Comprehensive Guide to Testing Browser Compatibility

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Woman on computerIt’s important for any web developer to thoroughly test the rendering of their pages by various browsers in use today. The question is – how do we know which browsers are currently being used? There are many sites out there that offer various browser usage statistics, but more often than not, the data is simply a reflection of visitor-usage stats for that particular site. For specific client bases, this may not be a problem. For example, browser usage statistics on W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) sites are likely to be a good indicator of browser usage in the web development community. At the same time, usage statistics from the University of Illinois are constrained primarily to faculty and students of the University.

Comprehensive Browser Usage Statistics Site

Chuck Upsdell’s Browser News site contains up-to-date information on browsers, including usage statistics from multiple sources and an explanation of the validity of browser statistics.

More Browser Usage Statistics

In addition to those already mentioned, here are more sources to find browser usage statistics that you can use to determine which browsers to test for compatibility. Always remember to keep in mind your target demographic.

Browser usage: the dominant trend

Internet Explorer (IE) is still in use by the majority of Internet users, Firefox comes in a distant (but steadily advancing) second, and the remaining browsers (Netscape, Mozilla, Safari, Konqueror, KHTML, Opera) make up the small percentage that remains.

Browser compatibility: which versions to test

Most of the above mentioned browsers can be downloaded and deployed locally. I recommend testing in IE versions 5+, Firefox 0.9+, Netscape 5+, Opera (a closed-source browser with dwindling market share, but good for standards compliance testing) and the latest versions of KHTML-based browsers Konqueror and Safari. Successful testing in the above environments should yield an estimated market penetration of at least 98%.

Emulating Mac Browsers

One of the primary issues for Windows developers is that they have difficulty finding ways of testing their pages on Mac-based browsers (IE’s Mac version is different than the Windows version and Firefox Mac also renders slightly differently). The easiest way to test your pages on Mac browsers is to download the VMPlayer (Virtual Machine Player) and run a Linux operating system with KTHML-based browsers.

The KDE 3.5 on SUSE Linux comes prepackages with Konqueror, and you can download Firefox once inside the virtual environment. You may also want to submit your site to Safari Screen Capture – which will take screenshots of your layout as it appears in the latest Safari release.

Does Your Browser Pass the ACID Test?

The ACID Test

The ACID test was written by the Web Standards Project to help browser vendors ensure proper support for web standards. It is a rigorous test that only the most standards-compliant browsers will pass. Safari was the first to pass, followed by Konqueror and the latest edition of Opera.

I encourage you to browse to the ACID 2 Test page and see how well your browser fares. Read about the ACID 2 Test Background to learn more about the test and what it involves.

All-in-one browser compatibility testing offers a SiteViewer application that is based on the HTML 3.2 specification. It runs your page through a mutually exclusive test incorporating interpretation mechanisms of all the primary browser engines. In other words, if you can still view and navigate your site with the SiteViewer, you are probably in good shape. also contains various other tools, such as an HTML Validator, that can be useful in testing your pages.

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