How to use Safari’s improved extensions in macOS Big Sur

Safari’s extensions have not changed a great deal, but macOS Big Sur has made finding new ones easier — and enables developers to bring even more.

Previously on the Safari web browser it’s been a long way behind Google Chrome in its ability to have extensions. You could get third-party utilities that would slot into Safari and extend its functionality in some way, but compared to Chrome, there were few of these extensions.

Right not, there still are only few. But what Apple has done with Safari in macOS Big Sur is going to help it catch up.

We can’t see very much of a difference yet, but the changes are under the hood. Developers can now use Apple tools to convert their existing libraries of Chrome extensions into ones that work with Safari.

There are some visual improvements we can see immediately, but what’s could happen is that Safari extensions will become much more part of everyone’s use of the browser. If you’ve never used extensions before — or if you’re a Chrome user whose favorite extensions have just come to Safari – here’s how you get and use them.

How to find and install Safari extensions

  1. In Safari on the Mac, choose the Safari menu, then Safari Extensions…
  2. The Mac App Store opens and shows popular extensions
  3. Browse through the categories or search for “Safari Extensions” and the name of an app you want
  4. Click on Get
  5. The click on Install
  6. Sign in to the Mac App Store if prompted

When you’ve clicked on Safari Extensions… in Safari, and the Mac App Store opens, everything you can see is an extension. Really what you’re seeing is a list of apps, but each one includes an extension.

Choosing the Safari menu and then Safari Extensions opens up the Mac App Store

Choosing the Safari menu and then Safari Extensions opens up the Mac App Store

If you separately search for the phrase “Safari Extensions,” then everything you find probably has one — but conceivably it won’t. Perhaps a developer has written something like “Safari extension coming” in the description, and that was enough to turn it up in a search.

So that original page with the categories is the safest, fastest way to find what you want. It would be great if you could limit the searches to within that curated section, but at least you can browse through them.

Beside each section, there is also a See All option. And if you scroll to the bottom, there’s a chart of the top free and paid apps with extensions.

As these extensions come with apps, installing them is going to be very familiar. However, then running them is less so because you have to enable them first.

How to then enable Safari extensions

  1. Open the Safari menu and choose Preferences
  2. Click on Extensions
  3. Tick an app extension in the list to the left to enable it

Note that an app may include several extensions. It’s up to the developer to decide how to describe the extensions so it may not always be clear which one is which.

Rather than ticking to select an extension, though, you can click on the name to open up more details on the right. The panel that opens will include the title, which app it comes from, and explains what it does.

That section will also include an Uninstall button.

How to use Safari extensions

Safari places the extensions in a row to the left of the address bar. Click on any to use the extension.

Extensions have to be enabled before they can be used

Extensions have to be enabled before they can be used

Some will present drop down choices — which may include privacy options or limitations on what you want the extension to do. Other extensions will simply open the extension’s app. But in each case they will then act on whatever the current Safari page is.

So if it’s a login page, the 1Password extension will fill in password on it. An RSS newsreader app will take the page’s URL and subscribe to it, for instance.

In every case, what it does is provide quick access to a useful function that you might otherwise have gone off to a separate app. So it’s not really adding anything you couldn’t do before, but the ability to have it right there under a single button is tremendously useful.

And it’s only going to get more useful as developers take advantage of Safari in macOS Big Sur and bring more Chrome extensions over.