace key is dependent upon where the focus is. Did you want to delete a letter or go back a page? It's such a slight difference…

      1. People's Poet

        I think it's more a case of people being stupid rather then he being the clever one.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It happens sometimes on fake text inputs, where JS handles key strokes. It's quite rare, but it's a pain in the arse when it happens.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If you're not aware of it already try Alt and left key for back and Alt and right key for forwards.

      I used to use backspace but now use them predominantly.

      1. Swarthy Silver badge

        I used to use Backspace all the time

        But I did not know about the mirror key stroke for it (Just learned about Shift+Backspace from Orange Skydiver below). I started using Alt+Left/Alt+Right for back and forward because that is better UI design. I still use backspace when back-tracking over several pages though, one keystroke and no hand spreading.

        I don't think losing focus in a form is people being less than clever, or not losing it is a matter of being clever, I think it's a matter of how sensitive your touchpad is and where you rest your hands on the laptop keyboard. I never had a problem on a desktop, but I had some problems on a laptop until I changed the sensitivity, and moved my resting arm position.

      2. The Sod Particle
        Paris Hilton

        Optional

        Alt-left and Alt-right are fine, but I need two hands to press them together.

        What if my other hand is busy doing something...

        Its enough to put you off your (key) stroke

        Paris 'cause well...

        1. cd

          Re: Optional

          Does Ctrl-left bracket not work n Windows like Cmd-left bracket does on Macs? Or now that I'm using a Windows keyboard it's WindowsKey-left bracket.

          Years ago I invented Spurt, the one-handed web browser. Never got finished for some reason.

          1. Francis Boyle

            Re: Optional

            Dammit man, get back to it!. The coding I mean. And no "testing" till it's finished.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great! Now how about never resetting Forms unnecessarily...

    I have a serious beef with forms that automatically reset especially when the Captcha isn't satisfied. Government payment sites I'm looking at you, but many corporate sites also suffer from this...

    Especially sites meant for contacting customer service. Classic example: The form tells you that you must enter Mr / Mrs etc. Then when you do it resets all the other fields! That deserves automatic castration in my rulebook...

    1. tacitust

      Re: Great! Now how about never resetting Forms unnecessarily...

      Government sites that handle money or financial data are extremely cautious about doing anything that might allow data someone to steal data from an careless or unsuspecting user. I have overseas accounts, so have to submit a form to the US Treasury Dept every year, and while they have finally started making things a little easier, the number of hoops I had to go through to submit my (financially sensitive) data online was painful.

      But better a bit of pain than finding my accounts cleaned out, I guess.

    2. Alister

      Re: Great! Now how about never resetting Forms unnecessarily...

      I have a serious beef with forms that automatically reset especially when the Captcha isn't satisfied. Government payment sites I'm looking at you, but many corporate sites also suffer from this...

      Unfortunately this is one of those things mandated as best practice for security, so you are likely to see it become more and more common, as more sites fall under the limitations of PCI-DSS and other security restrictions.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Great! Now how about never resetting Forms unnecessarily...

        So some bunch of massive fuckwits have come up with a set of rules that even a drooling moron would spot as stupid and people are implementing them?????

        Had one the other day where three other fields reset (two being the password and its copy) if the input wasn't accepted. The input was more than a screenful. Trying to get all three correctly populated and the captcha correct, all at the same time, proved entertaining.

        (For a given value of "entertaining" that involves being reduced to desperately wanting to track down a particular web monkey and kick twelve buckets of shit out of him.)

    3. Fatman
      Joke

      Re: Great! Now how about never resetting Forms unnecessarily...

      <quote>That deserves automatic castration in my rulebook...without the benefit of anesthesia</quote>

      FTFY!!!

  4. Fazal Majid

    Finally!

    This was sufficient an annoyance that someone wrote an extension to disable this incredibly dumb UX.

    1. Phil Kingston

      Re: Finally!

      Not sure it was so dumb.

      But I am sure I'm going to have some pain convincing some of my users that the "better" replacement is to press ALT+Left Arrow. At. The. Same. Time.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Those are some pretty detailed numbers...

    So Chrome reports every keystroke and action back to Google? I always assumed it did, but I don't recall them ever drawing attention to it.

    1. tacitust

      Re: Those are some pretty detailed numbers...

      Not at all. Google.com is the number one most visited website in the world. They have more than enough data just from visits their own servers to determine the overall frequency of backspace errors.

    2. Adam Azarchs

      Re: Those are some pretty detailed numbers...

      No, they don't report every keystroke back. What do you think this is, Windows 10? However, https://src.chromium.org/viewvc/blink?view=revision&revision=202463 added a counter specifically for backspace to collect data to inform this change, as you can see on the discussion on https://bugs.chromium.org/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=413395. Nothing secretive or nefarious to see here, move along.

      1. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: Nothing secretive or nefarious to see here

        Move along? Discussion over is it? They added a phone home to chrome for every backspace navigation and that's OK because it's mentioned on the development forum? If this was MS they would be getting the shortest shrift ever, but it's Google so it's OK? They track you around nearly all of the web with GA, a little specific phoning home is no biggie...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Devil

        Re: Those are some pretty detailed numbers...

        > "...added a counter specifically for backspace to collect data..."

        Sure, that's what we're told. If they actually are ingesting everything in sight, they sure would need a cover story.

        Just sayin'.

  6. John Tserkezis

    Why can't this be fixed in the webserver?

    I've been to two local banking sites, and inadvertantly backspaced out of habit.

    Both times I was alerted that I couldn't do that, and it took me back to the main menu of said bank.

    That's an example of handling the situation gracefully.

    So: Except for those two sites, every other remaining banking website on the face of the planet is run by a bunch of dickheads who can't write webserver code.

    Either that, or Chrome users are inherently predestined to use the backspace key at any and all times.

    1. d3vy

      Re: Why can't this be fixed in the webserver?

      "every other remaining banking website on the face of the planet is run by a bunch of dickheads who can't write webserver code."

      That will be client side code.

  7. LDS Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Every key you press, every form you fill...

    .... we are tracking you...

    1. energystar
      Gimp

      Re: Every key you press, every form you fill...

      ".... we are tracking you..."

      And WE are back-tracking you...

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    FAIL

    Don't care about backspace

    I want a bloody delete key! Alt-backspace is *not* an acceptable substitute.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: Don't care about backspace

      Ok! Who took Neil's delete key? No one leaves this forum until he's got it back!!

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Don't care about backspace

        Has somebody looked behind the office fridge yet?

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Don't care about backspace

        Steve Jobs!

        Apple keyboards have been slowly losing keys for years.

        Eventually they'll only have the keys 0-9, A, E, I, L, O, P, S and X.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't care about backspace

          Please, I oppose sexless salespeople

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't care about backspace

          I'm using a full-size Mac keyboard right now. It has a delete key.

      3. AndrueC Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Don't care about backspace

        Ok! Who took Neil's delete key?

        No-one. It's a delete key. He pressed it and it deleted itself.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          Re: Don't care about backspace

          @AndrueC - definitely didn't delete itself; it wasn't there to begin with. I know, because I counted it, twice!

      4. energystar
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Don't care about backspace

        Does he have the right 'from' Enter?

      5. energystar
        Facepalm

        Re: Don't care about backspace

        Oh! a 'back-delete' key!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't care about backspace

          That's what they just took away!

  9. fearnothing

    I have a tool at work in which the cursor only remains in the text field as long as your pointer is over the field. The field is one line high. As soon as you disturb the mouse slightly or fail to leave it perfectly still when moving your hand from mouse to keyboard, you're screwed.

  10. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Thank you Google! This has affected me a fair few times. On some sites it's just an annoyance because you can go forward again but on some sites you lose the information entered. El Reg seems particularly irritating because when you go forward again your comment text is still in the edit box. But as soon as you click on it the text is taken away.

    You guys once never got to see an excellent response I tried to post because of this problem. I just couldn't face having to type that fifty line response a second time. Your loss, I guess :D

  11. 0laf
    Unhappy

    Good idea although maybe it should be a user option. I've lost loads of form data by hitting backspace.

    Mind you I don't use Chrome so I guess I'll continue to suffer.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      re: I don't use Chrome so I guess I'll continue to suffer.

      According to a comment above firefox lets you configure what the backspace key does, if that's any help.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hit this annoying problem yesterday in producing a new web page. Making an INPUT text tag 'readonly' still allows the 'keyup' event - so the user can be warned to use an available drop-down menu instead to change their option. Unfortunately the 'readonly' property means that the backspace key produces no event - but does an unwanted 'page back'.

  13. Orange Skydiver
    FAIL

    I've been using backspace to go back for years and really annoyed me when I couldn't do it on a google search results page, because they intercepted my backspace and used it to edit my search terms, when I wasn't even in the search box. This should definitely be an option that people can turn on and off rather be dictated to.

    Question: Can you still use Shift+Backspace to go forwards?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have never deliberately used backspace to navigate back on the browser....every damn time it has happened cursing has followed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If you're testing navigation between "pages" in an web app it can come in handy, that's the only time I've used it intentionally. Disabling it by default is fine but it would've been nice to leave it as an option for those who's muscle memory is going....

      But if you're writing a web form these days you should probably be trapping history events and alerting the user before you allow navigation that blats the form. Not everyone uses Chrome.

  15. magnawave
    Thumb Up

    Oh thank god - its damned well about time!! Huzzah!!!

    Definitely one of those that was always baffled why the backspace was a "go back" button when there are OTHER keys that have a much more obvious and un-oversubscribed use. Rarely was a huge issue but damned annoying when you though you had focus in the right place - and poof....

    (and the Chrome plugins always seemed to be two versions behind Chrome changes that neutered them and never worked when you needed 'em to)

  16. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    Managing Change 101

    They should have added an option, and defaulted it off. Then, those few that want it on, they can dig into the menu to turn it back on.

    This is elementary and obvious. How come they don't know it?

    1. BasicChimpTheory

      Re: Managing Change 101

      Because adding toggles for every single function of an aplication is where bugs come from.

      1. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: Managing Change 101

        It's not because Google think it's too difficult, or too likely to cause bugs, it's them using their metrics to decide it's not worth the effort for the tiny number of users using it.

        As other posters have mentioned on other threads, that logic is ok for 1 or 2 features, but once you start to apply it to 100s of features then the 0.5% of your users that you've inconvenienced with each change becomes 50% of your total users who you've pissed off for no good reason.

    2. Updraft102

      Re: Managing Change 101

      This may be, in fact, how they have done it, according to what I have read elsewhere.

  17. Argh

    "Page back" key

    I don't remember having any issues in the past with backspace, but my T510 Thinkpad has a "page back" key that I have hit many times, next to the "up arrow" and "left arrow" cursor keys. Browser extensions like "Lazarus" to save forms automatically have saved me a lot of time due to this issue!

  18. jb99

    Ugh

    Well I guess I'll switch to a better browser then as they couldn't seem to care less they broke this one. Goodbye chrome.

  19. guyh

    Which version?

    Still seems to work on 50.0.2661.102 m (64-bit)!

    I'm a "backspace" user - who will have to feel the pain.

    In the past I have unexpectedly "backspaced" from a page to another as I was typing, but I figured that was a bug in the text handling, i.e. when I'm "in" a field editing I don't want the "last backspace" to be directed outside of the "in focus" field - but it did.

    So, I'll just learn to live with what I'm given here I guess.

    ...

    PS. <Alt>+<Cursor Left> is NOT as convenient as <Backspace> - just sayin'

  20. Named coward

    I just found out that I can use backspace to navigate back from this article...

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      And I just learned that Shift+Backspace goes forward. This is why I read The register.

      1. kryptonaut

        Shift+Backspace

        Top Tip...

        First thing each morning, press Shift+Backspace a couple of hundred times to find out all the pages you're going to read during the day. Then if any of them look dull, you can just skip over them.

      2. Phil Kingston

        And Space scrolls down.

        At least for the moment. Until Google decide that's too confusing as well.

  21. JimmyPage
    Linux

    Is this more a Windows thing ?

    I use Chrome on Windows and Linux, and only recall having the lost-form issue on Windows.

    Maybe the fact that Windows seems happy for anything to steal focus whenever it likes has something to do with it ?

    But then I am old enough to remember system modal windows - what an arrogance.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Is this more a Windows thing ?

      In twenty-five years, Windows has *never* understood the difference between keyboard focus and mouse focus (e.g. trying to follow along with some example on a web page, scrolling the web page in the background with the mouse scroll wheel *without* sending your work to the back of the pile.

      There are an impressive number of posts complaining about this, but not one of the suggested solutions actually works, and certainly not as well as (e.g.) Linux Mint. Apart from the suggestion to install Mint, of course...

      1. Unicornpiss
        Linux

        Re: Is this more a Windows thing ?

        The way Windows apps steal focus regardless of any setting or reg hack anyone has ever come up with, has always infuriated me as well. It's as bad as that annoying coworker that always interrupts when you've reached the best part of the story. Mint (and any Linux) has its failings like any OS, but it has always gotten that part perfectly right.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vivaldi has them spooked

    Nothing to see here move along.

  23. Updraft102

    Well... another site has reported that the change will be implemented by a flag and will be reversible, so while my rant about Google's lack of flexibility still stands regarding the examples I used, it would appear that in this case, Google may have done things the right way, despite how it was reported here.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A good move. Chrome deserves to be on the first place. Aren't using Chrome(unstoppable tracking), using Opera(data saving) instead. Hope this change will come to it soon.

  25. Baldy50

    Yep fell foul of this one too a few times and now if I have to fill in an online form I will drink my brew beforehand, inform anyone nearby very politely to, under no circumstances bother me at all for any reason or get shouted at and pay attention to what I'm doing.

    But if your going to bitch about something insignificant then what about you El Reg forum users having to scroll all the way back down after up voting something and not returning you to the previous place.

    Also auto save would be a nice feature when posting a reply, in case the dreaded back space key is inadvertently hit!

    Ian.

  26. JeffinLondon
    FAIL

    Grrrrrrrrrr

    Annoyed. I used the backspace key all the time. Soooo convenient.

    Alt - Left Arrow? Hardly a like for like replacement.

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