Monday, November 19, 2007

Don't Fight The Back Button

Since, well, forever, people have been annoyed about how the back button and web apps work - or usually don't - together. This has caused no end of pain and suffering in web app creation, and reliable back button handling is one of the reasons I so prefer SISCweb to develop in. How many times have we had to open up an app in new window, just to hide the back button?

And then along comes Google, who does something unexpected - they actually make the back button part of the controls of Gmail.

Your web browser is now a great way to navigate Gmail. Instead of having to find the right links on the page to move from inbox to messages to other Gmail views, you can use the browser navigation buttons (back and forward) to jump back and forth between emails. You can also open your browser history and click on specific emails that you've read to go right back to them. This allows you to quickly access certain emails without having to re-read your inbox. Browser history is something that often doesn't work well on complex web apps like Gmail, but we've gone to great lengths to make it work right.

I love that last sentence.

The thing is, after years of knowing how much havoc the back button can cause to a stateful web app, I can't bring myself to use it. It just feels wrong.

Nice move Google, turning a classic weakness into a strength.

Learn more Gmail tips here.


  1. I always use the back button, always. In fact I have tried to incorporate it into my work.

    Josh (your brother)

  2. See, the big brother setting the example to follow. Thanks.

    Of course, in the world of doctoring, the undo button is way more valuable than the back button ;-).