Finding Text on a Web Page Quickly

Chances aren’t bad you already know the basics of this trick, but if you don’t, it could save you a heck of a lot of time. If you already know the trick, I have a couple of wicked cool shortcuts you probably don’t know.

(Disclaimer: I only had access to the Chrome and Firefox browsers while writing this tip. I find that these are the best browsers available today; if you don’t have one of them, check them out! If you are stuck using a different browser, these tips will probably work anyway, but I can’t guarantee it.)

Part 1: Searching for Text on a Page
In every modern browser, you can quickly search for any text on the current page by pressing Ctrl-F (“find”) and typing a word or words in the search box. In most browsers you’ll be brought to the first result and all results will be highlighted as you type. Here are screenshots for Chrome and Firefox users.

Part 2: Cool Tricks
Now here’s the stuff you probably didn’t know:

1. Alternative Ways to Start Searching
If you don’t like the Ctrl-F shortcut, in most browsers you can use F3 instead. In Firefox, you can also use a slash (‘/’). This search works slightly differently from the normal search box (for instance, there is no “Find Next” button); see a screenshot.

If you use Firefox, there’s an even faster way to start searching if you set an option. Go to Edit –> Preferences (or Tools –> Options depending on the version of Firefox you use), select the Advanced tab at the top, and check the box “Search for text when I start typing” (screenshot). Now when you’re outside of any elements on a web page that accept text (text boxes, search boxes, drop-down menus, etc.), Firefox will automatically start a quick find.

2. Continuing A Search (and more tricks)
Because of the differences between browsers, this section is really confusing. So I made three versions, the Chrome version, the Firefox version, and the both version. Pick the one that corresponds to the browser you use — if you use both or neither, you probably want to plod through the both version so that you know the differences. (If you use Internet Explorer or Safari or some other strange and weird browser, take a look at the tips and experiment to see which ones work for you.)

____CHROME____
Beginning a search is all well and good, but if the first result isn’t what you wanted, how do you move on? When you start a search, you’ll get a couple of buttons that let you move to the next or previous result. Clicking these buttons with the mouse works just fine, but if you don’t have your hands on the mouse or you’re clicking other places on the website with your mouse, you may find that repeatedly returning to the buttons is a bit inefficient.

In this case, you need the F3 (Find Next) key. Pressing F3 will immediately jump you to the next result on the page. (If you close the search box and then realize you need to keep searching, F3 will still take you to the next result.) If you miss a result and need to go back, just use Shift-F3.

But F3 is kind of hard to reach, isn’t it? Just pressing Enter (and Shift-Enter) does exactly the same thing while you’re in the search box. There is only one small limitation: if you close the search box, Enter won’t reopen it–only F3 will.

When you press F3, the text in the search box is highlighted, allowing you to easily change the word you’re searching for if you need to.

____FIREFOX____
Beginning a search is all well and good, but if the first result isn’t what you wanted, how do you move on? If you start your search by pressing Ctrl-F or F3, rather than /, you’ll get a couple of buttons that let you move to the next or previous result. Clicking these buttons works just fine, but if you don’t have your hand on the mouse or you’re clicking on other things while searching, you may find that repeatedly returning to the buttons is a bit inefficient. And if you started your search with /, you apparently can’t go to the next result at all.

In this case, you need the F3 (Find Next) key. Pressing F3 will immediately bring you to the next result on the page. (If you close the search box and then realize you need to keep searching, F3 will still take you to the next result.) If you miss a result and need to go back, just use Shift-F3.

But F3 is kind of hard to reach. Just pressing Enter (and Shift-Enter) does exactly the same thing while you’re in the search box. However, this trick does have a couple of limitations:

  • When searching with / (but not when using Control-F), pressing Enter will follow a link if the text found was in a link. If you land on a link and want to keep searching, you need to press F3 instead of Enter.
  • After closing the search box, Enter doesn’t return to a search, only F3 does.

If you don’t think you can remember the differences between F3 and Enter, you can just forget about the Enter tip and use F3 instead–slightly less efficient, but simpler.

____BOTH____
Beginning a search is all well and good, but if the first result isn’t what you wanted, how do you move on? If you start your search by pressing Ctrl-F or F3 in Firefox, or anytime in Chrome, you’ll get a couple of buttons that let you move to the next or previous result. Clicking these buttons with the mouse works just fine, but if you don’t have your hands on the mouse or you’re clicking other places on the website with your mouse, you may find repeatedly returning to the buttons is a bit inefficient.

In this case, you need the F3 (Find Next) key. Pressing F3 will immediately bring you to the next result on the page. (If you close the search box and then realize you need to keep searching, F3 will still take you to the next result.) If you miss a result and need to go back, just use Shift-F3.

But F3 is kind of hard to reach. In both Chrome and Firefox, just pressing Enter (and Shift-Enter) does exactly the same thing while you’re in the search box. However, this one does have a few limitations: In Firefox, when searching with / (NOT when using Control-F), this will follow a link if the text found was in a link. In both Firefox and Chrome, after closing the search box, Enter doesn’t return to a search, only F3 does.

In Chrome, when you press F3, the text in the search box is highlighted, allowing you to easily change the word you’re searching for if you need to. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen in Firefox.

In Firefox, when searching with /, pressing Enter while over a link will follow it.

Part 3: Internet Explorer 7 Notes
While I won’t exactly consider this a complete test, I got a chance to try this tip out in Internet Explorer 7. (Note that the current version is 9, so some of this information might potentially be out of date considering your browser.)

  • Oddly, you can’t use F3 to advance to the next match–but it still works to bring up search in the first place. Go figure.
  • When you press Enter, it seems that the search function finds the first match after where you last clicked on the page (though that point isn’t actually displayed in the browser).
  • You can still use Enter to advance to the next match.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
http://www.thetechnicalgeekery.com

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

An Introduction

This newsletter will provide some sort of computer tip, information about computers, or other computer-related topic about every week. I had originally intended to send the text directly as an email, but then I had a problem. I wanted to provide a way for people to ask questions and make comments, but doing so would require me turning the group into a mailing list, which would create a large volume of email that many people wouldn’t care about or know what to do with. So I reconsidered and decided to post the actual text on a blog, located (here) at http://tips.thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Every week, provided you’re subscribed to the newsletter, I’ll send out an email containing the title of the week’s tip and the quick introduction/description line. (You can subscribe from the sidebar of this blog if you aren’t already.) I’ll then provide a link to the actual post on the blog. When you’re done reading, if you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to add a comment at the bottom (you don’t have to register to do so). I think that having a way to answer questions about anything I wasn’t clear enough about or forgot to cover in the article will make the newsletter a lot better. If you make a good point, I might modify the original text so that it’s better for anyone who stumbles across it in the future.

I like to include screenshots in my tips where they help people figure out what I’m talking about. For instance, interested in the program I write these tips in? If you’re not already, let me tell you that I’ve had multiple people accuse me of “breaking the computer” when they see me using this software on a public system. (If you’re still curious after seeing the screenshot, I plan to cover this program in a future article.)

You can browse or search the archives of previous tips anytime at http://tips.thetechnicalgeekery.com like you could any blog.

As always, comments/questions welcome, and how about you go read the first tip?