Working With the Browser History


The History API allows an extension to access and edit the user’s browsing history. This can come in handy in some situations, for example analyzing which are the most visited pages by the user, maintaining a list of closed tabs to re-open later, etc.

The first thing to note is to declare it in the permissions field in the mainifest file, like so:

"permissions": [

Transition Types

Transition Type is a term used to describe the way in which a particular URL has been navigated to. For example, a transition type of link will refer to the fact that the URL was navigated through by clicking on a hyperlink in a web page. The transition type of typed would mean that the user went to that page by explicitly typing that URL in the address bar, for instance. The full list of transition types are below:

Transition typeDescription
linkThe user got to this page by clicking a link on another page.
typedThe user got this page by typing the URL in the address bar. Also used for other explicit navigation actions. See also generated, which is used for cases where the user selected a choice that didn’t look at all like a URL.
auto_bookmarkThe user got to this page through a suggestion in the UI — for example, through a menu item.
auto_subframeSubframe navigation. This is any content that is automatically loaded in a non-top-level frame. For example, if a page consists of several frames containing ads, those ad URLs have this transition type. The user may not even realize the content in these pages is a separate frame, and so may not care about the URL (see also manual_subframe).
manual_subframeFor subframe navigations that are explicitly requested by the user and generate new navigation entries in the back/forward list. An explicitly requested frame is probably more important than an automatically loaded frame because the user probably cares about the fact that the requested frame was loaded.
generatedThe user got to this page by typing in the address bar and selecting an entry that did not look like a URL. For example, a match might have the URL of a Google search result page, but it might appear to the user as “Search Google for…”. These are not quite the same as typed navigations because the user didn’t type or see the destination URL. See also keyword.
auto_toplevelThe page was specified in the command line or is the start page.
form_submitThe user filled out values in a form and submitted it. Note that in some situations — such as when a form uses script to submit contents — submitting a form does not result in this transition type.
reloadThe user reloaded the page, either by clicking the reload button or by pressing Enter in the address bar. Session restore and Reopen closed tab use this transition type, too.
keywordThe URL was generated from a replaceable keyword other than the default search provider. See also keyword_generated.
keyword_generatedCorresponds to a visit generated for a keyword. See also keyword.

Each and every visit to any URL will be recorded in the history as a VisitItem. This item, besides holding detailed information about every visit, such as the URL visited, the time at which the visit occurred etc, will also hold information regarding the transition type, that is, how the user reached the webpage. Thus each and every visit to a web page will have a transition type associated with it.

Accessing the history behind the currently active tab

Let’s say you wanted to know how many times the URL in the currently active tab has been accessed. We can take a look at the methods in the History API and build something to find it out.

In our example, we’ll create a browser action, which when clicked, will update its badge with the number of times it has been accessed by the user. Let’s see the code for it, which is in the background script.

var count = 0;

chrome.browserAction.onClicked.addListener(function (tab) {
		'url': tab.url
	}, function (visitItem) {
		count = visitItem.length;
			color: '#ff0000'
			text: '' + count
		console.log('The user has visited ' +
			url + ' ' +
			count + ' times.');

In the above piece of code, we are getting the URL of the currently active tab. Then we pass the function getVisits(). This will return a callback function which will return an array of visitItem objects for that particular URL (A visitItem object is generated any time a URL is visited). We can count these objects to get a number of the times the user visited that URL, and then update the badge with that number.

Removing URLs from the history

One of the most common use cases regarding the browser history, is to remove particular URLs from the history. We can delete a URL from the browser history by using the deleteUrl() method. For example, the following example will remove the URL of the currently active tab from the browser history.

chrome.browserAction.onClicked.addListener(function (tab) {
		'url': tab.url

If you want to remove URLs within a specified time range, then you can use the deleteRange() method, and finally, if you want to remove all the URLs in history, you can simply call the deleteAll() method.

You can take a further look at the History API docs for more information regarding the objects, methods and events associated with it.