Chrome Flags can be a great way to customize Chrome. You get access to experimental features that haven’t been rolled out yet and can manage how your browser interacts with the web. You don’t have to be very techy to use them, and it’s easy to turn them off if you don’t like them or they make Chrome act weird.
In this post, we’ll talk about how to activate and deactivate Flags. I’ll show you seven that will enhance your browsing experience and make your life easier—and two that you should probably avoid.
First, though: what’s a Flag?
What is a Chrome Flag?
Chrome Flags are experimental features that aren’t part of the regular Chrome experience. Some are more focused on users, and these often find their way into the UI of the Chrome we use every day. Others are mainly for developers, and where they become part of regular Chrome, they find a home in Dev Tools.
Before you go ahead and use Chrome Flags there are a few things you should be aware of.
First, once you enable a Flag, you have to relaunch your browser. All the same windows and tabs will reopen when you do.
Second, Flags aren’t always stable. They might make Chrome act weird or crash. That’s not common, but without the extensive testing that regular Chrome features undergo prior to full stable release it can’t be ruled out.
And finally, just as they aren’t tested for stability, Flags aren’t tested for security either. If you’re super security conscious, use a different browser or disable Flags to do your online banking or other highly sensitive activities.
Having said all that, let’s get started. How do you go to Chrome Flags?
How do I go to Chrome Flags?
Flags are inside Chrome, and they’re not affected by your operating system. Whether you’re using a brand-new Chromebook, last year’s iPhone, or Windows Vista, you get to them the same way.
Open Chrome, and type this into the omnibar: chrome://flags/
That will take you to the Flags homepage where you can explore available Flags.
(If you don’t see the Flag you’re looking for, it might have been discontinued or built into regular Chrome—or it might not have made it into Flags for regular Chrome yet. Try Chrome Canary or Devs to see more Flags.)
You can’t search for Flags direct from the omnibar, and you can’t use the site: search function to search inside Chrome with Google either. But it’s easy to do within Flags.
Say I’m looking for the Enable offline auto reload Flag.
I can find it using Control+F or Command+F, or the search box at the top of the Flags homepage, or I can just scroll down the page. If you’re new to Flags, that’s a great way to find out what’s on offer.
But if I already know it, I can also go to that Flag direct from the omnibar, by typing:
This is called a tag. Every Flag has a tag attached:
Once you’ve identified the Flag you want, you might want to toggle it on and off again multiple times—especially if it relates to work and you need to repeatedly test something in different states, for example.
And if you’re regularly using or toggling the same Flags, you’ll probably want to save the tags in a Doc or, better yet, a text editor that’s not dependent on your browser.
How do I find out which Flags are enabled?
You can go to Flags and scroll down the list. Obviously that’s the simplest way. But you might have to scroll past a lot of Flags you’ve never even seen to find the handful you’re interested in. And while most Flags will tell you whether they’re enabled or disabled in a link right next to the Flag description, some don’t.
Is this Flag on or off?
The difficulty is when Flags use menus in place of enable/disable links. Generally, you can see all the Flags you have turned on or off by typing into the ombinar:
That takes you to a page that looks like this:
You’ll see which Flags are enabled or disabled, but only if you’ve changed their state.
What this page doesn’t show you is the condition of Flags that you didn’t change, or the condition of Flags that have menus rather than enable/disable links. There’s currently no central point to see all that from.
But there are usually very few Flags enabled by default, so before you enable any, you should be able to see them by scrolling down. There are usually only about 75 Flags available.
How do I reset Flags to default?
You can reset individual Flags by clicking on their link to disable them or return them to default.
If you want to reset all your Flags, you can select Reset all to default in the Flags page.
In either case, you’ll have to relaunch Chrome to see your changes take effect.
Chrome Flags that make your browsing experience better
Now let’s explore a few resident Flags that are well worth enabling.
1. Show Autofill predictions
This Flag shows Chrome autofill predictions as placeholder text in online forms.
When you come to a signup or other form, Chrome offers you autofill to save you typing the same email address, name, and ZIP code you use in a zillion forms. This Flag means as soon as the form comes up, it’s auto-populated without you having to type anything.
2. Tab freeze and discard
This Flag replaces the Automatic tab discarding Flag. If you’re in the habit of leaving multiple tabs open, this Flag is for you: it keeps those tabs open but stops them from using memory.
Normally, Chrome treats each tab as its own little program, which you can see in your Task Manager. This “Tablerone” is a memory- and CPU-suck. But with Tab freeze and discard, you can leave as many tabs as you want open, still see their content, but not sacrifice memory to keep them visible. They “wake back up” when you navigate or interact in them.
3. Parallel downloading
Parallel downloading creates three separate download “jobs” to accelerate the downloading of large files. Enabling this Flag can make downloads of large files much faster.
4. Enable QUIC
In most cases, what’s fast isn’t secure and vice versa. Even the very best of Chrome VPNs slow things down a little. But Google has been working on a new protocol that combines elements of TCP and UDP and is both faster and more secure. QUIC works by reducing the number of connection requests required to establish a secure connection with the server.
5. Override software rendering list
Lets you force the use of GPU acceleration even where it’s unsupported, overriding the default software rendering—handy if you want to test your app or website with GPU acceleration.
6. Lazy image loading
Lets you load image-heavy pages faster by forcing “lazy” image loading, which prevents images from loading until they’re actually about to be displayed on the screen.
Many sites are coded this way, but for those that aren’t, there’s now no need to wait until the site’s development team gets around to it. And developers can easily test how a site would perform if it was coded that way.
7. Full URL display
Google stopped displaying full URLs for websites in Chrome 76. It now cuts off “trivial” subdomain stuff like m. and www. and prefixes like https://. The omnibar displays only the name of the website and folders.
That’s annoying for several reasons. Among them, it conceals the URL of the site you’re visiting: are you on the www. version or not? For devs and SEOs that matters more than a little. And when you want to copy the URL, you automatically get the whole thing—prefixes and all, whether you want them or not. My personal bugbear is that this makes it unnecessarily inconvenient to search websites using the site: parameter direct from Google.
If you prefer to see the URL without any interference, there are two Flags in Chrome 76 to let you do that. Though bear in mind they will eventually be deprecated.
Simply load the two tags:
With both Omnibox UI Hide Steady-State URL Scheme and Omnibox UI Hide Steady-State URL Trivial Subdomains enabled, you should see full URLs in your omnibar—at least until Google deprecates the Flags (or gives us our URLs back!).
Chrome Flags to avoid
Chrome Flags are experimental by nature. Most are safe to use, but some are more trouble than they’re worth. These are the main culprits as of Chrome 76:
1. Zero-copy rasterizer
Enable this and raster threads will write directly to the GPU memory associated with tiles (the small, more manageable areas that large files are divided into in Chrome).
That’s great, in that it makes Chrome significantly faster, but also not so great in that it makes Chrome crash significantly more. This Flag will take Chrome from stable to seriously unstable, so we don’t recommend it. It’s here if you want to try it anyway:
2. Site isolation opt-out
Disables site isolations intended to keep users safe. Commonly used by developers to diagnose iframe bugs, this Flag comes with the warning that it can leave users open to the Spectre CPU vulnerability. Of more immediate concern is that it started crashing applications since Chome 76 rolled out. Google may fix that soon, but for now, best to stay clear.