The ultimate guide to DuckDuckGo

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Disclosure: DuckDuckGo has sponsored this site in the past. This post is not paid for (or even authorized by) DuckDuckGo.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of DuckDuckGo around the web (and I’ve been mentioning them for years). If you don’t already have the scoop, it’s the search engine that can serve as a complete replacement for Google (and Bing and whatever else you like), except it respects your privacy and security. And while Google does some cool tricks, DuckDuckGo does some even better ones.

Privacy

Let’s start with the basics. To understand why you should be using a search engine like DuckDuckGo, read about the Filter Bubble and DuckDuckGo’s Privacy statement.

The biggest deal is that DuckDuckGo stops your searches from being aggregated and logged with personal identification information. This is a significant step in reducing the amount of profiling companies can do.

You can also add a proxy site, or even combine DuckDuckGo with Tor for ultimate privacy. DuckDuckGo operates its own Tor Exit Enclave.

Installation

DuckDuckGo has guides for adding the search engine to all of your browsers. Once you have it set as your default search engine, you’ll be able to use the URL bar in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and others to search DuckDuckGo directly, just like you were with the (probably) default Google search engine.

Settings

There are a few settings you can change. These include theme and appearance settings and things like default safe search settings. You can also specify a region, which will then prioritize results from that region in your searches. Region search can be toggled on and off and even changed per search (see the dropdown at the top of any results page).

You can also disable ads. DuckDuckGo doesn’t monetize its users’ data, so it’s essentially ad-supported. But if you want to disable them, you can do so under Settings->General->Advertisements. Just be sure to support DDG by sharing it with friends.

Search Syntax

The search syntax is very similar to Google’s, so if you’re familiar with that you won’t need to learn much. Obviously you can just search a bunch of words, but there are a few additional syntaxes you can use to refine results.

First, you can exclude words from the results by adding a minus (-) before the word. This doesn’t ban the word, but de-prioritizes it in the search results. Conversely, you can use + to increase the priority of a word.

If you add a category at the end of a search, those results will show up first. These include “images,” “videos,” “news,” and others.

DuckDuckGo has an equivalent to the old “I’m Feeling Lucky” search on Google. DuckDuckGo calls theirs “I’m Feeling Ducky,” and you do it by simply adding a backslash (\) at the beginning of the search terms. You’ll automatically be redirected to the first search result.

You can specify a preferred format for results with filetype: or f: searches. Personally, I only use these for f:pdf searches, but I’m sure there are other types some might find useful.

Site-specific searches are handy, and the results are often better than using a given site’s internal search. Specify these with site:[domain] (or just s:[domain]) anywhere in your search terms. You can also get to site-specific searches by clicking the “More results” link on any search result in the list. If you want to include multiple sites, you can use “OR” with multiple site:domain queries, or separate multiple domains with commas (no spaces). You can also restrict results to a top level domain (region) by including a TLD, e.g. site:co.uk. Also note that you can use the - operator to exclude a certain site from the results.

Boolean searches always get more complex than is usually needed, but DuckDuckGo offers full support for AND/OR searches and parenthetical groupings. By default, all terms are combined with AND (use double quotes to search for an exact phrase). Using AND or OR only affects the words adjacent to the boolean, so markdown editor OR previewer searches for ((markdown)AND((editor)OR(previewer)). As you can see from that example, typing out the full boolean search version is far more cumbersome than just running the original search. In most cases an OR search that doesn’t make sense in plain text is probably easiest as two different searches. You can also combine phrases by using double quotes, e.g. "markdown previewer" OR "markdown editor".

You can prioritize results by where the terms appear using intitle: (in the page title), inbody: (in the text of the page), and inurl: (in the actual URL of the page).

You can add !safeon or !safeoff to a search to toggle Safe Search for that search only. You can also specify a region for a single search using region:[region code], or use region:none to disable region-prioritization for that search.

Keyboard Shortcuts

There are a few keyboard shortcuts that can make DuckDuckGo a pleasure to use. You’re typing your search anyway, why take your hands off the keyboard to navigate the results?

Use j and k or the up and down arrows to navigate through individual results. Once a result is highlighted, you can hit Return to open it (or o), or use Cmd/CTRL-Return to open it in the background. Using v will open it in a new tab instead. If you hit return right after a results page loads, it will automatically navigate to the top result’s link.

While a result is highlighted, you can also use d to perform a search for additional results from the same site (domain search).

You can navigate in the search page itself, too. Use left and right to switch between the tabs of search results (news, video, answer, etc.). Use m to focus the search results. Jump back to the search bar using /, and jump back to the top of the page with t.

You can also use s to accept the “did you mean” suggestion and correct misspellings with a single keystroke.

Bang Searches

Bang searches are searches that begin with an exclamation point (commonly referred to as “bang”) followed by an identifier. They act as shortcuts for redirecting a search to a specific site, allowing you to use DuckDuckGo to search everything from Amazon to YouTube to your favorite news site, using their own internal searches. These aren’t site-specific searches, almost all of them take you to the site’s search page and pass your search on to it (with the benefit of masking some of your private info in the process).

There are so many bang searches that they have their own search engine. If you search a site regularly, punch it in there and chances are there will be a shortcut you can use to search it right from your DuckDuckGo homepage (or your URL bar, if DDG is your default search engine). Heck, even my site has a bang search (!terp, which I’m embarrassingly flattered to find…) .

Some of my most common bang searches are !a for Amazon and !g for Google (with some privacy protection) when DDG just can’t find what I’m looking for (which is increasingly rare).

Some other favorites of mine:

  • Media
    • !img: DDG image search
    • !gimg: Google image search
    • !v: DDG video search
    • !yt: YouTube
    • !gv: Google video search
    • !hulu: Hulu
    • !nf: Netflix
    • !flickr: Flickr
      • !flickrcc: Flickr Creative Commons
    • !giphy: Giphy
  • News/Info
    • !imdb: IMDB
    • !wiki: wikipedia
    • !nyt: New York Times
    • !lifehacker or !lh: Lifehacker
    • !di Dictionary.com
    • !terp: brettterpstra.com
  • Google (almost all Google services are searchable)
    • !gcal: Google Calendar
    • !gdocs: Google Docs
    • !gfonts: Google Fonts
    • !tr: Google Translate
  • Other stuff
    • !ia: Internet Archive
    • !pib: Pirate Bay
    • !wu: Weather Underground

Instant Answers

Despite this being the last section of the post, Instant Answers are by far the coolest feature of DuckDuckGo. You can find a complete list of all the cool tricks available at the dev site, but I’ll highlight a few of my current favorites.

Recipes
If a search yields recipes, the top search result will be a whole bar of links to recipe sites, complete with images.
Calculator
You can input all kinds of math questions and get a calculator with the answer. Try basic math (3 * 45 + (12 - 4)) or use intuitive descriptions like 1251 minus 40% or 2 Dozen - 4.
You can also get a loan payment calculator with a search like loan 100000 at 5% with 20% down for 10 years
Code snippets
If you start a search off with a coding language, DDG will try to locate an answered StackOverflow question and provide the summary right in the search results. Sometimes this shows up as a sidebar. Try ruby for loop or jquery .Ajaxsuccess.
Even without a language specified, if the search matches a verified answer on StackOverflow, that answer is summarized at the top of the results.
Cheat sheets
End your search with “cheat sheet” to find myriad summaries of keyboard shortcuts and other tips. Try vim cheat sheet (be sure to click “Show more”)
Calendar
Searching for calendar will give you a calendar for the current month. You can also add a date to see any month, i.e. calendar feb 2015.
Search for HTML characters
Use html chars to get a list of all HTML characters, or search for a specific character. Try html bullet. You can also get ASCII codes (Ascii Table).
xkcd
The latest XKCD comic. It even has an “explain it” link that goes to explainxkcd.com.
Emoji/emoticons
Get an explanation of any emoji just by entering it in the search box. Most text emoticons will return a result from Wikipedia as well.
Social handles
Search for a Twitter handle (e.g. @ttscoff) and the top result will be the image and bio for that account.
Is it raining
Just try it.
Weather
Get the current outlook just by searching weather (if your location is available), or search a specific location with weather [location]. Yes, Google can do this too, but the point here is not using Google…
Generate a password or pass phrase
Generate a random password by searching password [X] where [X] is the number of characters to match. password 20 yields something like “LKA5u9ahTmQRi4zERwuR”.
You can also search for random passphrase to get a 4-word passphrase like “grass staleness yelling stopped”.
Shorten URLs
Just search shorten [url] to get back an is.gd shortened link. You can also expand shortened urls with expand [short url]. And if you want to go with a QR code, just search qr [url or text] to generate one on the fly.
Lipsum
Generate any length of random text with [x] [words|sentences|paragraphs] of lorem ipsum.
URL Encoding
For developers, you can handily url encode any text by searching url encode [text]. Related, you can convert UNIX timestamps with unix time 2147483647
Stopwatch/timer
Start a stopwatch just by searching stopwatch. You can start a countdown timer with a search like timer 5 minutes, and you can use the plus button next to the timer to add multiple timers.
Figlet
Make text bigger with figlet [text]. The standard figlet fonts are available, and you can change the font by using figlet [fontname] text.

And that is your complete guide (or at least a starting point for further exploration) to my favorite search engine. While DuckDuckGo has a fraction of the ubiquity of Google, it’s gotten so good that, for me, David has made Goliath obsolete. Start searching at duckduckgo.com.