Browser logos

This week’s post isn’t one of those “earth shattering, mind-blowing, if you don’t do it all is lost” kind of posts. Really, it is one of those basic, good-to-do type of posts that can help you keep your site in tip-top shape and make sure your site visitors have a great experience. What are we talking about? Cross-browser testing. Cross-browser what? What is that? Well, let’s take a look.

A little background on browsers

“Browsers” are those computer programs that you use to view pages on the Internet. There are a lot of different kinds, but the most popular ones are Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. Like all software, each of those browsers has changed and grown over the years… adding new features, fixing bugs, etc.

While this is great for users, because they have different options that are getting better and better, it is a real challenge for webmasters. Each of those browsers (and each version within the browser) has its own quirks and may display the web page a little differently, sometimes a lot differently, which can result in a poor experience for your visitors. Internet Explorer is notorious for this. Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) often displays pages significantly differently than Internet Explorer 8 and 9.

So, what is cross-browser testing?

Cross-browser testing is “testing” the website using different browsers. In its simplest form, it is just viewing the different webpages within a website using the different browsers.

It is important to test your website as new browser versions come out. When your site was originally developed, hopefully, your web developer tested the website against the current major browser versions. But unfortunately, it is impossible to test against browsers that don’t yet exist. So, as new browser versions come out, it is a good idea to run a quick check to make sure everything still looks okay.

If you are running website analytics software, such as Google Analytics, you can check your statistics to see what users for your particular website are using the most.

How to test?

There are two basic approaches to cross-browser testing: 1) Installing the browsers on your computer, and 2) using online software to run the checks for you.

1) Installing the current browsers

The most basic option is to install each of the major browsers onto your computer. This allows you to view your website in each browser as well as interact with the website. You can see right away whether there are any problems. The downside to this approach is that you can only have one version of a given browser installed at a time.

One exception is Internet Explorer (IE). For Internet Explorer (which is only available for Windows computers), you can install the Developer Toolbar, which has a feature called Browser Mode and allows you to view a webpage as if you were using a different version of IE.

Here are the latest versions of the 5 major browsers:

2) Online Software for Cross-Browser Compatibility Testing

There are several online tools for checking your website. Typically, they will give you a snapshot of your screen (aka screenshot) in the various browsers and versions of each browser that you select. Their big advantage is that you can test in different versions without installing each one. Their disadvantage (at least with some of them) is that you have to wait for the result and cannot interact with the site.

Here is a small sample of some that are available (both free and paid):

Conclusion

Cross-browser testing is a good idea. You should check out your site in the latest versions every few months to make sure everything is optimal for your different users. If you find a problem with a new browser, speak with your web developer. They can help you out. Or, as always, feel free to give us a call!

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