[Write-Up: Frequent Browser Compatibility Issues to Avoid During Development]

Today, software and technology are booming, with more devices, browsers, and operating systems than ever before. It's crucial for any business or software to offer a great experience to as many users as possible, and ignoring browser compatibility can lead to frustrating user experiences, including broken layouts, dysfunctional features, and slow performance. The main criteria for assessing compatibility include:

⠀⠀1. Code validation: Verifying the validation of your JavaScript and CSS across various browsers.

⠀⠀2. Performance: Guaranteeing optimal performance of your website across all platforms.

⠀⠀3. Mobile compatibility: Ensuring responsiveness in mobile browsers concerning resolution, rotation, and viewport settings.

⠀⠀4. Behavior consistency: Maintaining a uniform user experience across the website, including interaction with navigation, links, and dialog boxes.

This article will dive into common reasons behind the failure of cross-browser test cases and can serve as a guide for developers and QA professionals.

Inconsistent CSS rendering

The application's layout should consistently maintain its integrity across various environments post-release. Incompatibility issues often arise due to factors such as unresponsiveness on mobile devices, disparities in how modern browsers render layouts, and lack of support for certain layouts by browsers.

Several methods prove effective in maintaining layout compatibility

⠀⠀1. Utilizing the HTML viewport metatag ensures content spans correctly across mobile screens, enhancing responsiveness.

⠀⠀2. Leveraging CSS flexbox and grid techniques facilitates the arrangement of child elements based on content and available rendering space.

⠀⠀3. Employing CSS multi-column layouts aids in effectively organizing multiple-column content within container layouts.

⠀⠀4. To prevent inconsistencies in font rendering, consider using web-safe fonts or adding fallback font choices. To maintain consistency across various browsers, try to use relative units such as em or rem for font sizes. Additionally, enhancing compatibility can be achieved by embedding fonts using @font-face and supplying multiple formats.

⠀⠀5. Try to avoid using the latest CSS features, such as CSS subgrids, unless you're sure they'll be compatible with most browsers. CSS subgrids are innovative features that allow for the implementation of a grid within another grid.

Missing CSS resets

To implement a different design layout for the application, developers must overwrite the default design. Without this step, the application may appear differently across various browsers. With a CSS reset, you will know how elements will look on different browsers. Essentially, a CSS Reset file removes the default styles.

Examples of CSS reset style sheets include Normalize.css from Github, HTML5 Reset, and Eric Meyer's Reset CSS.

Vendor-specific functions

It's essential for developers to remember that when implementing features or functionalities, they need to employ specific CSS code specified for the browser they're targeting. This practice is crucial to cross-browser compatibility. Additionally, developers should include the function without the prefix to prevent errors from arising in other browsers.

Keep these prefixes in mind:

  • Safari and Chrome (-webkit)
  • Internet Explorer (-ms)
  • Mozilla Firefox (-moz)
  • Opera (-o)

HTML / CSS validation

Validating HTML and CSS codes can present significant challenges for developers when conducting cross-browser testing. This is due to the fact that various browsers read and process code differently.

Even the smallest error, such as failing to close a tag, can challenge developers. While certain browsers may automatically correct such errors, others may not. These discrepancies can lead to issues with specific browsers, such as Internet Explorer.

Fortunately, resolving this issue is relatively straightforward with the aid of code-validating tools for HTML and CSS. Consider utilizing tools such as the W3C HTML validator, Jigsaw CSS validator, JS Formatter for HTML, CSS Lint, or JS Lint.

Javascript issues

Using modern JavaScript features on older browsers may cause issues in cross-browser testing. A few examples: 

  • Implementing Strict mode in JavaScript code leads to stricter parsing with numerous rules, resulting in more warnings and errors. While it contributes to cleaner and more efficient code, its support varies among browsers.
  • Typed arrays allow JavaScript code to access and manipulate raw binary data. However, this feature is only supported by IE 10 and newer versions, along with modern browsers.
  • Promises are useful for handling asynchronous operations but aren't compatible with IE.
  • Arrow functions provide a more concise syntax for creating anonymous functions but are not supported on IE and Safari.

DOCTYPE tag error

A basic thing every developer does when they start to code is to add a DOCTYPE tag in HTML. But sometimes, its missed, edited, or removed by accident. The DOCTYPE keyword is used to specify the guidelines to be followed in the code. It's crucial to include the DOCTYPE in the code so that the web browser understands the rules and maintains proper rendering.

In older versions of IE, the presence of the DOCTYPE tag at the beginning of the code is checked. If the tag is absent, the application may not be rendered correctly.

Browsers operate in three different modes:

  • Full standard mode: The browser imposes stricter checks, adhering to W3C specifications.
  • Almost standard mode: Few quirks are implemented.
  • Quirk mode: Offers backward compatibility to older browsers and does not perform error checks. It emulates non-standard behavior in the layout.

It's essential to include the DOCTYPE tag at the beginning of the code, otherwise the browser switches to quirk mode, stops error checks, and behaves in a non-standard manner if it's missing.

Media formats and codecs issues

Some browsers come pre-equipped with support for specific media formats and codecs, while others may require external plugins or extensions. This variation can lead to inconsistencies in media playback across different browsers.

Media formats: Media formats determine how multimedia files are structured and encoded. Examples include MP3 for audio, MP4 for video, and JPEG for images. Each format has its own features, compression algorithms, and compatibility levels with different devices and software.

Codecs: Codecs are crucial for compressing and decompressing digital media files. They enable efficient storage and transmission by encoding and decoding multimedia data. Codecs vary in their compression efficiency, performance, and quality maintenance.

  1. Compatibility: Different browsers, operating systems, and devices support different media formats and codecs. For instance, one browser may support MP4 with H.264 compression, while another requires WebM with VP9 compression. This disparity can result in inconsistent media playback experiences.
  2. Fallback mechanisms: To tackle compatibility issues, developers implement fallback mechanisms. These mechanisms offer alternative media sources in different formats or codecs. For example, a web page may provide a video in both MP4 and WebM formats. If a browser doesn't support one format, it can automatically switch to the alternative format for playback.
  3. Performance and quality: Codecs vary in compression efficiency, performance, and quality. Some prioritize smaller file sizes but may sacrifice quality, while others prioritize quality at the expense of larger file sizes. Developers need to strike a balance to ensure optimal media playback experiences across browsers.
  4. Licensing and royalties: Certain codecs, especially proprietary ones, may require licensing fees or royalties. This can complicate and add costs to implementing support for specific media formats and codecs, especially for developers working on open-source or non-commercial projects.

Browser-specific features

In compatibility testing, browser-specific features are functionalities or behaviors unique to a specific web browser. Each browser utilizes distinct rendering engines like Blink, Gecko, or WebKit, leading to variations in interpreting and displaying web content. 

Here are some browser-specific features with use cases:

◽️Internet Explorer's conditional comments

Use case: Conditional comments are specific to Internet Explorer and allow developers to include or exclude code blocks based on the version of Internet Explorer being used. 

◽️Webkit's -webkit- CSS prefix

Webkit-specific CSS properties prefixed with -webkit- are commonly used to apply browser-specific styling in Safari and older versions of Chrome.

◽️Mozilla's Gecko engine preferences

Gecko engine-specific preferences in Mozilla Firefox allow users to customize browser behavior and features. For example, users can modify advanced settings through about:config page to tweak browser performance or enable experimental features. Understanding these preferences can help developers optimize web applications for Firefox users.

◽️Edge's pinned sites

Microsoft Edge offers a feature called 'pinned sites', allowing users to pin their favorite websites to the taskbar or Start menu for quick access. Developers can utilize special meta tags like to customize the appearance of the pinned site’s tile or to provide custom tooltips.

◽️Chrome's web speech API

Chrome provides the web speech API, allowing developers to integrate speech recognition and synthesis capabilities into web applications. Developers can use this feature to create voice-enabled interfaces, interactive voice commands, or speech-to-text transcription functionality

Insufficient testing on real devices

There's no substitute for authenticity. Regardless of your website's design, the most effective method for ensuring bug-free performance across various browsers and devices is to conduct tests on genuine browsers and devices, just like real users. Virtual machines can never replicate the efficiency of native device features.

Nevertheless, real device testing can be challenging and costly, especially if testers lack access to a personal device lab regularly updated with the latest devices and browser versions. Platforms such as BrowserStack resolve this challenge by offering immediate access to a cloud-based platform featuring over 3000 device-browser combinations for real-world testing.

Here are some useful links for checking a feature or website for cross-browser compatibility:

Conclusion

Today, achieving seamless user experiences across diverse devices, browsers, and operating systems is imperative. Overlooking browser compatibility issues can result in frustrating glitches that hinder user interaction and cause overall dissatisfaction. This article has shed light on the critical challenges posed by cross-browser compatibility issues. From inconsistent CSS rendering to discrepancies in JavaScript support, these issues lead to broken layouts, dysfunctional features, and subpar performance. By recognizing the complexities of cross-browser compatibility and understanding the potential pitfalls, developers and QA professionals can better anticipate and address these challenges.

Summary

This article has underscored the most common and significant cross-browser compatibility challenges in modern software development. Key issues discussed include:

  1. Inconsistent CSS rendering and layout discrepancies
  2. JavaScript conflicts and compatibility issues across different browsers
  3. Challenges related to media formats and codecs that impact media playback consistency
  4. The importance of the DOCTYPE tag and knowing that its absence leads to rendering inconsistencies
  5. Browser-specific features and their implications on compatibility testing.

By being aware of these challenges, developers can take proactive measures to mitigate risks and ensure their software delivers a consistent user experience across diverse environments.