Autosaving of form fields in browsers

I’ve once again lost a decent sized chunk of text in a textarea, due to a browser crash. I’ve started wondering about whether browsers should implement autosaving for textareas. Our usage patterns have got to the point where we use browsers to write large chunks of text on a regular basis.

Generally when I’m writing an extended chunk of text, I will do so in a text editor, and only copy the text into a website when I have to. However, this is a poor workaround.

Some websites implement their own autosaving. Whilst this is a great move on their part, I think that it’s time to look at how autosaving could be supported at the browser level in a standard fashion. Browsers already maintain a significant amount of state after a crash, tabs, positions within tabs, etc. Extending this to include form entries shouldn’t be challenging.

The main difficulty with this proposal is the privacy and security implications. But these are not insoluble.

Firstly, when a browser first considers autosaving a field, it could ask you whether to enable it, with options like Yes once, Yes always, Yes for entire site, and the equivalent No options.

Secondly, an extension of the idea of autocomplete="false". Replace the autocomplete attribute with private="true". I like this as it specifies intent rather than behaviour. The browser can then interpret that private fields shouldn’t have autocomplete, that they shouldn’t autosave, and other behaviours that are meaningful for the private field.

I think this is something that’d be worth W3C consideration. Or alternatively one of the browsers should pick this feature up as a point of difference. I’ve already lost more text than I’d like because of browser crashes.

2 thoughts on “Autosaving of form fields in browsers”

  1. Hi Sam,

    My Firefox recovers data in textareas (at least in the comment form I’m just filling out). Did you implement something specific on your blog?

    My guess would be that browsers won’t save if the autocomplete attribute is set to off, but it may be worthwhile the check.



  2. Tested in Firefox and Chrome, and it indeed remembers the input of the textareas, when I kill the process. All I can think is that either: this has changed between when I wrote the blog and when I published it; that I had such a bad crash that the normal autosave didn’t work; or that there’s something odd about the Facebook comment input that prevents autosaving.

    Looks like this blog post is prescient, or behind the times 🙂


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