Browser Compatibility Tips

11th January 2011

The internet would be a much simpler place if everybody used the same browser (Firefox would be my choice, Chrome maybe if I was pushed), but as different companies vie for supremecy the gap only ever seems to get bigger. Whilst picking between lots of cool features is great in terms of fun and choice for the user, for web designers and developers it can cause problems.

People often get the terms cross browser and multiple browser compatible confused. For a website or application to be truly cross browser compatible it would have to function across ALL browsers, not just the principle cohort of IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari. However to be multiple browser compatible only suggests it functions across more than one browser. Whilst it would be great to aim for everything on the web to be cross browser compatible, in reality you have your work cut out simply coding for the most popular and widely used.

How do I know if my site works across multiple browsers?

It used to be I’d install a variety of browsers on my machine and test any site I was building in all of them before launch, but these days that approach just doesn’t cut it. For a start, it doesn’t help much when you want to see how something looks or functions in two versions of the same browser. Now I use Adobe BrowserLab, which comes built in with Dreamweaver CS5, to render my sites as they would appear in a multitude of different browsers as I’m actually designing and coding them. Whilst no tool is entirely accurate, it does give a good indiciation. There are also a variety of online tools that can help (I have only listed free options):

  • Browsershots – produces screenshots of how a page appears in a whole host of different browsers. The major drawback is that it can take quite a long time to render a large number of different versions.
  • Adobe BroswerLab (online version) – does the same thing but faster and within one interface. It also allows you to overlay two different versions to see if they align the same, or view two screens side by side for comparison.
  • webdevlab.com – will currently only visualise Safari.

So how do I make my site work the same in different browsers?

You should expect your designer to have an awareness of compatibility issues, but if you’re going to be working on it yourself then below are a few tips:

  1. Validate your site and iron out any issues with the code. You should also be sure to define a DOCTYPE.
  2. View your site on a mobile and if it isn’t working correctly or is taking a long time to load, consider a separate version. With the advent of smart phones more and more people will be accessing your site in this way.
  3. Reset your CSS. Browsers often have different default settings for basic tags, so over ride them to ensure consistency. You can find Yahoo’s reset here http://developer.yahoo.com/yui/reset/ or develop your own.
  4. Keep track of who is visiting your pages and what browser/operating systems are most common using an analytics tool such as Google Analytics.

I was delighted with Jo’s work: she combines an excellent eye for spacious design with patience and inventiveness.

(Kieron Winn)