How to manage cross-device syncing in Chrome

If you shift between mobile and desktop versions of Chrome, make your life easier by syncing history and recent tabs between devices. Here's how.

Image: Jack Wallen

How many times have you visited a URL at your desk and needed to quickly locate it on the go? Or what about when you've opened a site in a Chrome tab on Android and needed it when you didn't have your phone handy. It happens. When it does, you want to be able to recall that site without having to bash your head against a cubicle wall until the link URL pops into memory space.

We don't want that; especially not when you only need turn to a few setting options in Chrome to make this quite painless. I want to show you how to make this happen with Chrome. I'll be working with Chrome on the desktop (via Elementary OS and Chrome for Android on a OnePlus 3).

A word of warning: This is all or none. If you open up the syncing floodgates, you cannot instruct Chrome to not sync certain URLs or show only particular tabs that are open or have been recently closed. Once you enable the feature, it will display your history on both devices and reveal all recently closed tabs on both devices. I will also warn you that the syncing process can take some time. This, of course, will depend upon how much data you have to sync between devices (history, bookmarks, etc.).

You will need to be signed into the same Google account on both desktop and mobile device for this to work, so make sure you have that taken care of first.

Setting up on the desktop

Setting this up on the desktop is the easy part. Open up Chrome and click on the menu button (three vertical dots in the upper right corner). Click on Settings and then click Advanced sync settings. In the resulting window (Figure A), make sure that Open tabs and history are checked.

Figure A

Figure A

If you have Sync everything selected from the drop-down you're already good to go.

Setting up on the mobile device

This is where it gets tricky, only because the syncing options are slightly obfuscated. To set up syncing on the mobile device, do the following:

  1. Open Chrome
  2. Tap the menu button (three vertical dots in the upper right corner)
  3. Tap Settings
  4. Tap your account name at the top of the resulting window
  5. Tap Sync
  6. Either tap to enable Sync everything or enable what you want to sync (Figure B)

Figure B

Figure B

Setting up sync on a OnePlus 3.

Viewing history and recent tabs

Now the fun, in the form of waiting, begins. While your devices sync with one another, neither the history or recently closed tabs will show up. In the meantime, you'll need to know where to go to locate this information.

On the desktop version of Chrome, click on the menu button and then History. In the resulting menu (Figure C), you will see a listing of all the recently closed tabs from your various devices as well as the currently open tabs. Should you see one you want to open, simply click it and the URL will open in a new tab.

Figure C

Figure C

Your recently closed tabs on Chrome desktop.

To view recent tabs on the mobile version of Chrome, do the following:

  1. Open Chrome
  2. Tap the menu button
  3. Tap Recent tabs

In the resulting window (Figure D), you can view all the recent tabs from all of your devices.

Figure D

All of your Chrome history are belong to us!

Figure D
There you have it. Your Chrome history is now available to both the desktop and the mobile versions of Chrome. Just remember to have patience while your devices handle that first sync (it can take some time to complete); while the sync is in progress, nothing will show.

A great way to move from device to device

If you're constantly switching between desktop, laptop, and mobile devices, and you're a Chrome user, you owe it to yourself to enable the syncing of tabs and history. With these features working on your devices, you will have a much easier time finding those recently visited URLs, no matter which device you have in hand.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....