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I have experimented in the Tor Browser Bundle with the Tor Button's choices of "new circuit for this site" and "new identity". "New circuit" appears to affects only the open tab and creates a new circuit for the site in that tab, apparently leaving the guard-node the same. "New identity" closes the browser and reopens it, apparently with the possibility of new circuits for all the subsequent connections, whether they are the same as earlier connections or not.

Question: Does the description of what I have observed fully describe the difference between the two Tor Button options, or is there something much more fundamental or perhaps even more significant that I have missed?

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Your question does contain an accurate description of these features. But I think I can add some useful information.

New Circuit:

appears to affect only the open tab and creates a new circuit for the site in that tab

This is exactly right, and it is really useful for a number of reasons. I use it if the site I am visiting asks me to solve a CAPTCHA and this often solves the problem. this question contains more reasons why we might want to use this feature. (I have pasted them below)

Some times we may have to change when a circuit is slow, or if it does not allow certain traffic on policy. To lose all tabs for this is a huge burden.

As for your comment on the Entry Guard, the behavior you noticed should be the same for New Identity as well. This is what Entry Guards are designed to do, see here in the Tor FAQ.

New Identity:

closes the browser and reopens it

Again, this is correct, the important thing to note is that as well as giving you a new circuit, it's discarding your application-level browser data. As stated in the FAQ.

Finally, I will include a link to the stem.torproject FAQ because it contains useful information on creating new circuits.


EDIT

As it was requested by jtd, here is a link to more information on the "New Identity" feature and how it discards application-level browser data.

https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser/design/#new-identity

  • As far as I can tell, if I change torrc, it takes a close and re-launch to activate the change. So "new identity" may be a slightly faster way to do it. – WGroleau Sep 20 '15 at 21:29
  • @Joey: Can you say more re: "discarding your application-level browser data"? Unexpected behavior, in my opinion, "New Circuit" request allows site.com to link your behavior before and after "New Circuit" request as "you". tor.stackexchange.com/questions/8775/… – jtd Oct 5 '15 at 16:59
  • @jtd I believe cookies are stored by the browser and are not tied to any one tab. Which is why I can login to stack exchange, then open a selection of new questions in new tabs and the browser knows I have already logged in and therefore keeps me logged in on all of the tabs. So changing the circuit of a single tab is unlikely to make any difference to a cookie stored by the browser, some cookies wont expire for years if they are not deleted. Closing Tor Browser should delete all cookies so new identity should work the same. Finally, cookies can be set with or without JavaScript. – Joey Oct 6 '15 at 0:38

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