As a citizen of the web, you frequently enter repetitive information about yourself into forms. Every time you sign up for a new web site with your email address or username, enter in your shipping address, or type in your credit card information for purchases, you waste precious time typing out the same information. Manually typing this information every time is also error prone, which is why sites often ask you, for example, to retype your email address—which takes even more of your time.
The following is an excerpt from Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster and Better, available at Amazon and bookstores everywhere.
You could use text expansion tools to speed up this process, (see how to use text expansion to save yourself hours of typing every week for more details), but you still have to tab through the form to fill out each field, and with sensitive data—such as your credit card number—those utilities’ plain-text storage won’t cut the security mustard.
This hack details how to automatically and securely fill in repetitive web forms with the free browser plug-in LastPass.
Note: For more on how to use LastPass to securely track and fill in your web site logins, see our introduction to managing passwords with LastPass.
LastPass stores the information you give to it in an encrypted state and uses one master password to access that database. (Read more about LastPass’ security here). It’s most commonly used as a password manager, but it’s also great at filling in repetitive forms. LastPass is available on all platforms, from web browser extensions to standalone desktop apps. You can download and install LastPass for your platform and browser of choice from the LastPass download page (it works virtually everywhere).
Create Auto Fill Profiles
Before LastPass can start filling in your repetitive form data, you need to create a new profile. If this is your first time installing LastPass, the Setup Wizard should prompt you to create a form profile. If you’ve already installed LastPass, click the LastPass button in your browser toolbar and select Fill Forms > Add Profile. LastPass opens an Add Form Fill profile dialog.
Enter profile information in each field you want LastPass to automatically fill in. LastPass can autofill basic information, such as your name, preferred username, gender, and birthday, along with your address, contact information, credit card, and bank account, along with any custom fields that aren’t available by default. You can leave any field empty if you prefer LastPass not automatically fill in that information—say, for example, you’d rather not keep your Social Security number in LastPass. The extension automatically fills in only the information you give it.
It’s one more form to fill, I know, but when you finish filling it out, you may never have to repetitively type out that info on a web site again. When you finish, click Save Form Fill profile.
A note on LastPass Security: Passwords are one thing, but credit card and Social Security numbers are among some of the most sensitive data you have. Even if you’re already using LastPass to manage your passwords, it’s natural that storing other financial and personal information might make you a little uncomfortable. Ultimately you have to decide for yourself if you feel secure putting that information in LastPass’ hands, but as a reminder: the LastPass tools do all the encrypting and decrypting of your private information on your computer, meaning that no one—not even the people working at LastPass or anyone monitoring your internet connection—can access your passwords without your master password. You can read more about LastPass security and technology here.
LastPass also allows you to create as many profiles as you like. Say you use one email address and username when you want to associate an account with your real-life information and another that’s for more disposable accounts that you don’t want associated with your real-life persona.
For example, say you’re testing out a new web site; here you may want to use disposable, pseudonymous information that doesn’t point back to the real-world you—call that profile “The Fake Me.” Then if you fill out shipping information for something you order online, you’d want to use real information; create a profile called “The Real Me” with real data for those purposes.
Note: In case you have more credit cards than personas, LastPass enables you to create autofill profiles individually for credit cards. Click the LastPass button > Fill Forms > Add Credit Card.
Set Your Default Profile for Quicker Form Filling
You likely use one profile more often than your others, so to set your default profile:
- Click LastPass > Preferences
- In the General tab, choose your preferred default in the Form Fill drop-down.
Automatically Fill Web Forms
Next time you visit a web site asking for form information, LastPass notifies you that it’s identified a form on the page and offers to fill in the form for you, as shown in the image above. What once may have taken you a minute or so of tabbing through fields and typing out tedious information now only takes a couple of clicks of your mouse.
Add a Keyboard Shortcut to Your Default Profile
Finally, add a custom keyboard shortcut to the autofill process in the HotKeys tab of your LastPass Preferences. (You need to set a default form fill profile, as previously detailed.) For example, set your shortcut to Ctrl+Alt+1, so whenever you sign up for a new web site, fill out credit card information, or ship a new gadget, all you have to do is press Ctrl+Alt+1 and all the tedious form filling is taken care of.
Using LastPass to manage and fill forms in this way only takes a few minutes to set up, but once you’ve got your default profile and keyboard shortcut set up, you’ll almost never need to manually fill out another monotonous form again. You won’t regret it.
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What’s It All About? For a better understanding of what Lifehacker is about, read the book’s introduction.