Opening New Tabs Next to the Current Tab in Safari

The way Safari tabs work on the Mac:

  • If you ⌘-click a link or use the contextual menu to open a link in a new tab, that new tab will be created next to your current tab.
  • If you make a new tab with File → New Tab (⌘T), the new tab will be created at the rightmost end of the tabs in the current window.

This is the way Safari tabs have worked as long as I can remember, and it matches the way tabs work on other browsers on the Mac.

It’s fine if you don’t have a lot of tabs. But I always do, and the behavioral mismatch has long bothered me. If I have, say, 10 tabs open in a window and I’m currently using, say, tab 2, when I type ⌘T to open a new tab it feels like the rightmost end of the row of tabs is “way over there”, but what I want is the new tab to open “right next to where I am” — like what happens when I ⌘-click a link.

A few months ago I asked on Twitter if there was a secret preference in Safari that would change this to what I want — which is for new tabs to always open right next to the current tab. There is no such preference. I set about trying to figure out if this could be done using AppleScript, but I couldn’t figure it out.

Jeff Johnson figured it out, though, and was kind enough to share the solution and explain the rather ungainly syntax required.

Here’s my slightly modified version of Johnson’s solution:

tell application "Safari"
    tell front window
        set _old_tab to current tab
        set _new_tab to make new tab at after _old_tab
        set current tab to _new_tab
    end tell
end tell

What tripped me up is that in Safari’s AppleScript object model, tabs have an index property. The leftmost tab in a window has an index of 1; the next tab 2, etc. But index is a read-only value — you can’t change the index to move a tab, and you can’t create a new tab with a specific index value.

As Johnson notes:

Here’s the somewhat unintuitive AppleScript. It’s “at [location specifier]”, where “after [item]” is a location specifier.

Which gives us “make new tab at after _old_tab”. AppleScript’s English-Likeness Monster rears its head.

Ungainly syntax aside,1 this simple script works exactly how I want it to. I use Red Sweater Software’s excellent FastScripts to provide a system-wide scripts menu, and assigned this script the shortcut ⌘T in Safari. FastScripts “sees” the ⌘T shortcut before Safari does, so when I invoke it, the script runs instead of the File → New Tab menu command. One could set it up using Keyboard Maestro just as easily. If you don’t use either FastScripts or Keyboard Maestro, I don’t know what to tell you other than that you’re missing out.

I’ve been using this for two months, and at this point it feels indispensable. I was using a different Mac the other day where I hadn’t yet set this up, and it felt like Safari was broken. Which, yes, also means that ⌘T in Safari on iPad now feels broken.

  1. Given my complaints about AppleScript’s goofy syntax here, I thought this might be a good example to try to recreate in JavaScript for Automation (JXA). Apple added JXA as an alternative to AppleScript back in MacOS 10.10 (which, yes, was called OS X 10.10 at the time). Maybe I’m missing something, but I’ll be damned if I could get it to work. Maybe the problem is me being a JavaScript dummy, but I sort of think this might not be possible in JXA because JXA might be an unsupported hot mess. If someone can prove me wrong, let me know. ↩︎