iOS 9.3 bug turns links into iPhone crash bombs

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Safari is constantly crashing for some iOS 9.3 users.
Safari is constantly crashing for some iOS 9.3 users.
Photo: Apple

Update: Apple has released iOS 9.3.1 to fix the iPhone web links problem.

If you have an iPhone running iOS 9.3, whatever you do, do not install the Booking.com app.

iPhone users are reporting that an iOS 9.3 bug, possibly related to the Booking.com app, causes some apps to freeze and crash when tapping on links — and it’s not entirely clear what’s causing it.

The annoying iOS 9.3 bug causes mobile browsers like Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome to choke on some web links. The bug affects devices that upgraded to iOS 9.3, which was released last week, despite the fact that Apple’s newest mobile operating system went through seven betas to fix glitches.

A common thread among users’ bug reports is that the Booking.com app seems to trigger the glitch. Developer Sergey Roshchin has demonstrated the bug in a YouTube video, which you can see below.

In the video, Roshchin’s iPad works fine before he installs the Booking.com app. After installing the travel app, Safari starts crashing every time a link is tapped. Other apps affected include Chrome, Mail, Messages and Notes.

No fix for mysterious iOS 9.3 bug

Rebooting an affected iPhone may temporarily fix the iOS 9.3 bug. Turning off JavaScript fixes Google search results. However, uninstalling the Booking.com app doesn’t appear to fix the problem, so an update from Apple will be needed to restore order.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on how soon a fix might be released. So far, Apple Support on Twitter has been silent on the issue.

However, according to an Apple Support chat session reported by a frustrated iOS 9.3 user over the weekend, Cupertino’s engineers are well aware of the problem.

“Apple is working extremely hard to release an update to resolve this issue,” the customer support rep told the user. “I do not have any further information about when this update will be available. I can however state that this is Apple’s number 1 priority at this time.”

What exactly is causing the crashing isn’t known, though some developers have speculated it is related to universal links, a feature introduced in iOS 9 that lets web links bypass a mobile browser and send users directly into an app. It’s a handy tool for developers who want to funnel people into their apps, and generally makes things easier for users as well.

The current problem could have resulted from the extremely large list of domain names associated with the Booking.com app, according to TechCrunch. The Booking.com database had grown to 2.4MB, causing apps to crash when iOS checked links against the swollen universal link database.

Booking.com has since trimmed its association file down to 4KB, which should prevent new users who install the app from experiencing the same problems. Unfortunately, installing the new app (or deleting the old one) won’t fix your device if it’s already been affected by the iOS 9.3 bug.