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We're having this internal debate where some people think that the user shouldn't use the browser's "back" button when filling a multi-page form (for security reasons), and that the whoever hits the "back" button should be forced to start over.

I'm not really sure about this. I mean I understand the security concerns, but I also usually hate to take over the default behavior of browser controls. It's still a valid point of view though.

What do you think? should the user be able to go back to previous form pages using the browser's back button? and why?

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What are their security concerns? –  Charles Boyung Feb 14 '11 at 14:11

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

You shouldn't override the default behaviour of the browser.

While it would be nice to be able to cope with the user hitting "back" and returning to the previous state I can't see anything wrong with putting up a large warning:

Please don't use the browsers back button to navigate between pages

and returning the user to the start if they do.

As long as you provide a "back" button within your process this shouldn't be a problem to the vast majority of users.

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You'd think if it it was the no.1 sin in 1999, it's taboo now. :) –  srcspider Feb 18 '11 at 8:48
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Whenever I see something like that it makes me angry. Why should I have to override my muscle memory to use your custom back functionality? Why couldn't you just get it right like 99% of the sites I visit so I don't have to think about it? And I'd love to see a study on how many people disregard, fail to notice, or forget about notices like that and use the back button anyway. –  Pam G Jun 6 '11 at 21:40

Yes, the user should be able to go back using the browser's back button. Wherever possible consistency should be maintained, as should meeting user expectations. For many users 'going back' on a web browser whether via the button or a shortcut (including dedicated shortcut buttons in mice etc) will be automatic behaviour which will be difficult for user to overcome, or indeed remember to try and overcome.

If you really really have to disable standard functionality then step 1 should be to rethink and work out if you really really really need to disable it! :-)

Returning the user to the start could result in a lot of lost work and effort, depending on how many steps there in the process, where the user may have only been expecting in a worst case to lose the effort invested in the current page. If the back functionality is going to be modified to take a user to the start of a process there should be warning/confirmation.

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Users often get confused when provided with a multi - step form. And if you generally see a users behaviour when he feels confused is to hit the back button and restart it all again. So they will anyhow demand it. However as ChrisF mentioned you should provide users a warning message as to pressing back will take you out of this multi- step form.

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