Why does the Explorer address bar reset itself while you’re typing into it?

When you ask Explorer to navigate to a new location, the steps go roughly like this (vastly oversimplified):

  1. User initiates a navigation.
  2. Explorer puts up the "busy" animation and starts looking for the location you navigated to.
  3. When the location is found, the contents of the folder are switched to the new location and the address bar is updated to reflect that new location.

Pretty straightforward, right? Well, commenter dhiren asks:

Any idea why the address bar in Explorer randomly decides to reset itself while you're typing in it?

It's not like Explorer is saying, "Ha, ha! Sucker!" Explorer is just doing its thing, following its happy little checklist, and when it finally locates the navigation target, it moves on to step three and switches the view and synchronizes the address bar to match the view.

If you've messed with the address bar in the meantime, the synchronization of the address bar with the folder contents overwrites the changes you were in the process of making. This isn't an intentional "let's make the user's life miserable"; it's just a consequence of the simple checklist.

Now, yes, it is an annoyance, and yes, it's a bug, but it's not a bug in the sense that somebody wrote code that failed to implement the specification; rather the bug is due to an oversight in the specification itself. This is another example of how things can get extremely complicated even though the basic idea is very simple: Once you have the simple idea working, everybody finds random special cases that force you to take your simple idea and make it more and more complicated.

Comments (37)
  1. steveshe says:

    WOW! It’s almost 10:00AM CST and no comments?

  2. DEngh says:

    I’ve trainied myself now to use the ‘Stop’ tool if IE is taking longer than I think reasonable to render a page (knowing that it might be actually be a problem on the intertubes).  

  3. Alexander Grigoriev says:

    And just like all other annoyances and small buglets, it will never be fixed.

  4. dgt says:

    was it that hard to disable input during this checklist so user can’t actually type. annoying too, but better.

  5. Chris Walken says:

    dgt – disabling input would not work. the horrific auto page refresh also resets what is in the URL field. its a sticky problem. do you want the user to see the accurate URL or does it matter. either way, MS loses.  


  6. dgt says:

    for autorefresh you can skip refreshing if the url has changed (assuming that the user is typing and new input is on the way).

  7. Bryan says:

    "or autorefresh you can skip refreshing if the url has changed (assuming that the user is typing and new input is on the way)."

    What if the user mis-typed in to the address bar and still wants the URL refreshed?

    Still yet, what if the user didn’t mistype, wants the page to refresh, but is also entering an URL?

  8. int19h says:

    In IE7, thanks to the addition of tabs, there is a new bug that, I believe, is related to this one.

    If you create a new tab and quickly type an URL into it and press Enter, you’ll get an error message box (!) saying something along the lines of, "sorry, no can do". If you’re not fast enough while typing, you’ll get whatever you typed in the URL textbox reset to a blank string.

  9. Nicole DesRosiers says:

    Yeah, this is an exceptionally irritating oversight, given that I’m most likely to type in the address bar if the page is taking an unusually long time to load.  Unfortunately, fixing it (without violating other user expectations) is harder than it immediately looks.

  10. someone else says:

    Opera doesn’t do that. In fact, it doesn’t change anything in the address bar as long as it has focus (even when you navigate back and forth).

    Must have been really hard.

  11. kokomo says:

    Before you criticize IE, note that Raymond didn’t say "IE". He said "explorer".

  12. Manic says:

    "Once you have the simple idea working, everybody finds random special cases that force you to take your simple idea and make it more and more complicated. "

    That is SO true. I was thinking the same thing today, albeit in a slightly less coherent way – during a meeting.

  13. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    Notice how most people are commenting on how the behavior is "buggy" without any discussion as to the possible alternatives and what they are just as flawed.

    I suspect we’ve been /.’ed or at least linked on some blog with a readership that doesn’t under what differences, if any, exist between Explorer and IExplore.

  14. manicmarc says:

    The most annoying occurrence of this is when you launch IE, start typing a new URL (having forgotten to press stop, and prevent it loading the home page) only to have the home page load, and your typing removed.

  15. tgrand says:

    It’s a whole bunch of things like this that finally drove me to use a third party substitute for Explorer’s file/directory browsing functionality.  I was dead-set against it for so long, having such low regard for these programs, but I finally bit the bullet.  Now that I’ve found a good one and gotten used to it, things are SO much better.  I can do more, faster, and with less stress.  I should’ve done it years ago.

    I think it’d be in poor taste to name the program I’m using, so I’d encourage anyone else who’s fed up with Explorer to research the alternatives.  You might be surprised at what’s out there these days.  I certainly was.

  16. C says:

    XP SP3

    Press Win + E to get explorer window

    Select Recycle bin in tree view

    Recycle bin contents appear on right (maybe it is empty)

    Press Alt + D to go to the address bar

    Start typing C:Win … and the text ignores

    it and shoes Recycle Bin in the address bar.

    This happens even after 5-10 minutes have passed since the window was opened. Doesn’t seem like a question of refresh. Could be due to some explorer addon.

  17. MC says:

    I am also very satisfied with the way how Opera addresses this issue many years ago… and this is one of quite important reason (from user interface perspective) why I minimize my use of IE.

  18. Miles Archer says:

    "Once you have the simple idea working, everybody finds random special cases that force you to take your simple idea and make it more and more complicated. "

    Yep, you’ve nailed it.

  19. hexatron says:

    "Once you implement the first simple solution you come up with, you will be bitten by the cases you didn’t think about."

    Backslash in file names is a nice venerable MS quick&dirty. Doubling quotes in csv files is another. A little thought would have produced solutions with fewer complications.

    It is possible to think about how your first clever solution could fail, but only if you think about how your first clever solution could fail.

  20. Yes, but... says:

    For those chasing the problem in IE. I think this may have been fixed in IE8 beta2.

    Have you tried it out?

  21. Drak says:

    To all the people here who say things like ‘It’ll never be fixed’ and ‘Why didn’t you think of it in the first place’, just remember that Windows has millions of users who don’t look to well upon this sort of change.

    What’s more annoying than quirky behaviour? Changing it to ‘other’ quirky behaviour!

    Once people know not to type in the address bar while a page is loading, they take it in to account. Changing it will throw those people off totally.

    Also, it’s not possible to predict every use, future add-on etc. to your product, so you can’t fix all the quirks up-front. As an example, say you make program X to do Y. It turns out more people use it to do Z, which means that feature A is just a bit off. Seeing as the program was meant to do Y, would you have predicted feature A being quirky when using it for Z (which it was not meant for).

  22. Anonymous Coward says:

    @C: Not an addon problem, I see it too, same symptoms, no addons. I think Explorer should just leave the text in the address bar alone when it’s dirty. After all, you can always hit Esc if you want the current location back.

  23. Bart says:

    Another annoying one : open two tabs A and B. Start typing an adress in tab A; switch to tab B (for example to look up the last part of the link); switch back to tab A -> observe how the contents of the adress bar is reverted to the original location.

  24. Neil says:

    I don’t use IE much so I can’t remember which version, but I’m sure I’ve seen the open internet address dialog reset itself when the page opens, although I failed to reproduce it now in IE6 and in IE5 reopening the dialog seems to prevent the page from loading.

  25. Mark (#6) says:

    Anonymous Coward: totally agree.  if(dirty) suppressUpdate().

    Another one, which causes no end of trouble for people I know, is Vista’s race condition when renaming.  For example, create a new folder with another one selected, and immediately press F2 and start typing.  Most of the time, another object will get the rename box, before it’s moved to the new folder.  And when it moves, whatever you’d already typed becomes the new name of that previous object.  Exceptionally poor testing: MS shell used to be good at race conditions.

  26. Phylyp says:

    @C: True, I can repro the same on XPSP2. The only explorer addons I have are WinZip and Symantec Antivirus 10.

  27. Paul says:

    This one really really really annoys me and has for some time. I type things into the explorer addressbar all the time.

    I really hope this gets fixed.

  28. DWalker says:

    @Chris Walken — Why do you have a URL for a commercial product in your comment?  Isn’t that commercial SPAM?

  29. Jonathan says:

    C: I get that too, immediately after opening Explorer. XP SP3

  30. manicmarc says:

    Mark (#6):

    In my vista box, when I create a new folder it goes straight into rename mode – there’s no need to press F2.

  31. "Once you have the simple idea working, everybody finds random special cases that force you to take your simple idea and make it more and more complicated. "

    The reason for this is that a simple idea is fairly often an incomplete idea. Something starts out "simple" because it’s impractical or impossible to gather sufficient data to make a complete specification.

    This works in other ways, of course. Look at the recommendations in the above comments about how "simple" or "easy" it would be to fix this bug. The same thing is in play. Nothing gets my dander up more than some random observer telling me how easy it should be to add some feature to, or fix some bug in, a code base that I’ve lived with for multiple years. I’m amazed Raymond still exposes himself to this kind of thing after all this time.


  32. Stephan Leclercq says:

    This is the typical bug where the same widget (the address bar in our case) is used both to enter a command and to display the result of the last command… The solution is always the same: do not overwrite a command by the result of the previous one. Use two different widgets to display them. If the user doesn’t actively enter a command, then display the result, else display the command…

  33. Aaron G says:

    This doesn’t entirely explain why Explorer sometimes does this *over and over* again in the *same* window and it ends up being a race to see if I can type faster than Explorer can erase.  Any navigation would be over after the first overwrite, and it should leave me alone after that, right?

  34. Clark Li says:

    Such problem is gone in Vista.

  35. Bryan says:

    The steps that C explained do not reproduce if I keep open the drop down window that allows you to select C:Windows.

    For example, if I type in C:Windows it gives me a slew of paths.  As long as that drop-down remains it doesn’t refresh the window.

    If I eliminate the drop down by clicking off the address bar, my path is gone within 3 – 5 seconds.

  36. Tony says:

    Well, that’s the sad thing: The gals and guys at Opera had this one figured out long ago – and MS needs ages? Yes, Windows has a lot of tools included and you can do a lot "out of the box". But once you start to use it, really use it, you start to say "Why is this such a sh%$y crap?" every day (or so it seems).

    Or look at Apple. If they make something, it usually works and does the things one needs – and Apple makes it easy and hassle-free to use it.

    Why can’t MS be more a bit like Opera or Apple? Why isn’t MS able to make "a product that gets the job done" instead of a "box full of features"? Why can’t MS design its software "UI first"? Why do I get the feeling that there are a million software-engineers running around at MS and saying to UI-designers&managers "Yeah, that wasn’t specified, so we didn’t implement it. Go to my manager if need it that bad."?

    I don’t want to bash MS, but I just can’t comprehend why MS acts the way it acts. I just wanted to write "a company that big…" but maybe that is the problem. Maybe there are so many fields that MS is active on and you want to do everything in a run-of-the-mill fashion instead of doing some things, but those very good?

    I get the feeling that a lot of the people at MS are very qualified yet they get tangled up in the dynamics of such a large corp. I guess, we all create the relations we seem to suffer from.

  37. modeless says:

    Oh man; I know it’s irrational but that XP Explorer Recycle Bin address bar bug has been probably my most-hated Explorer problem, right up there with freezing when using file shares.  Whenever I want to open a new explorer window I find the easiest way is often to use the Recycle Bin icon sitting there invitingly on the desktop, but then when I try to use the address bar I am thwarted; before I can type anything I have to navigate to some other folder.

    Thankfully it’s fixed in Vista (unlike freezing when using file shares; still optimistic for Win7)

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