Safari icon for iOS Private Browsing is an optional Safari browsing mode that causes no data from the browsing session to be saved, this means no cache files, cookies, or browsing history will be stored or collected in iOS, making for a fairly anonymous session on the client side. It’s a popular browsing choice for a wide variety of reasons, and it’s now easier to use on every iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, because you can now toggle the setting on directly in Safari, and without losing all existing Safari browser pages. This offers considerable improvements over what existed previously, but like much of iOS post the major 7.0 overhaul, it can be confusing to find until it has been pointed out to you.

Using the Private Browsing option in Safari with iOS 7 (or newer) is very easy, and the feature works the same on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch:

  • Open Safari in iOS as usual
  • Visit any web page and tap on the URL to make the URL bar and navigation buttons visible
  • Tap the panels icon in the corner, which looks like two overlapping squares
  • Select the “Private” option to enable private browsing mode, then choose one of two options regarding existing web pages:
    • Close All – just as it sounds, closes all existing web page windows, effectively starting a fresh private browsing session while losing all existing panels and tabs
    • Keep All – maintain all existing web page windows and panels, turning them into private sessions
  • Browse the web as usual, minus any cookies, history, or cache storing

Use Private Browsing in iOS

The “Keep All” setting is ideal for most users if you don’t want to lose your prior windows, and if you’re using Private Browsing on someone elses devices to log into an online web service or account it’s probably the most considerate option. The “Close All” option is usually more useful upon exiting Private mode.

Private Browsing is very easy to identify when it’s enabled because the browser window elements turn into a dark grey, both on an individual webpage screen, and on the browser tab panel view.

Private Browsing mode enabled in iOS with dark elements

Keep in mind that entering and exiting out of Private mode will not cause you to lose previously stored cache, history, or cookies, and clearing Safari’s browser data out must be done separately through the Safari Settings options, which also offers an optional site-specific removal setting to delete data for individual websites and domains.

Exiting out of private browsing can be done at any time, repeat the same steps as above but this time tap on the “Private” option again unselect it. You will still have the option to either close all or keep all existing web pages, either of which will switch out of private and back to normal browsing mode.

Users who have prior versions of iOS installed on their iPad or iPhone will find the option exclusively stored in the Settings.

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