Browser and device testing

Neither the Web Accessibility Standard nor the Web Usability Standard include a requirement on browser or device testing. Browser and device technologies are changing so rapidly that it doesn’t make sense to specify a particular set of browsers or devices in which web pages should be tested. Instead, some general advice is provided below on how to approach your browser and device testing requirements.

What should we support?

In modern web development we should support all browsers and devices. Choosing to exclude a segment of users is inappropriate.

Support does not mean that everybody gets the same thing. Expecting two people using different browsers or devices to have an identical visual or interactive experience fails to embrace the true nature of the Web. In fact, requiring the same experience for all users creates an artificial barrier to participation. Availability and accessibility of core content and functionality should be the key priorities.

Progressive enhancement

A fundamental tenet of the web is that content can be viewed and used regardless of device or user agent. This principle underlies the best practice approach known as progressive enhancement. Progressive enhancement prioritises core content and functionality, making sure they are available in all browsers. Enhancements are then added to the page if the browser supports them.

It is relatively straightforward to ensure that a very basic yet usable and functional experience is provided in all browsers and devices. For instance, a web team may deem it quite reasonable to give Internet Explorer 6 or browsers on older mobile devices a simple, plain-HTML, single-column layout with minimal functionality, while preserving the more enhanced functionality and visual experience for more recent and capable browsers.

Test support based on what your visitors use

Each organisation should decide which browsers and devices it tests with, and what support means in each case. The decision should be an informed one, based on the site’s analytics, acknowledging the site’s audience as well as the technologies available to and used by its visitors.

For example, depending on the number of visitors to your site, and the distribution of browsers and devices they use, it may be reasonable to test in any browser or device used by more than 1% of your site’s visitors. For a site with 100,000 visitors a month, this means testing in any browser or device used by 1,000 or more visitors. Of course, no matter what number you settle on, it’s best to remain somewhat flexible so that you can react to rapid changes in the make-up of your site’s user base and the technologies they are using.


Browser testing tools