Five simple tips for browser compatibility testing

by Sherif

I read a good article recently on testing web applications on multiple browsers. The following comments are derived from that article as well as my own personal experience. Hopefully they help you in some good points to take into consideration when doing browser compatibility testing on your web applications.

1. Figure out what browsers are out there – and what the trends are.
Check out TheCounter browser stats. This gives you a good framework to work from – in terms of what key browsers are used out there. It breaks it down by month, by browser, and is updated every month. It’s a great resource to work out trends in browser growth in the market. For example, if I look at November 2007 , Firefox was at 13%, and IE 6 was at 38%. Compare this to today we can see that Firefox usage is up to 17% market share, and IE 6 still remains steady at 38%. This can help us in:

  • Knowing what are the major browsers out there.
    This should direct our efforts in terms of how much time we focus when trying to ensure our site is compatible with browser X or Y.
  • Observing trends.
    From the example I gave above – Firefox is on the rise (and its not just from that source). So, thinking that we don’t have to spend lots of time on Firefox compatibility will come back to haunt is, especially if it’s growing at that rate.
  • 2. Simple and manual tests are the best
    Installing multiple versions of browsers on different operating systems is the best way to test your website for browser compatibility. However, this isn’t necessary the most effective way (in terms of time and resources) – but it yields the best outcome. Check out browsers.evolt.org . This site provides a great archive of all browsers and all versions (yes even the text browsers out there). This would be a good start in getting the browsers you want to test – old and new versions.

    3. Virtualise where possible
    To save costs on running multiple computers with multiple operating systems – run virtual machines on one box, with many browsers installed on different operating systems. Check out VMWare or Microsoft’s Virtual PC to get started on this.

    4. Use tools and products that already exist
    There are some tools that try to help you with this:

  • BrowserShots.org 
    This is a free service that lets you test your site on multiple browsers. It simulates a browser on the web for you, and all you have to do is key-in your URL. However, this won’t work for internal sites – only sites facing the web.
  • BrowserCam
    This is a commercial service that has similar functionality as BrowserShots, but also lets you test mobile devices and PDA compatibility as well. Additionally, it lets you test your site on different operating systems, unlike BrowserShots.org. If you have money to spend on browser testing, consider something like this
  • Adobe Dreamwever
    If you are working on a basic / small website, browser compatibility testing with Adobe Dreamweaver can be relatively easy. Dreamweaver has a built in feature that scans your code for things such as JavaScript that might work on IE but not Firefox. It then produces a simple report summarizing issues that may arise between platforms.
  • 5. Don’t forget mobile and other devices
    Because mobile usage on the web is on the rise. Far to often, web developers just develop sites for PC’s and not mobile devices. This poses heaps of challenges in terms of site design, especially what you do with your JavaScript and CSS layout for various platforms. The DotMobi is an awesome resource that has great bits of information on testing and developing for mobile devices.