Backward Browser Compatibility Problems and How to Avoid Them

Do you remember using your first ever browser? Many of us can remember the chunky layout tables which defined the browsing experience during the early stages of the Internet evolution. Today I’m constantly amazed at the massive impact browsers are having on our online activities and the rapid pace at which this is evolving.

Despite this, many of us still use older browser versions. We can see evidence of this within Google Analytics data, which tells us what browsers are used by website visitors. It was while reviewing this data that I decided to write about the potential issues of using older versions and why it’s essential to ensure the latest version is being used.

Why upgrade your browser?

Lack of ongoing support

The most popular browsers being used today are Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. For those using older versions of these, they will no doubt be all-too-familiar with those annoying messages warning that security updates or technical support will no longer be provided. For more information on this, take a look at the articles below:

Of course it's possible that users may not realise they are using older browsers - a lot of people tend to switch off automatic updates or simply aren’t aware.

Reducing testing load

It has been a sizeable challenge for developers to keep up with Internet Explorer in recent years, and there seems to be more standard compliance to contend with than ever with the latest version: IE8. On top of this we still have to cater, as best we can, for older versions of browsers still in widespread use. This means we typically find ourselves testing for most versions of Internet Explorer, as well as pretty much everything else! It adds huge complexity to projects.

Functionality and features versus security concerns

Security is an ongoing concern when it comes to browsers (and the Internet as a whole), hence the avoidance of upgrading browsers for the workplace and home. Whilst I understand those concerns regarding security, the challenge still remains - how to keep users happy while browsing yet avoid looking at websites with broken features, functionality issues, and a loss of design. An additional issue is that not all old browsers support HTML5 or CSS3, to name a couple.

It’s easy to do

Our recommended solution would always be to upgrade your browser to the latest version, to ensure you can always view web page designs and functionality in full. This is easily done and sometimes just plain necessary - sometimes the older browsers simply will no longer work, or fail to meet current requirements in order to show the full design and functionality of sites.

Better experience

When we’re developing websites here at Webfactory, we always strive to build sites that are not only stimulating, but also meet the standards of current browsers. These considerations (and more) result in an end product that is visually pleasing, and features smooth functionality using carefully considered design solutions. It goes without saying that these websites offer the best experience for users with the latest browser versions.

There aren’t many older browsers that are fully supportive of HTML5, CSS3 and a variety of jQuery functionalities. However, there is another way around solving these issues, and forcing older browsers to ‘understand’ modern elements such as HTML5. In those cases it’s likely that the web page won’t really work correctly, but basic functionality will be present, and will still allow access to sites with basic layouts. That said, CSS3 is definitely off the list for older browsers as it isn’t generally supported at all.

Take a look at the two screenshots below of the Webfactory website - launched just a few months ago. That’s some difference between Internet Explorer 9 (top) and Internet Explorer 11 (bottom). Can you spot the difference?!?

IE9 screenshot

IE11 screenshot

Offering solutions for users with older browsers

While we would encourage you to consider upgrading browsers to enjoy the optimum levels for content, functionality and features, here are a number of solutions available if your website doesn’t perform well in older browsers. For example:

  • Check out a javascript plugin called Browser Detection. This plugin will detect when you are using an old browser and encourage you to download newer version to offer a better user experience.
  • Webfactory has developed an in-house solution using a variety of files. When the user lands on the website, then CSS detects the version browser being used and either replaces the specific style or overwrites the CSS styles.

Conclusion

I hope after reading this you can start to understand the importance of upgrades, particularly when referring to browsers. Don’t forget, Webfactory are here to help! If you have any questions or are looking for your website to be upgraded, get in touch at hello@webfactory.ie.

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Ronan Lowry

Web Developer

The author

Ronan is a Web Developer at Webfactory, with over 10 years working within the digital media industry. Ronan has an interest in all areas of digital matters including a variety of threads on web design/development and digital marketing.

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