One of the often overlooked aspects of web design/web development is that every browser displays a website slightly differently. In some instances the differences are minute; but in others they can be glaringly obvious. With so many different browsers available and each operating system having a different default browser, it's a common question to ask: "which browser should my website support". The answer may seem like 'but don't websites just work the same on all browser?'. Well yes, they can; but there is some more work involved before that step. When developing your website/web application it is important to be aware that the web is a dynamic medium (unlike print media) and the way a user consumes your designs can be different on different browsers.
All browsers have the same goal of rendering web pages. To do this, they use a rendering engine and while there are some similarities across the different engines; they also have some differences.
As web developers, there are techniques we can use to make pages work across multiple browsers. But often there are limitations to what some browsers are capable of doing. Once you move towards pages and applications with rich custom interfaces; it starts to create problems when related to older or legacy browsers.
For Site Owners
Consider these 5 points in determining what browser you should support. If you use a web developer for your site, make sure you provide these points of information for them.
- The web isn't static: Your site won't look identical everywhere. Each device is different;
- Functionality varies: Your site will work for everyone but the experience can change. Even certain basic data fields can have a large range of UX possibilities, but at the core the application is operable;
- Assess your project: Assess what type of site you're building eg simple app, content page; then establish a base level of compatibility, or a benchmark;
- Look at your audience: The great thing about the web is that (almost) everything is trackable. Using an application such as Google Analytics, for example, you can see every detail about your audience including what browser they are using and assess how your app is suitable for them;
- Embrace change: A web page made 20 years ago will work today. It won't look great or be that usable, but it will work. The internet is backwards compatible because technology does evolve. The more complex you make your site, the more likely it will need ongoing maintenance so it continues to work.
For Web Developers
Consider these 4 techniques for development to support a variety of browsers
- Embrace the web: The web is device neutral. Learn what Progressive Enhancement is. Content and simpler interfaces can work everywhere if you let it;
- Use Defensive Development Techniques: Carefully consider your problem and the consequences of what technology you use before you start. Learn about browser quirks, what works in one may not work in another;
- Test early and often: Admittedly, testing for every browser is somewhat complex. But to only test for one browser is pointless. Once a site is live, it's easy to blame the browser for any issues, but if issues are picked up on early enough in the development process they can be resolved. Though browsers have mobile emulators built in, try to use some real devices too; and
- Use HTTPS: The web is moving toward HTTPS and Chrome has already started to name and shame non-HTTPS sites. This post discusses why you need HTTPS.
The world's most popular browser is Google Chrome with approximately 59% market share. So if you asked the question "what browsers do we recommend", you would assume we would say "Chrome". But the simple fact is that question is too restrictive and browser statistics can vary significantly depending on your audience, region and demographic of users. There are too many factors to provide a blanket response to this question - but the key is knowing how to determine what browsers to support with your website and what steps you need to take to ensure a consistent experience across those browsers.
In this earlier blog post, we examined some detailed reports from StatCounter on what browser people are using
DCODE GROUP provides full back and front-end development to ensure your website is built correctly, not only to look great but to be fully functional too. We can also assist in setting up tracking on your website so you can see what browser your site visitors are using. Let’s discuss what browser you should be supporting further
Get updates, tips and industry news delivered directly to you