Dave Woods - Freelance Web Design Warwickshire

Everything you need to know about browser testing

Cross browser testing is something every web designer and developer should consider before they even create one line of code. But how should you go about it? What browsers should you test? and what tools are there that can make browser testing easier?

Which Browsers to Test

Current Browser Versions

Without a shadow of a doubt, all web designers should be testing for the latest version of a browser. This includes Firefox, IE, Opera, Safari and possibly Chrome, although the latter does use the same Webkit rendering engine as found in Safari but you may want to also test that just to be on the safe side.

Older Browser Versions

There isn’t 100% rule which says which older browsers you should check as that depends on your audience so making sure that you have a good analytics package (Google Analytics should suffice) is essential so that you know how many of your users are using which browsers.

In my own experience it’s not usually required to test older versions of Firefox, Opera, Safari or Chrome as most of these users are web savvy and update their browser when a new version is released. Your website may differ so it’s important to check as I have seen instances where Firefox 2 and 3 both have a reasonable amount of traffic.

Internet Explorer is where it gets a bit more tricky and at the time of writing, Microsoft have yet to release automatic updates to push out IE8. At the moment, it’s important to test in IE8, IE7 and IE6 as all browsers are receiving a decent amount of traffic.

However, what we might find in the coming months as automatic updates are pushed out, is that IE8 takes the majority of traffic away from IE7 whilst those users that hadn’t upgraded from IE6 to IE7 still won’t. This may leave us with the interesting scenario of IE7 becoming obsolete whilst IE6 and IE8 retain a high market share.

It really does vary from site to site though so is vital that you check which browsers are being used on a site by site basis. A technology site for example is much more likely to have high usage from Firefox whilst more commercial sites will be weighted more heavily in IE’s favour.

Browser Testing

Not all versions of browsers can be installed at the same time, however you can install the latest version of all the different browsers at the same time so the first step is to grab the following:

Running Multiple Versions of Internet Explorer

One of the most popular ways is using Tredosofts Multiple IE software which you can download from the following link:

This enables you to run multiple versions of IE (from version 3 upwards if you wish, although version 6 is usually sufficient for most sites). There’s also a standalone version of IE7 that you can download from the same site.

More recently though I’ve started to use Xenocode’s browser sandbox which requires a quick install and then allows the launching of browsers from within your current browser. This also includes Firefox 2 where testing of both Firefox versions is required.

If you’d rather run separate versions of Firefox on your own machine then it is possible to create different profiles and run the two simultaneous. The following guide shows you how:

Virtual Machine

The most reliable way of testing cross browser is to install a virtual machine, with the most popular being VmWare although this does require some setting up so whilst it does have it’s advantages it may not be the ideal solution for all and I personally find the above solutions perfectly adequate for my needs.

Further Reading

It is important to remember that browser testing is unique to each individual site and should be monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that the majority of users visiting a website are viewing what you expect. I personally ensure that a website will work on all the major browsers regardless of statistics because using web standards and creating code that all browsers will understand is likely to ensure that any release of future browsers don’t suddenly create problems.

Are there any tools that I’ve missed off the list? How do you go about browser testing?

18 comments on “Everything you need to know about browser testing

  1. tony

    You missed us. crossbrowsertesting.com

    We run vmware and keep up all the images. It is free if you can test in 5 min or less. You connect with a VNC client or an applet.

  2. Dave Post author

    Hi Tony, That looks useful, maybe a bit overkill for myself but for anyone that might be considering VmWare then this is definitely a good alternative without having to worry about the setup time and configuration.

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  7. Lisa

    Great post.

    I had no idea it was possible to run multiple versions of Internet Explorer and have even resorted to using multiple computers in the past.

    Downloading the Trendsoft software now 🙂

  8. Dave Post author

    Nitecore, I think you’ll find that’s because IE has an option to make the font clear. Personally I find that this option makes the font blurry and much prefer the way that other browsers display fonts crisp.

    Regardless of this preference though, there’s nothing you can do about it from a designers point of view and you probably shouldn’t want to as people using Firefox are used to seeing text that way.

  9. Barney


    A bit late to the party, but thought I’d through in my FUD:

    MultipleIEs is not reliable. Superseding IE versions use the same dll, and MultipleIE, while better than many emulation tools, is still emulation at the end of the day. As a front-end developer for huge elaborate production sites full of legacy code, I have had plenty of occasions of testers reporting back from MultipleIEs on bugs that A) appear fixed in MultipleIE 6 but still occur on a real IE6 and B) bugs that cannot be reproduced using any ‘real’ browser. I don’t have any documented proof to give you that doesn’t rely on private code, but if I do find test-case evidence I will be sure to come back with it. Honestly though, don’t rely on this hacky and unrepresentative halfway house for production sites.

    For me the only real option is VirtualBox [http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads] and Microsoft’s free Windows + IE6 disk image [http://www.microsoft.com/Downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=21eabb90-958f-4b64-b5f1-73d0a413c8ef&displaylang=en#filelist]

    This is dirt simple to set up, completely free, completely reliable, and completely legal. VMWare are good for high-end elaborate high-spec virtualization solutions, but for simple non-techie desktop virtualisation, VirtualBox reigns.

  10. Dave Post author

    Thanks for the information Barney. I wasn’t aware of VirtualBox until now but that definitely looks like the best solution.

    Just downloading now and going to give them a whirl. 🙂