Speed Up Safari With These Tune-Up Tips

Don’t Let Safari Slow Down

Safari with the Develop menu
Using the Develop menu in Safari to delete the cache. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Safari is my web browser of choice. I use it every day, for just about everything web-related. Safari gets quite a workout from me, and most of the time it delivers outstanding performance.

There are times, however, when Safari seems to be sluggish; sometimes the rendering of a web page slows down, or the spinning pinwheel takes over. On rare occasions, web pages fail to load, or forms display strangely or simply don't work.

Who’s at Fault?

One of the problems with diagnosing a Safari slowdown is determining who's at fault. While my experience may not be the same as yours, most of the time I find Safari slowdowns are related to my ISP or DNS provider having difficulties, or the website I'm trying to reach having its own server problems.

I’m not trying to say that Safari slowdowns are always caused by an outside source; far from it, but you should consider the possibility when trying to diagnose a Safari problem.

DNS Issues

Before you start looking through our tune-up tips for Safari on your Mac, you should take a moment and tune up your DNS provider. It’s the job of the DNS system you use to translate a URL, such as http://macs.about.com, into the IP address of the web server that will actual serve up the content you're looking for. Before Safari can do anything, it has to wait on the DNS service to provide the address translation.

With a slow DNS server, the translation can take a while, and cause Safari to seem slow, only partially render a web page, or simply fail to find the website.

To make sure your Mac is using a decent DNS service, take a look at: Test Your DNS Provider to Gain Faster Web Access.

Should you need to change your DNS provider, you can find instructions in the guide: Use the Network Preference Pane to Change Your Mac's DNS Settings.

Finally, if you’re having problems with just a few websites, give this guide the once-over: Use DNS to Fix a Web Page Not Loading in Your Browser.

With externally sourced Safari issues out of the way, let's look at a general Safari tune-up.

Tune Up Safari

These tune-up tips can affect performance to varying degrees, from mild to major, depending on the version of Safari you're using. Over time, Apple modified some of the routines in Safari to optimize performance. As a result, some tune-up techniques can, for example, create huge performance increases in early versions of Safari, but not so much in later versions. However, it won’t hurt to give them a try.

Before you try the various tune-up techniques, a word about updating Safari.

Keep Safari Updated

Apple spends a lot of time developing the core technology that Safari uses, including the JavaScript engine that drives much of Safari’s performance. Having the most modern JavaScript engine at the heart of Safari is one of the best ways to ensure a fast and responsive Safari experience.

However, the JavaScript updates for Safari are usually tied to the version of Mac OS you're using. That means to keep Safari up to date, you'll want to keep the Mac operating system up to date.

If you’re a heavy user of Safari, it pays to keep OS X or macOS current.

Time to Cache It In

Safari stores the pages you view, including any images that are part of the pages, in a local cache because it can render cached pages faster than new pages, at least in theory. The problem with the Safari cache is that it can eventually grow very large, causing Safari to slow down while it tries to look up a cached page to determine whether to load that page or download a new version.

Deleting the Safari cache can temporarily improve page loading times, until the cache expands again and becomes too large for Safari to sort through efficiently, at which time you'll need to delete it again.

To delete the Safari cache:

  1. Select Safari, Empty Cache from the Safari menu.
  2. Safari 6 and later removed the option to delete the cache from the Safari menu. However, you can enable the Safari Develop Menu and then empty the cache

How often should you delete the Safari cache? That depends on often you use Safari. Because I use Safari daily, I delete the cache about once a week, or whenever I remember to do it, which is sometimes less than once a week.

Favicons Aren't My Favorite

Favicons (short for favorite icons) are the little icons that Safari displays next to the URLs of web pages you visit. (Some site developers don't bother to create favicons for their websites; in those cases, you'll see the generic Safari icon.) Favicons serve no purpose other than to provide a quick visual reference to the identity of a website. For example, if you see a three-dimensional, red, ball-shaped favicon, you know you're on About.com. Favicons are permanently stored at their website of origin, along with all of the other data that makes up the web pages for that site. Safari also creates a local copy of every favicon it comes across, and therein lies the problem.

Like the cached web pages we mentioned above, the favicon cache can become huge and slow Safari down by forcing it to sort through hordes of favicons to find the right one to display. Favicons are such a weight on performance that in Safari 4, Apple finally corrected how Safari stores favicons. If you use an earlier version of Safari, you can delete the favicon cache on a regular basis, and vastly improve Safari's page loading performance. If you use Safari 4 or later, you don't need to delete the favicons.

To delete the favicons cache:

  1. Quit Safari.
  2. Using the Finder, go to homefolder/Library/Safari, where homefolder is the home directory for your user account.
  3. Delete the Icons folder.
  4. Launch Safari.

Safari will start rebuilding the favicon cache each time you visit a website. Eventually, you'll need to delete the favicon cache again. I recommend updating to at least Safari 6 so you can avoid this process completely.

History, the Places I've Seen

Safari maintains a history of every web page you view. This has the practical benefit of letting you use the forward and back buttons to transverse recently viewed pages. It also lets you go back in time to find and view a web page that you forgot to bookmark.

The history can be quite helpful, but like other forms of caching, it can also become a hindrance. Safari stores up to a month's worth of your site visit history. If you only visit a few pages a day, that's not a lot of page history to store. If you visit hundreds of pages each day, the History file can quickly get out of hand.

To delete your History:

  1. Select History, Clear History from the Safari menu.

Depending on the version of Safari you're using, you’re likely to see a dropdown menu allowing you to select the time period from which to clear web history. The choices are all history, today and yesterday, today, the last hour. Make your choice, and then click the Clear History button.

Plug-ins

Often overlooked is the effect of third-party plug-ins. Many times we try out a plug-in that provides what appears to be a useful service, but after a while, we stop using it because it really didn’t meet our needs. At some point, we forget about these plug-ins, but they're still in Safari’s plug-in list, consuming space and resources.

You can use the following guide to Ditch Those Unwanted Plug-ins.

Extensions

Extensions are similar in concept to plug-ins; both plug-ins and extensions provide capabilities that Safari doesn't provide on its own. Just like plug-ins, extensions can cause issues with performance, especially when there are a large number of extensions installed, competing extensions, or worse, extensions whose origins or purposes you've long since forgotten.

If you wish to get rid of unused extensions, take a look at: How to Install, Manage, and Delete Safari Extensions.

These Safari performance tips will keep your web browsing moving along at the speed of, well, the speed of your Internet connection and the speed of the web server that is hosting the website you're visiting. And that's how fast it should be.

Originally published: 8/22/2010

Update history: 12/15/2014, 7/1/2016