macOS Sonoma adds a new feature to the Safari web browser: web apps. As you have been able to do on the iPhone and iPad for years, web apps are single-site mini browsers that you can save to your Mac and launch when you want to access that site.
Web apps are a great feature, and there are a lot of good reasons to use them. However, there are limitations. Here’s how Safari web apps work in macOS Sonoma, and why you might want to use them.
What are web apps?
Web apps are tiny files that let you access a website via Safari. The apps themselves don’t contain Safari; they are merely preference files that take up about 25K on disk, but that run Safari in a separate window. You save a web app from Safari, and you can then launch it and access the site you’ve saved.
Web apps give you access to any content on the website you’ve saved them from, but they don’t open links to other sites. If you click a link to a different site, that link opens in Safari. And you can’t add tabs in web apps.
How do you save and launch a web app?
To save a web app, go to the site you want to use, click the Share button, and choose Save to Dock. You can save the main page of a site, or any individual page on the site; when you launch the web app, you see the page you saved.
Web apps are saved to the Dock, but they are also saved to the Applications folder inside your Home folder (the folder with the house icon and your user name). You can drag a web app away from the Dock, and still access it from that folder; or you can place it anywhere, such as in a different folder or on the Desktop for quick access.
You can also launch web apps via Mission Control, Spotlight, or any application launcher.
Why should you use web apps?
Web apps allow you to have a mini-browser that can only access one site. Instead of having lots of tabs in Safari, you may want to use certain sites as web apps. For example, if you use Slack or Discord, you may want to have those services in a web app. It’s a great way to keep quick access to your bank or other financial service. And if you want to keep track of the news, why not create web apps for the sites you visit?
Web apps have hyper minimal interfaces. There’s no address bar, no access to bookmarks or even to browsing history. However, the Back and Forward buttons work, so you can navigate within a browsing session.
Web apps don’t share cookies with Safari, and keep their cookies separate, which means you can log into one account in Safari, and a different account in a web app, if you need to. When you create a web app, Safari copies cookies for that site to the web apps, so you can use settings and identifiers. In many cases, you remain logged into the web app, if you’re logged into the site when you create the web app. (This depends on whether the site has stored the authentication state in the cookie.) Or you can log out, then log in with different credentials.
Web apps can auto-fill passwords and other information from your iCloud Keychain, so your access to websites is as smooth as it is with the full Safari.
You can enable notifications for web apps, just as you would for any website in Safari. Web apps also support Focus modes, so you can enable or disable notifications according to your Focus.
What are the limitations of web apps?
Web apps load a single website just as Safari does, but are limited in what they can do after loading the site. You’ll notice that web apps don’t have an address bar; this means that you can’t go to any ad hoc URL, and can only navigate a site through its links. This also means that you can’t search with Google or another search engine, because that’s a different site. You could, however, create a web app for Google, which would segregate your cookies from your main browsing environment, but when you click search results, they would open in Safari.
You can’t create private browsing web apps, but since they store cookies separately, and don’t intermingle your browsing history with your normal Safari browsing, there is a level of built-in privacy. You might want to create web apps for sites where you use private browsing, if all you want to do is keep websites from profiling you. But this doesn’t provide the full private browsing features, such as deleting cookies and stored data when you close windows.
Web apps can’t use extensions, so if you need extensions, such as for a content blocker or password manager, you won’t be able to access them.
You can open a site that is in a web app in Safari by clicking the small icon at the top right of the window:
And if you visit a web page in Safari for which you have a web app, Safari will ask you if you want to open the web app:
How do you set permissions for web apps?
Just as you can set permissions in Safari, for each website, regarding access to the microphone, camera, and location, web apps have settings for this access. If you choose [web app name] > Settings, you see this dialog:
The General tab lets you rename the web app, change the icon if you want (click the icon and select an image file), disable or enable navigation controls (the Back and Forward icons, and the open in Safari icon), and show the website’s color in the title bar.
The Privacy tab lets you access Privacy & Security Settings; click that button to open the System Settings app and adjust permissions for the camera, microphone, screen sharing, and location access. Finally, you can clear any stored website data by click the appropriate button.
Web apps are a useful new feature that can make your browsing more practical. Try them out, and you may find that having individual apps for certain websites you use often makes using certain sites easier.
How can I learn more?
Each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest Apple news, including security and privacy stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.
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