Why Cross Browser Testing is a Must

Cross-browser testing is a method for ensuring that your website looks as intended in the different popular browsers available to your visitors. It can sometimes seem like an area of the development process where corners can be cut, but rest assured it is essential to the creation of a quality experience. When a customer finds your website has elements which are out of place, overlapping or cease to function on their browser they are immediately turned off and this reduces engagement.

The difficulty in cross-browser testing is that there are so many options for users it can be difficult to stay up to date with availability of cutting edge features. If you are lucky, you can apply graceful degradation in order to achieve a similar effect without those features. This is when the code acknowledges that some users will be using an unsupported browser and provides an alternate display for those browsers.

This activity of testing the website in various browsers is typically performed during the Quality Assurance phase of a site’s deployment, but may also need to be performed after the launch when responding to bug reports from users. As the development team becomes more familiar with the quirks of each individual browser you are intending to support, certain issues will clear up naturally. The developers may be able to predict features that are are easy to implement and others that will cause trouble during the cross-browser testing.

One way to reduce the complexity of this task is to narrow down the list of web browsers you are planning to support to the bare minimum. This may eliminate support for some of your viewers, but it is an important trade off. The right balance can keep your team from spending endless hours testing for browsers which have a relatively small share of visitor usage.

The list of popular browsers is long:

  • Google Chrome (Mac and Windows)
  • Firefox (Mac and Windows)
  • Internet Explorer (Windows)
  • Safari (Mac and Windows)
  • Opera (Mac and Windows)
  • iPhone
  • Droid
  • Windows Phone
  • Blackberry
  • iPad

Each platform has its own unique issues and will impact the rendering of your website. With browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer there are often new features coming out that your project’s libraries will want to take advantage of. You may need to restrict yourself to certain more recent versions of these browsers in order to prevent wasting time.

The best resource for information about which browsers your visitors are using is going to be your analytics software. Whether you use Google Analytics or one of their competitors, you should easily be able to generate a report detailing which browsers are being used to access your site’s resources. Consider taking a monthly reading of this data so that you can identify any trends as your site usage increases.

With the analytics information in hand you should be able to reduce your list of supported browsers to only those which are going to be used by your visitors, and further to those which are popular. While some of your users may find a website with less support for their particular browser, this will save you precious time.

Often times web development agencies will drop support for older versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer, knowing that there is only a small percentage of their visitors who are using this out of date technology. Be sure to inform visitors which browsers you are intending to support!

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Dan Davis-Boxleitner is a Web Developer located in Chicago, Il. He focuses on HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP. In his spare time he plays guitar and practices martial arts. Contact him on Twitter or view his LinkedIn Profile.

8 Comments

  1. Eric
    9/14/2016
    Reply

    Agreed, cross browser testing is very important to make sure that it works across all formats and doesn’t leave someone that only uses one browser out of the experience.

  2. Hussein Ally
    9/14/2016
    Reply

    Great information and very well explained. Great job sir

    • I try to focus on ways to save time – not cut corners! Thank you for the kind words.

  3. Rusty
    9/14/2016
    Reply

    This is super important. Can’t stress testing in general enough, but specifically cross browser testing. Especially Safari, in my opinion. It is the worst offender out of the big three browsers that causes issues all the time. This is a great article. Thanks!

  4. Michael Jones
    9/14/2016
    Reply

    All really great points on this article. Branding should be an important thing to you if you’re selling a business, so this should just be an extension of said branding. The businesses that usually end up with the most play and engagement have a solid consistency with their look and aesthetics in all aspects.

    • You make some really good points about branding. Visitor seem to have a keen eye for inconsistency and any glitches in a page’s layout can definitely impact your brand. Thanks for reading!

  5. Farhan Hussain
    9/15/2016
    Reply

    You make some great points, when I was doing software testing I setup an automated script on Ruby to test web apps on different browsers, was a great tool.

    • Automation is the way to go. Anything you can get automated will save time over the course of several projects. There are also some web services which offer similar testing options. Browsera and Sauce Labs might potentially work for this.

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