What to do when your Safari bookmarks disappear

Bookmarks, bookmarks, Apple seems to be having a hard time deciding what to call frequently viewed website shortcuts in the Mac’s Safari browser.

But no matter what you call them, losing your bookmarks, favorites or Top Sites can be an exciting time.

Mail crashes and takes Safari with it

At some point we had an interesting problem when we started one of our Macs and launched Safari. All bookmarks that normally appear in the bookmarks bar have disappeared. The bookmarks in the Bookmarks menu were also gone.

Interestingly, the Top Sites markers were still present, providing a clue as to what had happened.

The bookmarks disappeared after the Apple Mail app crashed for some reason. We had to use the Force Quit option to quit Mail, but we had no problem manually quitting Safari and the other apps we had open at the time. When we restarted the Mac and launched Safari, everything was gone. There was not a single item in the bookmarks bar or in the Bookmarks menu. But as we mentioned, the Top Sites were still around.

Likely Culprit: The plist file

The most likely cause of the problem was that the bookmarks.plist file had become corrupted, and Safari refused to load the file when launched. The file could simply have been locked when the Force Quit was done, or it could have been mixed up at some point when we were trying to get Mail working again.

Mail and Safari shouldn’t be intertwined in this way, but perhaps they share a system library that was involved in the crash issue. Problems with plist files are one of the Macs Achilles cures. They seem to be a weak point in the application structure. Fortunately, files that become corrupted are easily replaced, causing little inconvenience at most. Below you will find instructions to replace the plist files.

What was interesting was that Top Sites, which are similar to bookmarks, were not affected. The reason the two forms of bookmarks were not affected by the app crash is that Safari stores Top Sites in a separate file in ~/Library/Safari/TopSites.plist, while bookmarks are stored in ~/ Library/Safari/Bookmarks.plist. By the way, the ~/Library folder is hidden; you will need to use this trick to access the Safari data stored in your Library folder.

How to recover Safari bookmarks

Getting Safari bookmarks back was pretty easy; in fact, there are several ways to proceed. In our case, we had recently copied the current Safari bookmarks to another Mac as part of setting up a new Mac. So it was a simple process to copy them back to the original Mac.

Another common method of restoring Safari bookmarks is to use Time Machine to go back in time a few hours, or maybe a day or two, and restore Safari, including the bookmarks.plist file.

Another method that would have been almost automatic would have been to use iCloud to sync bookmarks between our various Macs. This would have allowed the bookmarks to automatically sync in a short period of time.

If you don’t have iCloud setup on your Mac, you can follow the instructions in our Set up an iCloud account on your Mac guide. Be sure to select Safari as one of the items to sync through iCloud.

If you haven’t backed up your favorites lately, take a moment to do so now. For best results, use at least two of the three backup or sync methods we mention in this article.