What's the most popular web browser?

  1. Google Chrome
  2. Apple Safari
  3. Firefox
  4. Internet Explorer & Edge

When you first turn on a new PC or laptop, you’ll find that your only route to the internet is via Internet Explorer or, if you’ve bought a machine running Windows 10, Microsoft’s Edge web browser. 

It's the same with an iPhone or Android device. There will be Safari, Google Chrome or another browser, and we have a separate guide to the best mobile browsers.

But you can download as many browsers as you like, either using the one on your PC or laptop already, or the app store on your phone or tablet. Find out how to change your default browser.

And thanks to W3Counter’s browser stats for January 2018, you can see which are currently the most popular:

Google Chrome, then, is by far the most used browser, accounting for well over half of web traffic, followed by Safari in a distant second place. Firefox comes in third, with the combined IE & Edge fourth. Opera is fifth with 4 percent of global web traffic.

In February 2018 we could see Google increase its lead, as new changes come into effect on 15 February that see Google by default blocking ads that violate the Coalition for Better Ads standards. That means without your input full-page- and countdown ads, as well as those that autoplay sound and video, will be removed. This should improve the overall user experience and speed up loading time. 

Firefox just leapfrogged IE and Edge, possibly because of the new, redesigned Quantum version of the browser. It's faster, uses less RAM and has a slicker interface. You can read more about it in our Chrome vs Firefox comparison.

Here's how it breaks down into the Top 10 browsers, showing the versions used. Note that Microsoft Edge and Opera don't even make the list.

Google Chrome is no longer supported on Windows XP and Vista, and while you can still run an older version Google recommends you upgrade your OS. For more details, see Google's blog post. If you don't fancy upgrading to a newer version of Windows, the other alternative - of course - is not to use Chrome but another browser which is supported.

Which is the best web browser?

You can’t always believe statistics, and not all surveys agree. StatCounter, for example, puts UC Browser in third place, not Firefox. However, all agree that Chrome is by far the most popular.

And Chrome could become even more popular, with a better user experience promised as Google by default blocks the most irritating ads from 15 February 2018. It's still early days on that, of course, so we'll have to see just how much of a difference can be observed.

Of course, just because more people use a certain browser, that doesn't make it the ‘best'. It's just one measure, and there are others of course.

Previously we reviewed web browsers, benchmarking them for speed and rating them on features. The problem with that approach was that all of these browsers are updated constantly, meaning that those reviews quickly became outdated. And that’s why we’re not offering benchmark results here.

Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple and others also add, change and remove features in those regular updates, so on the odd occasion, a feature which was a reason to use a particular browser would vanish overnight.

Even if a browser is better than its rivals because of performance, security or features, they’re all free and there’s no limit to how many you can install or run at the same time. So while many would agree when we say that Google Chrome is the ‘best’ web browser, there’s nothing stopping you from using five or six different browsers.

At Tech Advisor we all use multiple browsers on a daily basis. Those of us running Windows use Chrome, Firefox and Opera most of the time with Edge when necessary, while Mac users will use a blend of Safari, Chrome and Firefox.

And all of these browsers offer decent performance and compatibility. They all offer to save your passwords and aside from Internet Explorer (and to some extent Microsoft Edge) they will sync your data, favourites and tabs between multiple computers and devices so you can grab your phone and carry on reading where you left off on your laptop.

They all support extensions and add-ons so you can add specific features, shortcuts and widgets.

If a specific extension isn't available on your favourite browser, simply check and see if it for another browser. Similarly, if a website isn't displaying properly or working in one browser, try another. These are the most common reasons why we use more than one browser.

Arguably the best browser is one that runs on all your devices and shares bookmarks, logins, current tabs and other data so you can pick up where you left off on any device. Chrome does this, as does Safari (but this is only useful if you have Apple products of course).

Web browser features compared

Here's a table which summarises the main features, as well as which platforms each browser supports. Chrome, Firefox and Opera are the most compatible. You might find older versions of Safari for Windows, but it's no longer kept up to date by Apple, so we can't recommend using it.

 

Chrome

Firefox

IE

Safari

Edge

Opera

Cloud sync

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Download manager

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Private browsing

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Full-screen mode

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Tabs on the side

Yes

Yes (with add-on)

No

No

No

Yes

Custom extensions

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Platforms

           

Windows

Yes*

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Mac OS

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Linux

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

Android

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

iOS

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Windows phone

No

No

Yes

No

Yes (Windows 10)

Yes

Details

           

Engine

WebKit

Gecko

Trident

WebKit

EdgeHTML

Webkit

Javascript engine

V8

TraceMonkey

Chakra

Nitro

Chakra

Carakan

Open source

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

Website

google.com/...

mozilla.com

N/A

apple.com/...

microsoft.com/...

opera.com

* Chrome is supported on Windows 7 and newer versions. Support has ended for XP and Vista.

Best alternative web browsers

Nonplussed by the big-name browsers? Well, there's good news: there are literally loads of alternatives which you've likely never heard of. That doesn't mean you shouldn't install or try them out, though.

Here are several of the best alternative web browsers we recommend you check out:

Yandex: This is the Russian equivalent of Google Chrome, having been developed by the Russian search engine Yandex. It's available for Windows, Android, iOS and macOS. It defaults to Bing search, but you can change this to Google, Yandex or others. It's based on Chromium and supports extensions, although the list isn't as expansive as Chrome's or Firefox's.

Comodo IceDragon: Like Yandex, Comodo claims to be a secure web browser, protecting you from dodgy websites, keeping your logins safe and more. It also has full compatibilty with Firefox plugins.

Best web browsers

Maxthon: It's not enough just to be a web browser these days. Maxthon offers extras such as Maxnote for clipping things from the web, Passkeeper for logins and UUMail for virtual inboxes. 

Also, if you value privacy, try Firefox Focus on iOS and Android. It's a barebones browser that keeps no records of searches or pages visited - ideal if you're researching a surprise party or anything else you want to keep private.

Best web browsers