What Is Cross Browser Testing And Why Is It Important

Posted by Harish Rajora | November 18, 2020
Cross Browser Testing •

204 Views | 16 Min Read

what is cross browser testing

Do you know there are more than a hundred browsers around from Internet Explorer to Safari to Chrome to Firefox to opera? Your customers can use any of them to access your website. And if your website doesn’t look the same and all its features do not work in any browser or browser version, it can badly hurt your business. That’s where cross browser testing comes into the picture. It can help you solve these problems for your website by ensuring that your website looks good on all the browsers and enables you to deliver an optimal user experience across browsers.

Read on to find out what cross browser testing is and why it is so important for your business.

Assessing The Current Situation

Before jumping onto what is cross browser testing and why it is important, let’s assess the current scenario. As of July 2020, the number of mobile users jumped to a staggering 5.15 billion. In just a year, 121 million unique users were added to the mobile world, and believe it or not, 1524 million mobile sets were sold in 2019, and this number increases every year. As a technology enthusiast, you might be aware of the screen sizes that these devices come in. The screen size of a mobile device is the highlighting feature for it during the launch event. It is one of the most important things that a buyer looks for in the device before purchasing, and due to this, mobile manufacturers have been experimenting a lot lately.

The story does not end here! Tablets and other devices have also started to flood the market, including the big smart TVs which can display your favorite website on the television. All these things look like general facts to an average person, but this is a scary world for a web developer. A decade back, 15.6 inches was the only number that mattered, but today any number is possible. This helps us make a certain deduction. We cannot rely on the screen sizes for the development of our website. With such a vast number, making the website Responsive, crafting parameters for every viewport is impossible. Hence, we focus on other methods of responsive web development, as discussed in the post. Once done, we come to the most tricky part: Testing.

With the tips, tricks, and makeshifts on our website, we can be almost sure that our websites will look good on different screen sizes, but there is no guarantee without testing. It is similar to saying a man XYZ is the fastest man on earth by his training but not letting him compete in the race. This brings us to the core of this post, cross browser testing.

What is Cross Browser Testing?

cross browser testing

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The whole idea of defining huge numbers in front of you in the above paragraph was to give you a picture of what we are dealing with today. If we start to test our website on every mobile, every operating system, every resolution, and every screen, manually, then good luck with that!
Cross browser testing or browser compatibility testing is a testing method to ensure that your website is perfect no matter what screen your user is on.

To achieve such efficiency, we perform different tests on hundreds of browsers and operating systems (and their combinations) and debug our code accordingly. A good example may be using a CSS property that is not supported on Internet Explorer, and given that 2.3% of users are still using the late browser, you need to make a few changes.

Browser compatibility testing applies to monitors, laptops, desktops and mobiles, tablets, TV screens, and anything on which a web page can be rendered. Looking at the high rise in mobile manufacturing and changes in their designs, cross browser testing has become essential in our overall development processes.

Need For Cross Browser Testing

Cross Browser Testing

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In the previous section, we got a brief overview of what cross browser testing is now; let’s consider its need in today’s world. Cross browser testing has become a necessary step even if you are a freelancer or are just trying to publish a blog on the internet. Reading this post up till now, you must have understood the importance of cross browser testing, but I will try to gather all the necessary information in a single place.

  • Cross browser testing ensures no crashes, no breakages, and no missing elements from the webpage.
  • Cross browser testing helps the developers find gaps in the code and overcome the browser differences.
  • Cross browser testing guarantees a vast capable audience for your website.

Alright! It is now quite clear why we are doing cross browser testing and making it such a huge deal. It is important! But the third point above makes us jump onto one another situation. The point states that we overcome the “browser differences” when we go for cross browser testing. As true as it is, today, browsers are moving towards the chromium engine. Developing browsers on a single-engine is like manufacturing two different bikes on the same chassis. Whatever works on the first one will work on the second. So, isn’t this helping close the gaps between browsers? Or may I rephrase it as, is it helping us ease out the process of cross browser testing?

Chromium Engine And Support To Cross Browser Testing

Chromium Engine and Support

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We have successfully covered a comprehensive outlook on what is cross browser testing and why it is crucial. Coming to Chromium, it is an open-source project which has become a base for the browsers recently. If we look back to early 2000, a monoculture existed for the browsers, and the internet explorer dominated the world at that time. But the slow-paced work and ignoring W3C guidelines led to the death of IE. A monoculture is a concern and a boon at the same time. When a monoculture exists in the browser world, the developers do not care about other browsers. In 2002, more than half of the websites won’t even open on other browsers because developers just cared about one browser- Internet Explorer. These things sideline a browser, and a non-tech person is not so sympathetical about it either.

Currently, we are moving towards the monoculture of browser engines. The browser developers and founders have started to fall in love with the chromium engine. A simple fact or a consequence is that other engines are being ignored while developing a new CSS property or a JS library. Samsung Internet moved to Chromium in 2013, and Opera followed later on. Recently, Microsoft Edge moved to the chromium engine, and now Brave, Epic, and Vivaldi are all based on Chromium.

So is this a problem for cross browser compatibility issues? Actually, it’s beneficial. As much as I want to say that monoculture destroys competition and sidelines some hard-working browsers like Firefox and Safari, having a single browser engine will solve many problems for testers. Apart from the browser-specific features, most of the things are handled by the browser engines. So, there is a very high chance that if my elements are working on Google Chrome, they would be working fine in Microsoft Edge and Brave. This subsequently solves the browser switching problem.

However, Firefox, Safari, and other browsers control a huge portion of the market; hence I do not intend to imply that testing websites on multiple browsers can be skipped. As I said, we are just moving towards this culture, and Firefox and Safari are still in the race and still very much relevant and significant.

You may also like: Guide To Cross Browser Testing On Older Browser Versions

Steps To Perform Cross Browser Testing

To understand the complete process of cross browser testing, reading out the theory is not enough. This section will mention a few steps that we, as a web developer and tester, perform while doing the browser compatibility testing.

Browser Matrix

Browser Matrix

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A browser matrix is the list of devices on which the developer would like to test their website. A usual concern here might arise: why can’t we just test our website on all the available browsers and skip the time taken by the process of shortlisting a subset of browsers? It might look like a good option for “time-saving” at first, in theory, but in practice, it is more time-consuming than the browser matrix path.

Since we are not living in the late 90s/early 2000s anymore, when there were fewer than ten devices and a single browser with two operating systems, even Mac ran on Internet explorer back then. So, there was no concept of browser-matrix in those times. There was no concept of even “cross browser testing.” This term emerged only when multiple manufacturers and their devices flooded the market. Today, mobile devices are countless.

On top of that, manufacturers have released tablets, folding phones, desktops in so many sizes that there is no “standard size” these days. Browsers and other specifications have witnessed similar effects. Therefore, a browser matrix lays down a clear foundation for the processes to come.

Prioritize Test Scenarios

Prioritize Test Scenarios

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Once we are done listing down the browser matrix, the next step is to list down the test scenarios. Listing down the test scenarios is useful for two things:

  • It helps in tracking down the progress by test scenarios in all the browsers.
  • It helps in prioritizing the test scenarios according to features.

In a web application or any application, certain features are more important than others. For example, a web application’s register and login feature are probably more important than editing the profile page. If the user is not registered, how will he edit his page? Hence, the need to prioritize certain features.

Once we have the features prioritized, we can list all the test scenarios leading to those features. Now we can test the critical scenarios on all the browsers and start testing less-important scenarios through a pipeline system. With this, we can ensure that even though a small feature might not work, all the essential and directly linked features to the UX and business aspects remain intact.

Choose A Cross Browser Testing Path

Cross Browser Testing Path

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All the preprocessing is done up to this step, and we are ready to perform actual cross browser testing on the devices. To perform browser compatibility testing, we have multiple methods to choose from.

Manual Methods

Cross browser testing can be done manually as well as through online systems. Manual methods consist of all the work to be done by the tester or developer, and they are of different types with their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Physical Devices

The most straightforward way that comes to our mind is to gain a few physical devices and start testing them. I know this post discussed how the number of devices and browsers has increased, etc. However, this method is still being used today. Using physical devices with browsers and OS installed is an excellent way to perform browser compatibility testing, but only when the website is very light in weight.

Few basic elements on a website are not required to go through the rigorous testing phase on every device. If your website has few elements, you can check the support for them on the internet, and most of the time, they work perfectly. But unfortunately, simple and basic elements with minimal UI take a toll on UX, which is not recommended and is not used today.

Virtual Machine

Crossing off the physical devices option from our list considering the website’s size, let’s move ahead with a virtual machine. A virtual machine like VMWare can install different OS virtually on the system and give you a perception that the machine has been installed physically. The virtually installed OS does not work as smoothly as the primary OS, but it does the job anyway.

The virtual installation of software like browsers is a time-consuming process. After installing the OS, we need to install the browser with different versions and start exploring the website for any bugs. It’s a tedious process, and even if the website is mediocre in size, it is not a recommended method. But, if you have time and are ready to take on these additional tasks, it is a free and affordable alternative.

Emulators

Emulators

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Emulators and virtual machines are almost similar concepts, but emulators are a little less heavy on the memory. Emulators are the software that a developer or any user may perceive using the selected system or software. In contrast, he is just using that on top of an existing system. For example, suppose I am running an android emulator. In that case, I can just directly select the specification of the android mobile device in the emulator. That device will open up and give me a perception as if I am using that system virtually.

But in reality, all it does is mask itself as the system. In virtual systems, a user is running that system but in a virtual environment. For example, running Linux virtually on Windows would compel you to install Linux on the system. But in the emulator, you can just select the option as Linux, and the system would start behaving as Linux even though Linux has never been installed. Emulators are great software, but since the devices or browsers or OS are not installed, a developer would never get the idea of hardware statistics. Moreover, your website will behave differently when running on a 4GB system and an 8GB system. Emulators cannot show this difference easily.

Online Tools

Once we have decided that manual methods are not for us, and we need a convenient path that is not too expensive and is time-saving, we can opt for online tools. They come in different types and have their own set of benefits and disadvantages.

Device Labs

Device labs are a network of pre-installed systems along with the operating systems and browsers that a developer needs for testing. Consider device labs to be similar to manual methods, but here all the heavy work is done by the people providing you with the systems. For a tester and developer, we just need to create an account and virtually start exploring the screen of those systems. Working on device labs ticks off the browser matrix option from the chart and subsequently speeds up the overall browser compatibility testing process.

Cloud-Based Online Cross Browser Testing Tool

Online Cross Browser Testing

A cloud-based online cross browser testing tool provides a virtual environment from your system through which you can install any specification on the system and browse virtually. The main advantage of online browser compatibility testing tools is that the spectrum of devices available for you to test on is countless. In device labs, it is practically impossible to provide every combination of the specification to the developer. But in cloud-based cross browser testing tools, the developer needs to select the specifications from the list and hit enter to get the system ready. It is comparatively faster than device labs, more feasible, and provides a greater range of elements.

Online tools have the upper hand in one more field, i.e., running automation tests on the system. Online tests can help the developer integrate with the automation testing field through their systems directly. This is an added advantage because a user would most naturally be heading towards that way anyway. Automation tests such as running selenium scripts in your favorite language or raising an issue on Jira or Slack, or helping in pushing into the CI/CD pipeline can be done easily and quickly in online-based cross browser testing tools. These integrations depend entirely on the browser compatibility testing platform, and as a developer, it is always advisable to explore a few without jumping straight to one.

Generate Reports

All of the above steps are what comprise cross browser testing as a process. But discussing this topic in-depth, it is important to mention the last step, which is not a part of cross browser testing; it is always a part of the theory-practice. Like any other testing, browser compatibility testing also needs well-explained reports for the whole team to analyze and the future. Generating reports depend on the online tool that the developer is using, but they should be detailed and easy to understand, with proper statistics. A cryptic report is of no use to the team whatsoever.

Wrapping Up

Cross browser testing is critical for every business, as almost every company has a website these days. Since websites are the launching pad of every business, they must look well and work across browsers and devices. So, testing becomes an essential aspect of being considered. With cross browser testing developer/tester can ensure that no matter what device the user is using, he will view the website as it was intended to be seen. Like any other testing field, there are many methods to do cross browser testing. All these options will lead you to success, but the parameters come down to time, speed, and efficiency.

Sure, you can go ahead with manual browser compatibility testing, but it will cost you loads of money and waste a lot of your time, including report generations. You can go ahead with virtual machines, it will waste none of your money, but the time factor would remain a pressing issue causing hindrances in the flow. Hence, it is totally up to the developer which way he would like to go. Therefore, observe, analyze, prepare a browser matrix, choose a method, perform cross browser testing, generate reports, and publish your website for 7 billion people with ease and confidence!

Happy testing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Cross Browser Testing Important?

Cross browser testing is the process of comparing and analyzing your website’s behavior and outlook across various browser environments; it is a critical process to ensure that your website delivers an optimal user experience irrespective of the browser used to access it.

What Is Multi-browser Testing?

Multi-browser testing is a procedure for quality assurance for web applications across multiple browsers that are carried out to ensure that a website’s functionalities and design are consistently maintained across various browsers and operating systems used by customers.

What Is Cross Device Testing?

Just like cross browser testing, cross device testing is a technique to check your application’s behavior on multiple devices with different configurations.

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