Free Cross Browser Testing
  by David  

Cross-Browser Testing

Web applications are fickle beasts, and what works perfectly on one Web browser may look like a jumbled mess on another. In order to make sure that your website has a common look, feel, and functionality for all users, you must carry out cross-browser testing. But what exactly is cross-browser testing, and how is it carried out?

Why Do People Cross-Browser Test?

Web browser market share is currently divided among several different browsers, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple's Safari, Opera, and Microsoft Edge (previously known as Microsoft Internet Explorer). In addition, each of these browsers comes in many different versions, with each updated version providing bug fixes, user interface updates, and new features. All this means that there are literally dozens of options for users to surf the Web at any given time.

Beyond the browsers themselves, there are also various client components that may behave differently from browser to browser, such as Java applets, JavaScript, and Flash. Browsers are even different between operating systems: For example, Safari's text-to-speech feature is only available on Apple products. Even more distinctions are only visible under the hood, so to speak.

As a result, if you want to be assured that your website works correctly across different browsers, operating systems, and devices, you need to perform cross-browser testing.

How to Cross-Browser Test Manually

With so many variations to check, manual cross-browser testing can be a long and difficult process. Here are a few tips to make it more pleasant:

  • Create a collection of elements and components from your website that are shared across pages so that you can reduce the content that needs to be tested.
  • Browsers such as Firefox and Chrome prompt the user to update automatically, so you likely only need to test a few of their most recent versions. Other browsers such as Internet Explorer and Safari need testing for older versions.
  • Rather than testing browsers one after the other, test them in parallel with a tool like Ghostlab, which synchronizes your browsing actions simultaneously across multiple browsers and devices.
  • Use tools such as the W3C Markup Validation Service and CSS Lint to check your HTML and CSS before testing.

Cross-Browser Testing Tools

There are a number of quality assurance testing tools and software available for cross-browser testing. Some of the most popular are:

  • Browsershots: A free and simple tool that takes screenshots of your website, showing how it looks on various browsers running on the Windows, Mac, Linux, and BSD operating systems.
  • BrowserStack: A service that uses cloud computing to test your website on a variety of browsers, operating systems, and devices, without the need for you to use virtual machines or emulators.
  • Microsoft Edge Tools: A free Microsoft toolset that is especially helpful if you want to know how your website looks in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge. You can see how your website renders on several common browser and device configurations, and perform browser testing on Edge and the four newest versions of Internet Explorer.

Which Browser Versions Should You Test?

Testing all of the dozens and dozens of browser versions is probably unfeasible for you, especially when you multiply this number by the number of devices and operating systems that each version can be used on. As a result, you need to prioritize certain browser versions during your testing.

You likely already have a browser support policy outlining which browser versions your website officially supports. Use that policy to determine which browsers should be emphasized during testing. To supplement that policy, examine your website's analytics to see which browsers, devices, and operating systems people are using on your site. If you're targeting a particular country or region, use a website like StatCounter Global Stats to find out which browser versions the locals most often use there.

Although cross-browser testing can seem like a pain, following the advice above will put you on the right track.