Chrome Flags give you power customizations for Chrome.
You get access to experimental features that haven’t been released. You don’t have to be very techy to use them and it’s easy to turn them off if Chrome starts acting weird.
First, what’s a Flag?
What is a Chrome Flag?
Chrome Flags are experimental features that aren’t part of the default Chrome experience. Some are focused on users that eventually find their way into the public version of Chrome. Others are for developers and become part of Chrome Developer Tools once they’re released.
Before you go ahead and use Chrome Flags, there are a few things you should be aware of.
- Once you enable a Flag, you have to relaunch your browser. All the same windows and tabs will reopen when you do.
- Flags aren’t always stable. They might make Chrome act weird or crash. They haven’t gone through the extensive testing required to make it into the main version of Chrome. Proceed with caution.
- Flags aren’t tested for security. If you’re super security conscious, use a different browser or disable Flags to do your online banking or other sensitive activities.
Having said all that, how do you get to Chrome Flags?
Where are the 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 search bar: 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, released on the main version of Chrome, or in the pipeline to get released soon. Try Chrome Canary to see more Flags.
To find a specific flag or a flag related to a feature, you can find it using Control+F/Command+F or with search box at the top of the page. If you’re new to Flags, I’d scroll down and look for something interesting.
But if you already know the specific flag that you want, you can also go to that Flag direct from the search bar 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 to make sure it’s working smoothly..
And if you regularly use or toggle the same Flags, you’ll probably want to save the tags in a Doc, a text editor, or as a bookmark.
How do I find 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 to find the one you want. 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 search bar:
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 for the Flags that you didn’t change, or the conditions of Flags that have menus. There’s currently no central point to see all that.
But there are very few Flags enabled by default. So before you enable any, you should be able to see them by scrolling down. There are usually 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” at the top of 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 Flags that you should enable.
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 and still see their content with out sacrificing memory. They “wake back up” when you navigate or interact in them. IF you have a tab addiction, enable this Chrome Flag.
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 that’s 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 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 search bar displays only the name of the website and folders.
Depending on your job, this could be annoying for several reasons. It conceals the URL of the site you’re visiting. Are you on the www. version or not? For devs and SEOs, this matters a lot. And when you want to copy the URL, you automatically get the whole thing—prefixes and all, whether you want them or not. For me, it also makes it 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 to let you do that. 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 search bar. 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:
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 often. 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 it rolled out. Google may fix that soon, but for now, best to stay clear.