Multi-Browser Testing

Posted: August 25, 2006 in Cool Finds, Thoughts
Tags: , ,

Being a web developer for some time, the first rule in developing a good web application is to test the appearance and the usability of the application (or the web site). When I started developing my first web application, I was heavily using Internet Explorer as my favored browser, and almost everyone I know as well. Mozilla Firefox did not exist yet, and Netscape was losing ground to IE. These factors combined made me unconsciously (and unfortunately) target my web application towards IE users. The pages were full of VBscript code, and other IE-specific functionality that would not work on any other browser. At that time, it was fine, and no one complained.

As I became more mature in web development, I realized that a good web application should be as browser-independent as possible. Therefore it is important to use the features that can be considered as standards and supported by all browsers (or at least, most of them). It is also very important to test the web application (or the web site) on multiple browsers, and see if it appears (and operates) as expected. This is more important for applications that are meant for the Internet than application that are meant for a limited number of user (e.g. in a company’s intranet, where the users can be forced to use a specific browser).

Testing the appearance and functionality on different browsers can be a time-consuming task. In today’s world, most of the functionality is done on the server, and the parts performed on the client are almost supported by all browsers (mostly using JavaScript). The appearance, however, is another issue. Sometimes, the same HTML tags are interpreted differently by different browsers, and the Web developer has to make sure that the web site will look good in different environments (not to mention different screen resolutions).

To help with this issue, browsershots.org provides a nice solution. It allows the user (the Web developer in this case) to specify the URL of their web site, and to choose which browsers they want to test their web site on (and the list of choices is really large). The user is also presented with many additional options, like screen resolution, color depth, whether the web site needs JavaScript, Flash, Java, QuickTime, etc. (and which version is needed, if any)

Once the user submits the request, it enters a queue. The submitted URL is tested against the selected browsers, and screen shots of each test are displayed to the user. The user can just go do something else, then return later on and check the results of the test instead of manually testing each setting.

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