In the last few decades, the internet has seen tremendous growth; internet users are increasing each day, which has increased the demand for websites. Every stunning website has the support of rigorous testing behind it. But, testing different web applications is not as easy as it may sound. Things that work perfectly fine in one browser might not be fit for the other. It becomes quite challenging for the teams to cope up with this issue. Hence, investing in cross-browser compatibility testing becomes a necessity. Cross-browser testing has so far been quite an ordeal for all the front-end developers and testers on earth. The underlying cause of the problem certainly is the browser fragmentation issue, and to resolve it, cross-browser compatibility testing seems like the only possible solution.
In simple terms, Cross-browser Compatibility mainly focuses on ensuring that the basic features of your website are compatible with different operating systems, devices, browsers, and browser-OS combinations. There are many browsers in the market, but the popular ones like Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, UC browsers capture the maximum market share. Compatibility is an ever-prevailing issue in the software world. Cross-browser testing plays a critical role in easing the situation. However, it is not an end to the problem. Testing compatibility ensures that your websites and web apps work well on the maximum number of web browsers.
What is Fragmentation?
The difference between devices, operating systems, browsers, network types, etc., is identified as fragmentation. Then, where is the problem?
It is because of this difference that there does not exist a single solution or interoperable system. In the software development context, fragmentation does not support the idea of developing the code once and running it everywhere. Since the businesses can’t have universal operability on every possible combination, it has to settle down with diluted compatibility. Performing cross-browser testing compatibility on all browsers, platforms, and devices becomes a nightmare for the developers because they keep experiencing endless loads of cross-browser and cross-platform bugs that encroach the production environment.
So what do we do?
Performing Cross-browser compatibility testing frequently and continuously to check cross-browser compatibility is the only stable solution so far. Since the market is dynamic, continuous periodic updates keep coming in for browsers and operating systems. Even many devices are launched in the market frequently, approximately 20% every year.
Why is Cross Browser Compatibility an issue?
Cross-Browser Compatibility was a challenge ten years back and even today. It was as tedious a job for developers and testers as it is today. Let’s look at some data for creating a basis. During the pandemic, new internet users have increased up to Nine Lacs per day. Research says device fragmentation is increasing at a growth rate of 20%. There are more than 9000+ unique internet devices in the market, around 20+ different operating systems with eight major browsers. Together, they make approx 63K+ browser-OS-Device combinations. Undeniably, testing on all device-browser combinations and testing fragmentation seem impractical.
Additionally, there is uniqueness in the development ideologies of every browser vendor in the market. They work along the lines of their respective design and development philosophies, which regulate the end-user experience; they decide the features and web technologies to focus on. For example, the user experience on Chrome vs. UC browser is entirely different because they differ in their ideologies. The former beliefs in delivering performance and healthy integration with Google space, whereas the latter focuses on delivering efficiency by compressing the page for low data utility. Does breaking the change help? Well, it means mountains of more work, more debugging for the developers.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has standardized the way browsers render pages. Although this is homogeneous, the web pages do not render the same way across all the browsers. Each layer of the browsers impacts the end-user experience and the way the web page looks. They are:
Browsers have different rendering engines. Browser engines like Blink, Gecko, WebKit absorb, read and render HTML. The same engines operate uniquely when used open-source, even with their compatible operating systems. iOS supports only the WebKit browser, which means Chrome would work differently on both iOS and Android.
Every vendor does not follow the standardized homogeneity of W3C in the same way. In simpler terms, each of them finds the solution but using a different approach. Apple’s Safari has an ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention) System that detects and disallows saving third-party cookies with its high-end machine learning algorithm. It protects user’s privacy but refrains online advertisers from obtaining user’s information for monetizing content through behavior capture.
–Web Technology Support:
The browser’s web community gives its opinion to decide which web technology to support and how and when to implement it.
There are frequent updates for new features and security patches, different for each browser. For example, Google Chrome pushes updates every quarter, and Safari sends yearly updates. So, if your engineer decides to support a specific feature, it will take time to make it universally available.
This brings us down to two points; first – that each browser has various versions in the market which have a unique stand in the market. e.g., Chrome and Safari, and second – that each browser works differently on desktop and mobile
Impact of Lack of Browser Compatibility and How to deal with different browser needs
Although the differences in the browsers are minuscule, the unexpected UI bugs can impact a website’s traffic; it is all about how well we manage those differences to improve the overall experience of the website. Whenever you would like to target multiple markets, the chances of stumbling over these unexpected UI bugs are frequent; this will impact the production environment. One important aspect to always keep in mind is that no matter which browser your customer is using, your website should work immaculately.
Instances that show why cross-browser testing compatibility is essential:
- Adobe’s Opt-out cookie retention did not work as Apple’s ITP system did not allow it to retain any information. Apple resolved this issue by removing that cookie to allow user tracking.
- Bootstrap- the developer’s savior, created a wall of pending browser errors in major browsers so that they can deliver a quality web experience to their users. It was created to bring vendors’ attention to know which issues are causing Bootstrap problems so that the former can expedite the bug fixing process.
- In the year 2019, Chrome released an update and suspended the browser. This move impacted most people and employees who used Chrome for accessing the internet for work. They could not access the internet for the entire day, and all they could see was a blank screen.
Role of Continuous testing for cross-browser compatibility
During the cross-browser compatibility testing, every developer and tester face common issues like:
- Different CSS rules on each browser,
- Outdated browsers not having the Doctype in HTML files to identify their version.
- Incompatibility with element styling,
- Obsolete browser detection
- Issues with the layout
- Issues with the browser libraries, frameworks, etc.
We have reached a point where we have a solution to the problem, but is it the ultimate solution for overcoming browser compatibility issues? Not so. We have to find a much more aggressive way to support this solution to be able to deliver quality.
Things to keep in mind over browser compatibility issues
- Your business will have to identify the most productive combinations consisting of browsers that are relevant to your business and audience, cover the maximum market, and cover those that are constantly updated.
- Analyze and be aware of the most common issues and features that cause most of the problems. And also identify the browsers or devices on which they malfunction.
- Have a robust delivery pipeline that will allow developers and the QA team to strengthen the testing fragmentation by continuously testing and debugging each unit, code build, and user flow of the website for all the relevant browsers and devices.
Instead of your team focusing on increasing the number of users enjoying using the website, the goal should be to reduce the number of people having a bad user experience. Cross-browser compatibility is a necessity for those whose image is dependent on consistently delivering quality.
The market is evolving every minute. There is a constant increase in browsers’ versions and their market share. As we read this, many software updates have been released already. Hence, the only way to handle this rapid evolution of the market is by early and continuous cross-browser compatibility testing and a fragmented ecosystem that supports robust web apps and allows them to work smoothly across devices, browsers, and operating systems. Test fragmentation is a reliable strategy for achieving impactful browser compatibility.