Monday, May 16, 2016

Basic Browser Troubleshooting With Minimal Pain

A while ago, I suddenly became unable to create LinkedIn "posts", on one specific computer, in one specific browser.  I knew it would be a bit like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack, but I figured it would be educational.  It was, and the problem was solved.  Based on my experience, here is my basic advice on troubleshooting browser issues for Chrome, Internet Explorer (IE), and Mozilla's Firefox.

The Problem - "Posts" on Chrome on Windows 8.1*

* - spoiler alert, neither of these was my problem.

LinkedIn has a feature called "posts".  This is a blog-like functionality built into LinkedIn.  It worked pretty well for me for a while...until it didn't.  Suddenly, it would not work on one specific computer, which was running Windows 8.1, and I only had the problem on Chrome.  It worked with other browsers on the same computer and on a different computer, running Win 7, it worked with any browser, including Chrome.

Time to fix it.  First, let's do some broad passes to figure out the big problem.

Try Another Browser

Having another browser to test things is great.  It's also nice if you want to be a little more coy about your travels on the Interwebz.  For example, you might have one browser for your day-to-day stuff, where you store your passwords, etc. but another browser that you use incognito without any settings as a (relatively) safe sandbox.

I usually have Chrome, IE, and Firefox installed.  Recently, I added Chrome Canary, a developer version of Chrome for early adopters.  Canary uses its own settings and data, so you can run it alongside Chrome.

Case in point: My problem occurred on Chrome, but not Chrome Canary.

If you try a different browser and your problem still exists, then it is likely a more systemic problem like network, firewall, antivirus, etc.  If it only exists on one browser, then you may have a browser-specific problem, but I would still recommend some simple system-focused steps first.

Try Turning It Off And On Again

If you have not tried turning your computer on and off again, it really is worth a try.  A lot of things get reset when you do that and many problems magically go away.  There is a good reason that this has basically become a folk saying for the modern age.

Network issues can also be a problem, so if you have the ability to turn your router on and off again, it's worth trying.  When I do this at home, I literally pull out the plug on the router and wait for at least 30 seconds, then put it back in. It may take a minute or two for everything to get back online.  Be patient; this may be a great time to get a drink or take a bio break.

Good news: you may also see a jump in your bandwidth and a better latency and ping, which would be icing on the cake.  I actually do this somewhat regularly at home and more than 90% of the time, it makes our online access more peppy. :-)

Try Turning Off Your Antivirus Temporarily

This is an unobtrusive choice and there may be a setting inside your antivirus that is getting in the way of your browser's functionality without you realizing it.  
Antivirus can be the problem even if you have disabled or removed browser extensions related to it.
If this solves the problem, you will probably find a quick solution online by searching google for the name of your browser, the name of your antivirus program, and some keywords about the error. 

[Ultimately, this was my problem, as I explain in detail at the end of this post].

Remember to turn your antivirus back on.

Make Sure Your Browser Is the Current Version

OK, now it's time to focus on the browser itself.  First, let's make sure it is the latest version. 
There will usually be an easy way to update directly from these places if you find that you are not up to date.

Try Disabling Extensions

Extensions are little extra features plugged into your browser.  They can easily mess up a browser.  It's easy to turn them off and verify that.  Just go to:
  • Chrome: Settings -> Extensions -> Click off "Enable" as needed
  • Firefox: Settings -> Add-ons -> Extensions -> Click "Disable" as needed
  • IE: Settings -> Manage Add-ons -> Click on each and "Disable" as needed
Then restart the browser and check they are off, because sometimes, one of them will stay on the first time.

Once you are sure they are all turned off, see if your problem is solved.

If The Extension is The Problem

  • Google for an answer by searching for the name of the extension and a few keywords related to your problem
  • If there is a way to contact the developer of the extension, that may also be a good way to go; often you can go to the "store page" for that extension and find a link to the developer
  • Tweet to the developer's Twitter account if they have one (please be civil and concise)
  • I would not recommend trying to use a review for tech support (e.g., "Your app didn't work for me, 1 start, you suck!"), that may feel cathartic, but it's likely to not help as they will probably not be able to contact you (and you don't want publicly post your contact info in a review)

Clear Cookies, Content, History, Etc.

WARNING: This is where the fixes start to get more obtrusive and potentially painful as we wipe out data that makes things convenient for us.

Clearing out your cookies can solve a lot of problems.  Usually, your cookies should be enough.  Of course, this will mean having to re-establish various choices and sign ins on various sites.  If you use two-factor authentication with Chrome, you will likely need to re-verify with them.

Still, just a minor annoyance if it solves the problem.

Nuke It From Orbit - Delete and Re-Install

Removing and reinstalling the program may solve your problem as well.  A bad install, sloppy extension code, gremlins, you name it.  This is a bit more obtrusive as you will need to sign into things once again.

If you "sign into" your browsers and store your data that way, it will mitigate some of this.  For example, if you use Chrome, there is an ability to sign into Chrome (not just your Gmail account).  Then your bookmarks, saved passwords, etc., will be visible on any browser you sign into.  Similar features are available in IE and Firefox.  If you take this route, please set up two-factor authentication (e.g., when you sign into a new device, it texts a confirmation code).

Still Not Resolved?  Reaching Out

Now it will get far more complicated.  In my specific example, it was a problem with LinkedIn posting, so I reached out to them.  That may not always be a possibility.  If there is a community related to the site or feature, they may be able to help.  Reddit is also a great place for crowdsourced solutions.

My Specific Problem and Resolution

This post reflects learning from a mistake.  If I had followed the above steps, I would have solved my problem in a fraction of the time.

I tried just about everything above and then turned to LinkedIn support.  Over the course of five weeks, we very leisurely looked into it.  In the end it ended up being a very specific issue.

Avast Antivirus has an HTTPS scanning feature.  Even when you disable the Avast extensions in your browser, this can apparently still muck about with your browser's performance.

To solve it, I had to go to Avast -> Active Protection -> Web Shield -> Customize -> "Main Settings" and deselect "Enable HTTPS scanning".  Luckily, I have other protections related to HTTPS to pick up the slack.

The more you know...

1 comment:

  1. Several very cool bits of information here in addition to the excellent laying-out of troubleshooting steps: (1) learning that Avast has its cute little free tentacles into my browser even though I told it not to; (2) finding out that LinkedIn not only has support, but apparently has competent support; (3) your blog name, which I've somehow managed not to notice for the past five years. :) Thanks for the roundup!