With browser sync enabled, you can open some tabs on your computer and access them on-the-go from your smartphone. If you have multiple computers, you can easily keep your bookmarks and settings in sync between them.
Browsers were once self-contained pieces of software that ran on a single computer, but most popular browsers now offer integrated synchronization services and mobile apps. Internet Explorer is a bit behind, but it can be made smarter with third-party extensions.
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Google Chrome allows you to sync your browser data with your Google account. To set this up, click Chrome’s menu button and select Sign in to Chrome.
You can control which browser data is synced by opening the Settings screen and clicking Advanced sync settings under Sign in. By default, Chrome syncs your apps, autofill data, bookmarks, extensions, omnibox history (address bar history), passwords, settings, themes, and open tabs. Chrome encrypts only your passwords by default, but you can optionally encrypt all synced data. You can also set a separate encryption passphrase, if you like.
You can access this data by signing into Chrome on multiple computers, whether they’re running Windows, OS X, Linux, or even Chrome OS. You can also access the synced data on Android with the Chrome Android app or iOS with the Chrome app in Apple’s app store. With these apps, you can view open tabs, access your bookmarks, and share your history between devices.
Firefox uses Firefox Sync to sync your browser data. This was previously a separate browser extension, but it’s now integrated into Firefox. You can set up Firefox Sync by opening Firefox’s options window, selecting the Sync icon, and using the options there.
Firefox Sync syncs your bookmarks, passwords, options, 60 days of history, open tabs, and add-ons between your computers. Firefox encrypts all of this data. You will need to make a backup copy of your Firefox Sync recovery key, as you won’t be able to recover your browser data if you lose it.
Firefox Sync works with Firefox on all operating systems, including Windows, OS X, and Linux. You can also use Firefox Sync on Android phones and tablets with Firefox for Android.
Unlike Chrome, Firefox doesn’t offer an iOS app, so you can’t access your Firefox browser data on an iPhone or iPad. (Chrome for iOS is just a shell over Apple’s Safari. Mozilla previously offered such an app, named Firefox Home, but pulled it from Apple’s app store and no longer develops it.)
Internet Explorer doesn’t have many built-in browser synchronization features. Some browser sync features were available in Windows Live Mesh, but Windows Live Mesh has been discontinued.
If you use Windows 8, Windows 8 has the ability to sync your Internet Explorer 10 settings, favorites, and history between your Windows 8 computers with your Microsoft account. Microsoft doesn’t provide a way to access this data on smartphones – not even on their own Windows Phone devices. You can only sync IE data between Windows 8 computers.
Opera offers Opera Link, which uses an Opera account to sync your browser data. It can be enabled by selecting the Synchronize Opera option in Opera’s menu.
Opera Link syncs your bookmarks, passwords, speed dial pages, notes, history of typed web addresses, search engines, and content blocker rules between your devices. You can also access some types of data, including your bookmarks, on the web at link.opera.com.
Opera Link works with Opera’s browsers on all operating systems – Windows, OS X, and Linux – as well as the Opera Mobile and Opera Mini apps available for Android, iOS, and other mobile platforms. However, only bookmarks, speed dial pages, and search engines are synced to Opera’s mobile apps.
Safari uses iCloud to sync open tabs, bookmarks, and other browser data between Macs, iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. Apple offers instructions for enabling iCloud on Macs and iOS devices.
You can also sync your bookmarks with Safari on Windows, although Safari on Windows is outdated and has been discontinued.
Several third-party tools allow you to sync data between any browser and access them in any other browser or via a dedicated mobile app. These can be particularly useful if you’re using Internet Explorer or if you want to synchronize Firefox data with an iPhone or iPad.
- LastPass: LastPass is a password manager with extensions for every popular browser and apps for all significant mobile platforms. We love LastPass here at How-To Geek. Even if you don’t need to synchronize passwords between two different types of browsers, LastPass offers a much more powerful password vault and it’s more secure.
- Xmarks: Xmarks was the application that brought browser bookmark synchronization to the masses. Coincidentally, it’s now owned by LastPass. Xmarks allows you to sync your bookmarks and open tabs between any browsers. Xmarks also provides mobile apps for Android and iOS. You could sync Firefox bookmarks and open tabs with an iPhone or sync data between two different browsers.
While LastPass and Xmarks are both free to use on PC, each service’s mobile apps require a premium account. (Each service’s premium account costs $12 per year.)
Syncing your browser data stores it in an account online, effectively giving you an online backup. Even if you only have one device, browser sync ensures you won’t lose your bookmarks and other important data if your computer dies.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 03/4/13