Google has tried on and off for years to hide full URLs in Chrome's address bar, because apparently long web addresses are scary and evil. Despite the public backlash that came after every previous attempt, Google is pressing on with new plans to hide all parts of web addresses except the domain name in Chrome 86, this time accompanied by a hover animation.

The new look builds upon the animation-less hover reveal that's already in testing, but in contrast to that method, the improved variant also displays the protocol and the subdomain, which remain invisible in the older version. That's achieved with a neat sliding animation that moves over the visible part of the URL to make space for the strings preceding it. Check out the GIF below to see it in action.

At least Google now fully recognizes that this isn't the preferred way to surf the web for many power users, so it has also added an "Always show full URLs" option in the right-click menu.

If you'd like to check out the changes for yourself, you need to install Chrome 86, available through the Canary or Dev releases, and activate the following flags:

  • #omnibox-ui-reveal-steady-state-url-path-query-and-ref-on-hover
  • #omnibox-ui-sometimes-elide-to-registrable-domain
  • Optionally, #omnibox-ui-hide-steady-state-url-path-query-and-ref-on-interaction to show the full URL on page load until you interact with the page.

Previously, a few feature flags appeared in Chrome's Dev and Canary channels (V85), which modify the appearance and behavior of web addresses in the address bar. The main flag was called "Omnibox UI Hide Steady-State URL Path, Query, and Ref" which hides everything in the current web address except the domain name. For example, "https://www.androidpolice.com/2020/06/07/lenovo-ideapad-flex-5-chromebook-review/" is simply displayed as "androidpolice.com."

There are two additional flags that modified this behavior. One reveals the full address once you hover over the address bar (instead of having to click it), while the other only hides the address bar once you interact with the page. An issue page on the Chromium Bug tracker has also been created for keeping track of the changes, though there aren't any additional details there.

The company has said in the past that it believes showing the full address can make it harder to tell if the current site is legitimate. "Showing the full URL may detract from the parts of the URL that are more important to making a security decision on a webpage," Chromium software engineer Livvie Lin said in a design document earlier this year.

However, it's also worth considering that making the web address less important, as this feature does, benefits Google as a company. Google's goal with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and similar technologies is to keep users on Google-hosted content as much as possible, and Chrome for Android already modifies the address bar on AMP pages to hide that the pages are hosted by Google. Modifying addresses on the desktop is another step towards making them irrelevant, which hurts the decentralized nature of the internet as a whole.

The Chromium issue for the change has attracted a bit of attention, and now Google has clarified how the experiment will work and what opt-out options will be available. See our full coverage here.

Updated to reflect design changes in Chrome 86.

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  • Thanks:
  • Nick Cipriani