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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Troubleshooting AutoFill woes

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.


Following up on last week’s Wish List item on contact management, reader Angus asked about AutoFill, and pointed out that if you have multiple email addresses, phone numbers, addresses, and so on, there’s no explicit way to set a default.

That’s true, and it’s definitely annoying. For a long time, Safari on OS X insisted on automatically giving forms an email address that I rarely used. Under Yosemite it seems to have been better, but I decided to investigate and see if I could find a rhyme or reason to its madness.

My address card has seven email addresses in it, along with two phone numbers, two IM contacts, and two physical addresses. In each case, I made sure that the information I generally wanted filled was the first entry in each section.

I then tested it using a quick and dirty HTML form, to which I added some additional fields of my own: street address, city, ZIP code, and a state dropdown (you can download my test form here).

Interestingly, though it nailed my name, email address, street address, city, ZIP code, and even state, the one thing it didn’t correctly fill was my telephone number. Upon further investigation, I thought maybe it was because the HTML field in question was called “telephone” while my number was labeled as “mobile.” So I tried changing the HTML field name to “mobile”–no dice. Then, on a lark, I changed the label of the primary phone number in my contact record to “home” instead of “mobile.” Bingo! It happily supplied that phone number.

So I tested this theory by changing the label on my preferred email address from “home” to “other.” Sure enough, when I triggered AutoFill again, it didn’t put in my email address. With a little further testing, I determined that it didn’t matter where in the contact record I had the preferred email address, as long as it was labelled “home.”

Keep in mind this testing was limited, and involved a single simple form. It’s possible AutoFill does some more complicated automagic finagling behind the scenes depending on how a given site labels fields, but my informal testing suggests that if you want AutoFill to use a certain set of information, label those as “home.” Hopefully that helps tame some of AutoFill’s peculiarities.

All that said, it’d be great if Apple did provide a more explicit way to choose what information AutoFill uses, or at least allowed some sort of manner for quickly switching between different sets of information.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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