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When I click a link to a pdf on Safari on Mac, it downloads the pdf file instead of viewing it in the browser tab.

Reading previous similar questions, it seems like this behavior is supposed to be determined by the website which hosts the file. However, when I click the exact same link on the exact same website on Safari on iOS, it opens file for view in a new tab instead of downloading it.

I tried looking in the settings but found nothing that would be responsible for this behavior.

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  • What web site(s) are affected? I can't reproduce this with a few I checked. If you want to comment in my answer, or here or with an edit to your post, I'd be happy to try looking at the pages you have download issues and see if there's a quick fix with the software I recommend...
    – bmike
    Jan 6 at 22:57
  • The link I was testing is not a public link. It is behind a login portal and it sends a server request rather than point to a file location. The thing is, the same request on iOS (both real and simulated) or on an iPad (with a simulator) just opens a new tab in Safari showing the PDF. I'm not sure what would happen on a fresh MacOS install. Jan 7 at 6:46
  • Understood - the good news is all three platforms let you inspect things with the develop menu and web inspector so if you need to capture the details why the web server gets different browser headers from each device and then responds differently, there is a path to figure this out. Also, someone else may have solved this. I can’t reproduce yet to pick it apart.
    – bmike
    Jan 7 at 15:20

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You are correct that the web server determines this. Apple fully supports PDF inline viewing as described in the support article.

There is no preference to turn this off, it is the default behavior for a link to a PDF.

Here is one PDF on a web site that lets the default state work:

It's hard to guess which web site you are referring to, but here's how to inspect the code on both sites and determine if you could get a tool to modify things on the Safari side with a plug in or using the developer tools to change the stylesheet, CSS or inject JavaScript code and make the link not be a "download this instead of browsing" type link.

Stop the Madness is the app I recommend for this type of web "fiddling" for Safari on both iOS and macOS:

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