|Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
|Volume 13 Issue 2||February 2019|
|Have You Ever Lost Everything That You've Typed Into an Online Form? Me, Too!
Has this ever happened to you?
You're on a web page, filling in a form. You might be placing an online order, contacting customer service, writing an email, or perhaps filling out an application or a survey. In one of the boxes (fields), you've typed a paragraph or more to explain something. It might be about yourself, a product review, a problem, a complaint, or something else that requires some thought and effort to write.
Then, perhaps you paused to think, or you got called away from the computer, or something else happened, and all of a sudden the form got reset, and everything that you've spent all that time writing is gone!
Isn't that infuriating? And yes, it's happened to me.
Any number of things might make this happen in your web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Edge, etc.), including:
What you can try in the moment
- You simply paused to think or waited too long or left the computer for a few minutes, and then your session timed out. This is common on secure sites where you have to sign in first.
- You accidentally hit Enter or Return, which "submitted" the form, which then either cleared it or loaded a different page.
- You accidentally clicked your browser's Reload or Refresh button (or the keyboard shortcut), which reloaded the current page, blanking out the entire form.
- You accidentally loaded a different web page by clicking your browser's Back or Forward button, or a link or a bookmark.
- You accidentally clicked the "Clear" or "Reset" button on the form.
- You accidentally closed the browser tab or window.
- A browser update occurred.
- Your web browser got an error or crashed.
- Your computer went to sleep or got shutdown or restarted, or it froze or the power went out.
The bad news is that there's not much you can do if this happens to you.
Some web sites give you the option to "save" what you've entered so far onto their server, along with the ability to return to it later (like an email draft or a multi-step application), but in general this is very rare, and usually only on web sites where you register or create some kind of account.
The only built-in browser function that I've seen that might help is "auto-complete," also called "Auto Form Fill" or "auto-fill." However, in my experiments, while most browsers' auto-complete functions seem to record your text after you click the "Submit" or "Next" or "Send" button, they don't (or don't always) capture your text before you click the button, while you're simply typing or editing. However, even after you've clicked the button, there may be text fields whose contents your browser's auto-complete simply won't capture. These are just some of the many reasons why auto-complete may or may not help recover text that you've lost on a form.
In case it helps, here are two ways that you can probably reveal the text that your browser's auto-complete function has "remembered" for any particular text field on a web page, assuming that the auto-complete option is already on:
First, click into an empty text field on the form (e.g., "Name," "Describe the problem," "Comments," etc.) to get the vertical blinking line (known as the "insertion point") that indicates that you can start typing.
However, these techniques may not work in your web browser, nor that particular web site's form, nor that particular field on that form. And even if they do work, the text that you lost may not be listed.
- If you can remember the beginning of what you previously typed into that field and lost, type the very first character (a letter or a digit). That may display a menu listing what you've previously typed that starts with that character, e.g., typing "m" might show a list with "Martin," "Martin Kadansky," "meanwhile," etc.
- Or, without typing anything, hold down the "Alt" key on a Windows computer keyboard (or the "option" key on a Macintosh), then tap the down-arrow key once, and then release the Alt (option) key. That may display a menu listing all of the text that your browser has recently remembered for that particular field.
Manual preventive measures you can take, but only if you employ them in the moment
If you're willing to spend some extra effort to protect yourself against this problem, there are a number of techniques that you can employ:
1. Techniques that preserve your text as you work:
Also, note that:
- As you finish typing your text into a given field (or if you pause to review or think), before submitting the form, copy and paste that field's text from your web browser into a Microsoft Word or Notepad or TextEdit document (and then Save it) to preserve it. If you do this for more than one field, be sure to note in your document which piece of text came from which field.
- Compose your text in a Microsoft Word or Notepad or TextEdit document (that you've Saved) first, and then copy and paste it into the corresponding field in the form in your web browser. However, beware the potential problems that this approach may cause: Programs like Word may "auto-correct" what you type, which can make things worse. For example, without asking you, Word can change "straight" quotes into "curly" or "typesetter's" quotes (which may not be permitted in that field on that web site), capitalize words that shouldn't be, change acronyms like "HSA" [if you're writing about a Health Services Account, for example] into supposedly "corrected" words like "Has," etc.
2. Techniques that preserve your text after you've typed it, but before you click "Submit":
- Copy and paste doesn't work for non-textual fields like radio buttons, checkboxes, pop-up menus, etc.
- If you use your browser's File->Save function to save a copy of the entire form into a file on your computer, review what you've saved right away because in my experience, sometimes the "saved" copy of a web site turns out to be unusable.
- "Restore previous session," "reopen last browsing session," etc.: These browser functions only recover the addresses of the web pages that you had open, not any text or content which you may have entered into those pages.
Software that can help, but only if you install it in advance
- Take a screenshot of the form, either using your computer's built-in function, or your own camera, smartphone, or tablet. If the form doesn't entirely fit on the screen, you'll have to scroll down and take additional screenshots until you've captured images of the entire form, in pieces.
- Print the form to paper or a PDF file. You should then review the result right away, since (just like using "Save") not all web site forms print correctly, if at all.
- Take handwritten notes on what you typed.
There are two types of software that you could use to protect yourself from this problem:
1. Browser extensions or add-ons
Just as you can get software that lets you do new things on your computer and "apps" that add new abilities to your smartphone or tablet, there are also thousands of "extensions" or "add-ons" that add new features to the web browser on your computer.
There are many web browser extensions that can preserve the text that you type into a text field on a web site, but the details of exactly how (and when) they work can be very different. Since well-established extensions can become obsolete, new extensions are created all the time, and not every extension is available in every browser, I'm not going to provide a list of recommended extensions that might solve this problem. Instead, here is a general description of how you can find them yourself:
Keep in mind that even if you find a browser add-on that preserves the text that you've typed on one web site, that add-on might not work on a different site.
- In your web browser, find the "add-ons" or "extensions" page, usually under Tools or Options or Settings.
- Locate the function that lets you search for additional add-ons or extensions, e.g., "Find more" or "Get" or "Search."
- For this particular problem, I suggest trying search terms like "recover text" or "recover form" or "restore text" or "restore form" (without the quotes).
- Pick an add-on from the list of matches.
- Install it into your web browser.
- Learn how it works, then test it on a particular web site to see if it captures the text that you enter.
- Write down the steps to recover the text you've typed using that particular add-on.
2. Keylogger software
There is a more general-purpose type of program that you could install on your computer that can capture everything you type, in every program. "Keylogger" software could certainly solve the problem of lost text typed into a web form, but since you might not want it to record everything, you would need to activate it before you start typing into a form in your web browser, deactivate it when you've finished, open it to recover the text that it captured, and then save that for your records, perhaps in a Word document.
However, since a keylogger can also be used to spy on you in order to steal your personal information, passwords, credit card numbers, etc., for security reasons your antivirus/antimalware software may prevent it from working, so I recommend practicing this technique in advance.
What if you lose the text you've typed into a web form on your iPhone, iPad, or Android?
Unfortunately, the software environment on smartphones and tablets is more primitive, so while you can probably use the copy-and-paste techniques above, in general mobile web browsers offer a much more limited choice of add-ons or extensions, if any.
On the other hand, keylogger software is available for iOS and Android.
Perhaps someday web browsers will all have a built-in function to capture and store the text you enter into a form while you're typing, just in case you lose it before you click "Submit." For now, being prepared in advance is your best approach.
Where to go from here
- google: web browser recover OR restore text OR form
- google (where X is the name of your web browser): how to get add-ons X
- google (where X is the name of your web browser): auto-complete X
- google (where Y is Windows, Macintosh, iOS, or Android): keylogger Y
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phone: (617) 484-6657
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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.