Cross Browser Testing | What & Why

Cross Browser Testing

If you’re using Google Chrome on a Mac, how can you know that your tests also pass when someone uses Safari? What about Internet Explorer or Firefox on Windows? Have you considered iPhones or Androids? Cross browser testing is the only way to know whether other users are experiencing your website the way you made it to, and it’s becoming more and more critical as technology evolves.

What is Cross Browser Testing?

“Testing a web application across browsers, operating systems, screen resolutions, and devices to find out if it meets your expectations and standards”.

Cross Browser testing lets you check whether your website works as intended when accessed through:

  • Different Browser-OS combinations i.e., on popular browsers like Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Safari—on any of the popular operating systems like Windows, macOS, iOS and Android.
  • Different devices i.e., users can view and interact with your website on popular devices—smartphones, tablets, desktops and laptops etc.
  • Assistive Tools i.e., the website is compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers for individuals who are differently abled.

It’s about shipping releases that are as browser-agnostic as possible, which is key to delivering a uniform user experience on a diverse, ever-growing range of browsers/devices.

Why is Cross Browser Testing Important?

Each browser has a different rendering engine, which means that they have different rules on how the browser should work, making them read and display content differently. Pair that with different devices and operating systems, and there are an infinite number of ways to experience the web.

This gets more difficult because, most of the time, developers only work on a single machine, which means they’re only seeing the end result in one configuration.

Browser vendors follow Open Web Standards, but they have their own interpretations of it. Since they each render HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in unique ways, thoroughly debugging your website’s source code is not enough to ensure that your website will look and behave as intended on different browsers (or different versions of a single browser).

So, it falls to web developers to abstract browser differences. Cross browser testing helps with that by pinpointing browser-specific compatibility errors so you can debug them quickly. It helps ensure that you’re not alienating a significant part of your target audience–simply because your website does not work on their browser-OS.

What Features to Test?

Compatibility testing includes everything, but you may not always have the time for that.

To do it right, product teams constrain their testing with a test specification document (test specs) which outlines broad essentials—a list of features to test, what browsers/versions/ platforms to test on in order to meet the compatibility benchmark, test scenarios, timelines, and budget.

You can categorize the features that will undergo testing like this:

  • Base Functionality: To ensure that basic functionality works on most browser-OS combinations. For example, you could be testing to verify that:
    • All dialogs boxes and menus are working as intended
    • All form fields accept inputs after validating them correctly
    • Website handles first-party cookies (and features like personalization that are dependent on them) correctly
    • Seamless touch input for mobiles or tablets
  • Design: This ensures that the website’s appearance—fonts, images, and layout—matches the specifications shared by the Design team.
  • Accessibility: Accounts for compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to enable differently-abled users to access the website.
  • Responsiveness: Verifies that design is fluid and fits different screen sizes/orientations.

Some Best practices for Cross-browser Testing

It’s a Balancing Act

You’ll likely find that the best method to test browsers is striking the right balance between manual and automated testing. While manual testing is important for assessing an application that has yet to be thoroughly tested, test automation will allow you to speed up testing cycles and check previously working functions. Familiarizing yourself with the best times to go through an application manually versus when to automate will be the key to broad coverage and productive testing.

Make Good Choices

Like most good testing, successful cross-browser testing is the product of smart planning. One of the biggest considerations will be which browsers you want to test on. The most effective way to decide is by looking at how your customers are visiting your website through Google Analytics. Looking at popular, problematic, and new configurations is also helpful for creating a comprehensive cross-browser testing strategy.

Don’t Forget Mobile

As mentioned, different devices can also affect the way your web application works and looks. Think of how you visit websites on your phone or tablet vs your desktop — it’s a completely different experience. Developing a website to be responsive for mobile devices adds another layer of difficulty, which means that it’s something that needs testing. Run your application on different iOS and Android devices (and don’t forget a few tablets!) to get a better idea of what your users experience on mobile.

Keep Realistic Expectations

Because all browsers are different, it’s impossible to expect your application looks the same on all of them. The goal of cross-browser testing is to make sure that it meets a standard of quality on an acceptable number of browsers that includes a good majority of your users. This means that you want to look out for bugs that affect functionality or design, but you shouldn’t expect the experiences to be identical and you shouldn’t strive to test every browser or you’ll quickly become frustrated.

Cross-browser testing is no longer a step to skip when there are so many ways to check compatibility. In order to earn the trust and loyalty of your users, you have to provide a web application they can actually use. Use cross-browser testing to put yourself ahead of the game instead of waiting for your customers to point out your bugs.

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