The dog ate my bookmarks

Disappearing bookmarks bug.

It’s been years (or is it weeks?) since something odd, implausible, and inexplicable happened to one or more of my Apple computers that doesn’t happen to anyone else’s. You know you want to hear this.

So yesterday morning I’m in my hotel, finishing some work on my laptop before leaving for the airport, when MobileMe alerts me that in order to sync the bookmarks on my laptop, it will need to delete some and add some. I click OK. A few seconds later, I have no bookmarks in Safari.

That’s strange, but it’s a bit liberating, too. I feel lighter. That kink in my neck is gone.

Heck, I can re-create the few bookmarks I really need and do without the rest, right? (Besides, I imported my Safari bookmarks into Chrome a few weeks ago, and I sync Chrome bookmarks via Google, so the bookmarks aren’t really gone, they’re just gone from Safari.)

I re-create five or six bookmarks in my laptop’s Safari bookmarks bar, close my laptop, and fly home.

Here’s where it gets weird.

At home, after midnight, sleepless, jetlagged, I turn on my iMac. MobileMe wants to sync my bookmarks. It says it will delete quite a few of them and create a handful of new ones. There is no option to send my iMac’s bookmarks to MobileMe instead. There is no option not to sync. I can skip sync for now, but eventually I’ll have to sync, and that means I’ll have to let MobileMe wipe my many old Safari bookmarks off all my computers. No sense delaying the inevitable.

I click OK.

My old bookmarks are gone, but the new ones I created on my laptop have not been sync’d. I have no bookmarks.

I start re-creating them from scratch, and as I create them, they disappear.

I create a Flickr bookmark. It works. I create a zeldman.com admin bookmark. When I look up, the Flickr bookmark has disappeared. I create a Twitter bookmark. When I look up, the zeldman.com admin bookmark has disappeared. A moment later, the Twitter bookmark has disappeared.

I begin quitting Safari immediately after creating a bookmark (in order to force Safari to save it). This seems to work. When I re-start Safari, the bookmark I just created has been saved. I do this six times in order to create and save the few bookmarks I really need in order to work.

I don’t bother re-creating the dozens of JavaScript bookmarklets I use daily. I figure I can do those in the morning. I verify that Safari now contains six bookmarks. I run a backup via SuperDuper and go to bed.

In the morning, my bookmarks bar is blank again. Overnight, all my bookmarks have disappeared.

It can’t be from syncing via MobileMe, because the computer should have gone to sleep as soon as the backup finished (and it was asleep when I woke up this morning).

At this point all I can figure is that Apple wants me to switch to Chrome.


49 thoughts on “The dog ate my bookmarks

  1. Have you tried holding down Alt when selecting the Sync symbol in the menubar? (adds some Sync diagnostics and other stuff in the drop-down menu).

  2. My Safari sometimes won’t let me create bookmarks either – or, I should say that it allows me to create them, but when I look in the bookmarks menu they are not there. It’s definently strange.

  3. Have you tried holding down Alt when selecting the Sync symbol in the menubar? (adds some Sync diagnostics and other stuff in the drop-down menu).

    Yes. My iMac then spent 20 minutes communicating with MobileMe, after which a 17.1 MB diagnostic file was created. The Mac asked if I wanted to send the report to Apple. I did. An email was created but it was not addressed to anyone, so could not be sent to Apple, or Jesus, or anybody. Strike two.

  4. Just when I thought you had broken the curse…

    You really come across some of the oddest behavior. I’m glad you post it, though. That way if it happens to me, I know I’m not alone.

  5. Having them disappear before your eyes is totally freaky. I’ve not experienced that. But I *have* frequently in the past found my bookmarks disappeared, like dissidents in 1980s Argentina.

    For me the answer was switching to Snow Leopard. My bookmarks haven’t disappeared. But I suspect you’ve already done that.

    When this… ahm… quirky behaviour was occurring, what I’d do was create a backup of my bookmarks. It’s an interim solution. But maybe you’ll want to keep an eye on Console while Safari’s open–just to see what–if anything–it reports.

    Good luck!

  6. I once had the same issue with my girlfriends MBP. It got to the point where we went to the Genius Bar and it was a known issue caused by FileVault. We saved the bookmarks (~/Library/Safari/bookmarks.plist) then undid the encryption. That requires enough free space to undo, however.

    Since then, no problem.

  7. This doesn’t help explain the underlying issue, but you can probably get normal behavior back by going to System Preferences → MobileMe → Sync → Advanced… → Reset Sync Data…, choosing Bookmarks, and then using one of the overwrite options. (If you have another computer whose bookmarks are not eaten, use that one and overwrite MobileMe.)

  8. Chrome isn’t that great with bookmark syncing either. I’m having this odd issue with Chrome where the order of my bookmarks isn’t being synced. Or, as you’re experiencing with Safari, they are being synced, but on another computer they aren’t. I also get duplicate bookmarks in Chrome after re-sorting… Beta-glitches I guess.

    Anyway, both Chrome and Safari are awesome browser, tough choice ;)

  9. You can force a reset of the MobileMe bookmarks, it’s just not available when you get one of those % of change notifications.

    First, be prepared to restore your bookmarks to Safari after doing this since it appears you can’t do so now. Do the followiong from whichever computer seems the least affected or has the most current sync data.

    Head on into System Preferences/MobileMe and click on the Sync tab. If you get any errors or oddities when doing this, sign out and back in under the Account tab.

    Next, hit the Advanced button on the Sync tab page. This will list all your synced computers (even ones you may have forgotten). Hit the Reset Sync Data… button and you’ll get several choices as to how you want to overwrite the data. If the computer has what you consider a “master” of all your synced data then overwrite MobileMe. Otherwise the opposite may be the way to go, especially if MobileMe somehow still has your data intact. In your case you may need to try this more than once. Again, back up first if you can – that includes Address Book data and contacts (just in case).

    Let the reset do it’s thing. When all your computers are synced and seem to be stable try putting your bookmarks back.

    That’s the best I can offer – I’ve never run into the exact symptoms you have, but I have occasionally had to do full resets probably due to having synced since the dawn of iSync.

  10. Rather than Apple wanting you to switch to Chrome, my guess is that it is the other way around: Chrome wants you to quit using Safari…

  11. I second the suggestion to try a reset like Dan and Eric described. MobileMe syncing ends up being not very graceful when you change a lot of things on one computer; sometimes it doesn’t know whether to sync those changes to MobileMe, or to replace all the changes you made with the cloud info. I suspect the disappearing bookmarks are linked to a sync problem, so hopefully a reset will help (but it should definitely be a lot clearer about how to reset/replace/override data during a MobileMe sync, because you’re right, it looks like the only option is to sync or delay it).

  12. Bookmarks are so 20th century. You can’t expect browsers to keep supporting them forever.

  13. For me the answer was switching to Snow Leopard. My bookmarks haven’t disappeared. But I suspect you’ve already done that.

    Indeed I have.

    it was a known issue caused by FileVault.

    Sylvain: I don’t use FileVault. But deleting the Safari bookmarks plist file restored Apple’s default bookmarks on my home machine. I then turned off Sync on my home iMac. The purpose of this exercise is to see if Apple’s default bookmarks also disappear, indicating a bug or virus in Safari. If they don’t disappear, then the problem was with MobileMe, which somehow lost bookmarks data. (Unlike with, say, sync’d Contacts or Calendar items, going to the MobileMe website does not allow you to view and verify your bookmarks data. A gap in the UI.)

    This doesn’t help explain the underlying issue, but you can probably get normal behavior back by going to System Preferences → MobileMe → Sync → Advanced… → Reset Sync Data…, choosing Bookmarks, and then using one of the overwrite options. (If you have another computer whose bookmarks are not eaten, use that one and overwrite MobileMe.)

    Right you are, Dan.

    The two machines that, to my knowledge, still contain my bookmarks (or an accurate enough set of my bookmarks) are:

    * My iPhone
    * My Happy Cog iMac

    It is impossible to do the Reset Sync Data mambo from the iPhone. For now, all I can do is avoid syncing the iPhone to my home Mac (since doing so would cause the iPhone to emulate the home Mac’s bookmarkless state).

    I’ll be in the studio in an hour and will try the reset mambo from there.

    Like you, I’m not so much worried about losing bookmarks as I am curious about how this happened and whether it is symptomatic of a deep problem (bug, virus) or just a MobileMe glitch emulating a Windows virus.

  14. Bookmarks are so 20th century. You can’t expect browsers to keep supporting them forever.

    Ha ha! Indeed, Apple is once again leading the way. The removal of bookmarks is a feature and a win for web standards. Soon all browsers will behave this way. &c.

  15. One tip to add to the heap. If you have XTools installed, look for a utility app called Syncrospector (/Developer/Applications/Utilities/Syncrospector.app). It’s an under-the-hood style inspector for Apple’s synch services. I’ve used it in the past to successfully manipulate or inspect what’s going on in the sync process. It’s not exactly an intuitive app though.

    Good luck. These sync issues are super frustrating. I stopped syncing my keychain after upgrading to Snow Leopard because sync services were corrupting my passwords. I’m still too gun-shy to turn it back on for keychains.

  16. Sorry my previous instructions couldn’t be more detailed – there are a lot of options when doing a reset that would take more time to get into. It’s hard to type this stuff out, especially while doing client work.

    Anyway, I’ll add that Snow Leopard revamped sync significantly and like many of us you’ve probably upgraded years of iSync’ed data and some of it is probably funky.

    If and when you get a reset working and sync is going again you may have a lot of cleaning up to do, especially if you also sync with Google and Yahoo.

    Resets tend to create a bit of work and cause some cleaning up. This is actually a good thing sometimes as I often find that I there are is a lot of crusty old data I can nuke or update. I usually have about 4000 well organized bookmarks that apps like BookDog or BookIt help clean up and also back up.

  17. I’m aware this is not helpful for your current situation, but Xmarks keeps a history of your bookmarks in case of such disasters.

    With both Xmarks and MobileMe you can keep things in sync between MobileSafari, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. Since Xmarks keep an entirely separate copy you can reset your MobileMe sync data with impunity when it gets its knickers in a twist.

    Also, add the ~/Library/Xmarks folder to your iDisk Backup profile for even greater protection against being dragged kicking and screaming into our bookmarkless future.

  18. I have had the same issues (and others) with MobileMe. Syncing between my MBP, iMac and iPhone has been a nightmare. Support for MobileMe is pathetic – they only offer online chat (go figure). I’ll be following this post for possible solutions. Good luck!

  19. I stopped syncing my keychain after upgrading to Snow Leopard because sync services were corrupting my passwords.

    Likewise, John. Syncing keychains broke in Snow Leopard. Bummer. I miss it.

  20. I wouldn’t use Safari if Apple paid me to.

    Interestingly, Safari has become the most standards-compliant browser, bar none. It wasn’t, when Apple debuted it. For a long time, Firefox was miles ahead of the pack. But in recent years, Apple’s Webkit has closed the gap and then some.

    (Google’s Chrome, another fork of Webkit, is faster than Safari, but less compliant and has fewer features.)

  21. This is why I prefer my bookmarks be stored somewhere in the clouds. Skip the syncing. I use Diigo.

  22. So I did a reset per Dan’s suggestion: go to a computer that doesn’t yet have busted bookmarks (i.e. hasn’t yet been sync’d and thus corrupted). Then System Preferences → MobileMe → Sync → Advanced… → Reset Sync Data… → Bookmarks, choosing to push bookmarks from the computer to the MobileMe cloud instead of vice-versa.

    It worked.

    Here’s my theory:

    1. MobileMe lost my Bookmarks data.
    2. During the next sync, MobileMe replaced my existing bookmarks with _no_ bookmarks, since _no_ bookmarks was the latest data.
    3. The change was so large that my local Bookmarks plist file became corrupted.
    4. As a result of the file’s corruption, bookmarks continued to disappear from the toolbar and cause Safari to behave like a virus-infected Windows file until I
    a.) deleted the corrupted bookmarks plist file and
    b.) replaced the bookmarks on the local machine by syncing with MobileMe after fixing the MobileMe data per the process described above.

    All in a day’s computer use.

    _And,_ not my fault, not the “curse,” just a glitch in MobileMe, with predictable consequences.

    As more and more computing devices become like the iPad, will the user’s lack of access to system settings mean greater stability and fewer problems like the one described here?

    Or will it mean users can’t fix these problems when they occur?

  23. I suspect the latter. Speaking as a somewhat experienced programmer, caching is one of the hardest things to get right, much harder than even threads in my opinion, and if users can’t even do a hard reset of their caches when we screw up (and we will screw up), things will become problematic.

    I’d hate to have to introduce a Nuke from Orbit button in my programs, but that might become a necessity in a filesystemless future.

  24. I find keeping stuff in the cloud avoids all that flaky syncing bollocks.

    I bypass all the browsers’ native bookmark facilities and use Delicious (I used to use ma.gnolia, but it died – fortunately the day after I did a backup – and the new version, Gnolia, no longer has a login system I can use). I’m told Xmarks is good too, and no longer Firefox-dependent, but I tend to use the nearest computer, not necessarily one of my own, and the cloud really works for me. I have a tab open at all times with delicious in it, and a bookmarklet on all my own computers. All my regularly-used bookmarks are tagged “regulars” so I can get to my default tab setup wherever I am in the world.

    Ditto Gmail, Gcontacts, Gdocs, UbuntuOne – doesn’t matter what computer or browser I’m using (OK, most of them choke on Konqueror, but I never use it – but back on topic, it has by far the best bookmark management I’ve found), I can still get to my stuff.

    Simples.

  25. It’s maybe because the bookmarks are for 3rd-parties’ web sites, but the bookmarks plist file is Apple’s … surely iPhone OS 4.0 SDK has something prohibiting that!

  26. Same thing happened to me. Here’s how I got them back (they were still on my iPhone):

    — On iPhone: Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > MobileMe account > Turn off Bookmark syncing.

    — On iPhone: Choose “Keep on my iPhone”.

    — On iPhone: Turn syncing back on, sync with Mobile Me.

    — On Mac: Sync with MobileMe. Bookmarks are added back.

    Hope that helps.

  27. God, Mac guys really are behind on things.

    No wonder they’re so pissed off all the time and hate everything.

    Windows has had X-Marks for years, and never a problem. Chrome Sync for over a year now too. Plus I Copy or Clone the OS every 3 months.

    I still have my bookmarks from 15 years ago !!! LOL

  28. Same thing happened to me on the same day. Weird. I figured it was because I set up my iPad (which had no bookmarks to start with) and when it synced, it overwrote my Mac with the iPad (most recent sync point). I reset it similarly to how you described it above, and it worked.

    Sigh. Here’s hoping Apple focuses on MobileMe a bit sometime soon.

  29. Cripes! Just happened to me too.

    The only thing I’ve done differently over the last few days, is add a bookmark on an iPad. I wonder if there is some form of Bookmark Bar incompatibility with Mobile Me?

  30. My bookmarks disappeared after signing up for MobileMe. I unchecked the bookmark option in the System Preferences – MobileMe – Sync list and all is OK. BUT…obviously you can’t keep your bookmarks between multiple computers in sync. I only have one computer, iPhone, and iPad so I’m OK.

  31. Found this post doing a search. I had the EXACT same problem. Found my fix in your comments. Wanted to thank you for this post! I signed up for the trial Mobile Me today and all was good (ipod touch, Macbook, iPad) 3 way syncing for hours then Safari lost all my bookmarks. I have a backup and pulled my bookmarks from 2 days ago and was able to fix to original state. Thanks again!!

  32. the same thing happened to my the other day. most (not all) of my bookmarks just disappeared. the bookmark bar was left blank. when i try to add new bookmarks to the bookmark bar they disappear.

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