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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 15 Issue 2
February 2021
Can You Save an Online Form and Return to It Later?

The problem

You’re filling out an online form on a website, or possibly a series of forms. It might be medical information, product feedback, delivery instructions, an application, or something else. All of a sudden you realize that you can’t finish the process right then, perhaps because you don’t have all the information at hand, or you don’t have time to finish because you have an appointment and need to leave. You’d like to preserve the work that you’ve done so far, come back later, and pick up where you left off. Is that possible?

The simple answer

Whether you can do this will depend on the website. Some are specifically designed for this, like online tax preparation, or composing an email message and saving it as a Draft.

For a website to be able to do this, it will need to identify you, both when you store your work and when you come back later, so you will most likely have already created an account as part of the process. However, simply having an account on a website is no guarantee that it will let you save your work and return to it later.

Unfortunately, a feature like this takes time and money to develop, so many websites just don’t include it. If you simply walk away from your computer, leaving a website form open, when you come back later you might be able to continue the process, or it might “time out” and reset the form (or log out of your account) after a certain period of time. And if you close the web page and reload it later, it’s even more likely that you’ll have to start over.

Your web browser probably has AutoFill or Form History options, which might remember what you’ve typed into short-answer fields, but they’re less likely to do that for longer fields.

Most websites also don’t clearly tell you whether they will or won’t preserve your form or your place in a process, nor how long before a timeout might occur if you pause in the process.

On the other hand, if you have partially filled out a form on a web page and then click to leave, some websites will put up a warning that the data you have entered may be lost if you leave, along with “Stay on Page” and “Leave Page” buttons.


Here are some techniques that you might use to work around this problem:
  • Print the form (or print it to a PDF file) to keep a record of your answers so far, but you’ll probably have to retype them when you return (or you could copy and paste from the PDF). Be sure to check your printout (or PDF file) since some web forms don’t print well.
  • For Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, consider downloading and installing the free browser extension “Textarea Cache.” While it’s not designed to save an entire form per se, I’ve used this extension with some success to capture what I’ve typed into individual fields on a form.
  • As you’re filling out the form, you could copy & paste what you’ve typed from your web browser into your own word processing or text document.
  • You could first type your form responses into your own document, and then copy & paste them into the fields on the form in your web browser.
All of these techniques will require extra work on your end, not only to make a record of what you’ve typed into the form, but also to re-enter that information if you have to start over.

What doesn’t work

While most web browsers have a Save function, that doesn’t solve this particular problem, since you won’t be able to use what you’ve saved to reload the contents of your form.

In case you decide to use it, you should know that the “Save Page As” function in a web browser stores a copy of the current web page on your computer, typically in 2 closely-related pieces:

  • A file that contains the contents of that web page, with a name like “TITLE.html” where TITLE is the title of the web page you’re on, e.g., “Can You Save an Online Form and Return to It Later.html”
  • A companion subfolder that contains support files for that .html file, with a name like “TITLE_files” (note the underscore before the word “files”), e.g., “Can You Save an Online Form and Return to It Later_files”
Where to go from here
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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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.

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