Most web browsers load Flash and other plug-in content as soon as you open a web page. Enable “click-to-play” plug-ins and your browser will load a placeholder image instead — click it to actually download and view the content.
Click-to-play allows you to conserve download bandwidth, improve page load times, reduce CPU usage, and extend laptop battery life. This feature gained popularity with Flashblock for Firefox and is now built into modern browsers.
Update: As of 2020, modern web browsers have plug-ins like Flash disabled by default. The information here may still be useful if you’re using an older web browser.
Google Chrome has a built-in click-to-play feature that works for all plug-ins, including Flash. To enable it, click Chrome’s menu button and select Settings to open the Settings page. Click Show advanced settings, click Content settings under Privacy, scroll down to Plug-ins, and select Click to play.
If you are using a newer version of Google Chrome, the setting will actually be called “Let me choose when to run plugin content” instead.
Make sure you check the Manage Exceptions button in the screenshot above, because that will override the setting.
For Chrome, you’ll also need to head into about:plugins (literally type that into the address bar and hit Enter) and make sure that “Always allowed to run” isn’t enabled, which appears to override the click-to-play setting.
Of course you should probably just click the Disable button to make sure Flash is dead.
You can make Firefox require click to play by heading into Tools -> Addons -> Plugins and changing the drop-down to Ask to Activate. This should generally work, but there’s a chance an update will flip the setting back.
Alternatively you can use Flashblock, which will completely whack Flash and more, and you don’t have to worry.
Mozilla Firefox uses click-to-play for most plug-in content by default, but it will still load Flash content. There’s a plugins.click_to_play setting in Firefox’s hidden about:config page, but it’s enabled by default. We can’t find a way to enable click-to-play for Flash in Firefox — Mozilla made a decision to make all Flash content bypass their click-to-play feature. There may be a way to override this, but we can’t find it.
Instead of using an option built into Mozilla Firefox, you can install the Flashblock extension. (Update: This extension is no longer available.)
Internet Explorer can ask you before it loads plugin content, but this option is well-hidden on the add-ons screen. To access it, click the gear icon on Internet Explorer’s toolbar and select Manage Add-ons.
Select Toolbars and Extensions here, click the Show box, and select All add-ons. Locate the Shockwave Flash Object plug-in under Adobe Systems Incorporated, right-click it, and select More information.
Click the Remove all sites button and Flash won’t load automatically on any website you visit.
When you visit a site with Flash content, you’ll be asked whether you want to run the content. Repeat this process for other plug-ins if you want to prevent them from loading automatically.
This setting is also available in Opera, which is no surprise considering Opera is now based on Chrome. To enable it, click the Opera menu button, select Settings, and select Websites on the Settings page. Enable the Click to play option under Plug-ins.
Safari on Mac OS X also has a way to enable click-to-play for plug-ins. This setting can be adjusted individually for each plug-in you have installed. To change these settings, open Safari, click the Safari menu, and select Preferences. Click the Security icon and click Manage Website Settings to the right of Internet plug-ins.
Select a plug-in, click the When visiting other websites box, and select Ask.
If a Website Doesn’t Work…
Be careful when using click-to-play plugins. Some websites load Flash content in the background. Such websites may need Flash content to work properly, but you may not see the placeholder image. For example, if you visit a website that plays music and click a play button, the music may not play because the website can’t load Flash in the background.
In these cases, you’ll generally need to click the icon that appears in your browser’s address bar, informing you plug-in content has been blocked. You can enable plugin content on the current page from here.
Browsers also have options to enable plug-in content automatically for certain websites. For example, you may want to allow a video-streaming website like YouTube or Netflix to always load plug-ins without asking you.
Enabling click-to-play plug-ins can even help protect you, as so many attacks exploit flaws in insecure plug-ins. However, you shouldn’t rely on click-to-play for security. Think of increased security as a potential bonus feature and follow the usual online security precautions.