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Mozilla will finally retire the backspace key as a navigation tool

It’s surprising that this didn’t happen earlier.

Mozilla firefox logo
Image: KnowTechie

One of the biggest dilemmas Mozilla developers have faced is whether to keep the backspace key navigation in the Firefox browser or not. After weighing the pros and cons, it seems they’ve made up their mind – the backspace key won’t work as a back button inside Firefox.

The first talks about removing the backspace-key navigation started in 2014. Mozilla developers argued that many users pressing the backspace-key didn’t do that to navigate the previous page.

They also said that hitting backspace can lead to all sorts of actions, dependent on the position of the cursor. If the cursor is on a text field, it can delete the characters to its left, and if not, it can take the user to the previous page. In both those instances, the action might not be in line with the user’s intent. Consequently, in some cases, that had lead to accidental data loss.

To get a better perspective on the issue, a group of Mozilla engineers was tasked with collecting data on how people use the backspace key. This was back in 2014.

The report astonished everyone as it revealed that 40 million active users use the backspace key. That made the backspace key by far, the most used shortcut of all shortcuts within Firefox. Based on that data, the people at Firefox thought twice whether they should remove the backspace key navigation or not. 

The CTRL+F shortcut used to find text content within a page featured around 16 million users, followed by the 15 million users who used the CTLR+R and F5 reload shortcuts. 

However, it turned out that there is one massive difference between those that used the backspace key and those that used the other popular shortcuts. A significant percentage of backspace keypresses were unintentional. Quite often, when the user was hitting the backspace-key believing the cursor is inside a text field, it unintentionally navigated to the previous page. In the process, the user lost form data.

While Mozilla engineers were still weighing in, Chrome removed this shortcut from its browser in 2016. But it seems that in 2021 Mozilla is finally determined to put this matter to bed and remove backspace navigation once and for all. The new change is already applied within the Firefox Nightly version and will be part of the upcoming Firefox 86, set to be released in February.

Have any thoughts on this? Glad to see this change coming? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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