QR Code contains TinyURL of this article.Faster, More Secure Safari Browsing at the Press of a Key

red Ferrari F40 displayed in a Safari web-browser window
Turbo-charged Web BrowsingCredit: . License: CC BY-SA 3.0

When I wrote “Keyboard Wizard,” I deliberately omitted a keyboard shortcut from those I listed: caps lock+J.

This is a magical key combination, endowed with special powers. You see, on my MacBook, this keyboard shortcut toggles the Disable JavaScript option in Safari’s Develop menu.

I didn’t list it previously as I wanted to spend some time with JavaScript disabled in order to be able to better report on how it affects general web-browsing. Would most of the Web break, forcing me to restore JavaScript functionality so as to get shit done? Would my browsing “experience” wind up resembling that of the Web’s early days?

screen capture of an early web-page rendered in the Nexus browser on NeXTSTEP

Actually, I ended up pleasantly surprised. The Web didn’t seem that much different and, in three significant ways, it was much improved:

№ 1 - The Web became so much faster
We all recognise how bloated modern websites have become. We encumber our websites with megabytes of JavaScript and high-resolution images that we often fail to properly optimise, along with the detritus we have to deploy in the name of monetisation. This unnecessary cruft takes time both to transfer over the network and for the browser to render. It slows down your web-browsing more than you’d imagine.
№ 2 - My “footprint” was smaller
With JavaScript disabled, I was less visible to the trackers and profilers of the marketeers. Sure there are still cookies,1 invisible web beacons2 and the like to contend with. But with the advertising industry’s heavy reliance on JavaScript, I knew I was surrendering a lot less information than they’d like and I was more than happy with that.
№ 3 - I’d closed a major attack vector
JavaScript provides bad actors with a means to execute code on my computer. Without it, we have not only locked some potentially open doors, we have bricked them up and plastered over them, like they never existed.

So, What Breaks in a No-JavaScript Web?

Of the sites I tend to frequent, there’s not as much breakage as I was anticipating when I began this experiment. I was able to use Google’s Gmail, albeit with a more primitive, but still functional interface. Wired, Hacker News and The Guardian were perfectly usable. I was even able to shop on Amazon.

The BBC website works — kind of — delivering its content in a narrow template, that’s out-of-sync with the rest of the organisation’s design. But it is usable.

One negative side-effect was that a large number of websites fail to display images in the absence of a JavaScript engine. I was curious about this. After all, an <img> tag is one of the Web’s primitives and certainly doesn’t have any kind of JavaScript reliance.

So I did a little digging. What I found is an almost across-the-board usage of lazy-loading, in one form or another. I had no idea that lazy-loading had become so prevalent. It’s fantastic that it has though. From a user’s perspective lazy-loading can make a web-page usable earlier than it would otherwise be and that’s a big win. It would be nice if the implementations were correct though, you know… with regular img tags or, failing that, with <noscript> alternatives. We can blame lazy programming or an inflexible CMS for that.

Here to Stay?

Now for the billion-dollar question. Will I continue onwards with JavaScript disabled by default or — in a Web where JavaScript is ubiquitous — do I admit defeat and turn the interpreter back on?

Personally, with my browsing activity, I can comfortably continue without JavaScript for the most part. I have also come to prefer a Web that’s faster, more private and more secure than its counterpart.

So yes, I will continue to use the Web without JavaScript wherever practical. After all, in those rare cases where I really do need it, JavaScript is just a keyboard shortcut away.

  1. Note however that a lack of JavaScript is a serious impediment to EverCookies which are the most nefarious type, so there’s a definite bonus there. Traditional cookies are easier to regulate. ↩︎

  2. A decent ad-blocker will take care of web beacons. ↩︎