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backup formsWhile browsers keep getting better and better, there’s one thing none of them have managed to abolish entirely – crashes. Every browser (well, OK, at least the big names) crashes every once in a while, and that’s without getting into more general computer crashes, loss of power (happens even on a Mac!), etc. No matter what computer you use and which browser you prefer, crashes can happen. And when they do, be sure they’ll happen in the wrong time.

You’re filling in a long laborious form, or you’ve just finished writing a long email in an online contact form, and CRASH, you lose everything you’ve just been working on for the last 30 minutes. Sometimes this isn’t even caused by a crash, but a timeout or an auto-refresh. The worst ones are when you actually submit the form, and get only an error message. You try to go back, but it’s all gone.

This is the moment you start cursing computers in general, and wishing we could all just go back to the simpler days when writing was done on paper and these things couldn’t happen. Alternatively, you could install an add-on that backs up your forms and will save you the next time this happens.

Lazarus: Form Recovery [Chrome, Firefox, Safari]

Lazarus is really the only add-on out there that does exactly the right thing in these annoying scenarios: it backs up everything you’ve written in the form, and if something happens to it, you can simply restore it and pick up exactly where you left off. We’ve told you about Lazarus in the past, but much has changed for this add-on since 2009. While it is available for several browsers, it doesn’t work exactly the same way in all of them.

Let’s say you’ve filled out a long form in Firefox, and then closed the window by mistake. Oops! If you have Lazarus installed, you can right click on one of the form fields and choose “Recover Form”. This should restore every field in your form.

backup forms

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In Chrome you’ll find a slightly different interface; when you access the form you’ve lost, you’ll see a small icon in the empty field your standing on. Clicking it will give you one or more options for this field, and when you choose one, it will re-fill the entire form for you.

back up form

As you can see, the recovery includes check boxes, radio boxes, etc., not only text fields. If you’re worried about your privacy, you can protect the backup with a password, or configure Lazarus not to save sensitive information.

back up form

Lazarus’s database is searchable, so you can always open it and search for a specific form you need to find. If you want to save the database for a long time, or get other extra features, you can check out Lazarus Pro, which costs around $10 per year.

Note that the latest version of Lazarus for Chrome doesn’t save text from WYSIWYG editors. According to the developers, this is due to a bug in Chrome.

Form History Control [Firefox]

If for some reason you’re not happy with Lazarus, or if you’re looking for something with a little more control over privacy, check out Form History Control. This add-on is not really a form recovery tool; rather, it’s a privacy tool that gives you more control over what data your browser saves from forms. The add-on lets you easily clean up your entire history, or only parts of it, and you can also use it to recover long parts of forms, if you’ve lost them.

back up form

If you want to use this add-on to back up your forms, there are several things you should configure first. In the options, under “Editor fields”, you should first check the box next to “Enable automatic backups”. You can then choose to save a new version if the last one is older than 1 or 2 minutes (or longer), or if the text has changed by more than 10 characters (or more). This will create many versions, but you’ll be sure it’s backing up your form frequently.

online forms

Even with these settings, the add-on may only save fields with a lot of text, and not every single field. Still useful if you’ve just written a long email in a contact form and lost it. Make sure you set the add-on to automatically clean the database every week or so, so as to not end up with a huge one.

Textarea Cache [Firefox]

For a very simple option, which automatically backs up large text areas and WYSIWYG editors, give Textarea Cache a spin. This is the simplest add-on of all: it saves a cache of your text fields, and if you happen to lose them, you can open the cache and copy it from there. It won’t restore entire forms, but it will save the bulk of your text.

backup forms

After you’re done, you can remove the item from the cache. You can use the drop-down menu on the top to switch between items in the cache, if you have several stored. A great option for minimalists.

Conclusion

When I set out to write this post, I was sure there are many such options around. Surprisingly, aside from Lazarus, I found nothing for Chrome, and the two I found for Firefox don’t really do the same thing. Is backing up forms really that hard, or is it just a niche taken up by one add-on? If you know of any more good add-ons that backup and restore lost forms, do tell me about them in the comments.

Image credit: form in computer image via Shutterstock

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