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What is Autocomplete?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Autocomplete is a time saving feature in many computer programs that include some form of text input. It typically uses a predictive algorithm to make a guess as to what a person is typing, allowing a user to more efficiently interact with a computer. Web browsers often use autocomplete to help users type long uniform resource locators (URLs). Many word processors, e-mail programs, and other types of text editors also use the feature in some capacity. In most cases, it is possible to turn autocomplete off, and some people find it distracting or may be annoyed when it provides incorrect suggestions.

Many modern web browsers use autocomplete when a user types in a URL. When this feature was first introduced, the browser would simply remember addresses that had been visited in the past, and suggest them in the future. This feature can often be turned off, or rendered useless by erasing the browser history. Some web browsers will now suggest URLs that have never been visited and aren't in their history. They may also suggest natural words that aren't URLs if the browser supports searching from the address bar.

In addition to assistance in completing URLs, many web browsers extend the functionality to various forms and other fields. This may allow for the easy completion of frequently entered information like email addresses, names, or credit card information. Like other instances of autocompletion, it is often possible to set forms to not autocomplete. It may also be possible to change settings so that the web browser does not save this information to begin with, which may be especially useful when working on a computer that is accessible to the public.

Web search engines will often offer a form of autocompletion as well. In this case, as a search term is typed, it is matched to other popular searches, allowing multiple common suggestions to be made. Given a fast internet connection, this may be a seamless process that can allow for much quicker searches.

E-mail programs, including web based applications, will often use autocomplete for e-mail addresses. Similar to URLs, e-mail addresses may be long or hard to remember. Some programs will even let the user begin typing the name of a person in their address book, at which point the program will automatically insert the correct address.

Word processors, code editors, and database query tools are also examples of programs that commonly use some form of autocompletion. Word processors will often come with a predetermined set of words they will attempt to autocomplete, though they are often capable of learning or being taught new words. Source code editors, on the other hand, typically use a very structured programming language that may be more efficiently autocompleted.

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