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Browsers as Test Platforms

In this article we will take a look at browsers from a developer’s point of view. When developing for the Web, it is inevitable that we need to debug and test our work. How easy or how hard is it to find the problems causing errors, and how easy is it to replicate certain environment changes? Once we identify the steps we need to take to test properly, we will see if there is a chance to extend the browser to make these steps a lot easier.

Author Info:
By: Chris Heilmann
Rating: 5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars / 8
December 08, 2004
  1. · Browsers as Test Platforms
  2. · Microsoft Internet Explorer 6
  3. · Mozilla Firefox 1.0
  4. · Opera 7.5
  5. · Summary
  6. · Browser wishlist

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Browsers as Test Platforms - Microsoft Internet Explorer 6
(Page 2 of 6 )

Internet Explorer, IE or MSIE is still the most used browser in Windows environments. In comparison to the open source products, it is rather dusty and fails to comply with up-to-date Web standards. The thing that makes it very handy though, is that it ships with Windows - it is an integral part of it - and therefore is immediately at our beck and call (as it is loaded already in the boot-up process of Windows). It seems that IE was designed to please the user, and make it really easy for developers to do things wrong. In other words, IE will try to display anything and does not give much indication of something going wrong.

Debugging the HTML

In our example, we check the source code for problems and get Textpad as the editor when we choose “View Source” from the context menu. This non-color-coding editor will make it a bit hard to find errors, and we don’t get any indication where we went wrong. We have to rely on a better editor to check for errors, which can be quite annoying when the page is assembled from different includes.

Furthermore, there is no way to find our forgotten FORM element and unclosed TABLE unless we validate the page, or check it in a real editor.

Debugging Javascript

Debugging Javascript is even worse. Older versions of IE showed us a Javascript alert when something was amiss; nowadays we have to go through the process of selecting View from the toolbar and choose to Show the status bar.

Browsers as Test Platforms

Once visible, we can see in the status bar that a Javascript error occurred:

Browsers as Test Platforms

If we double-click this error, IE comes up with the message:

Browsers as Test Platforms

If we look into line 11 char 6 of our dummypage.html, all we’ll find is </head>. In other words, the message is not very helpful, but we can choose to have it shown to us every time by selecting the checkbox on the message window.

We can turn turn on alerts for every Javascript error by checking the option in Tools - > Internet Options -> Advanced:

Browsers as Test Platforms

This will give us a warning with the same cryptic message as above and allow us to start the MS Script debugger, should we have it installed.

Debugging the CSS

IE does not give us any indication of the render mode, neither in the browser, nor in the page properties. We are forced to check the DOCTYPE and consult a list to see which render mode we are in. The results can vary a lot, though, as a comparison of our fixed example ( http://icant.co.uk/forreview/browsertests/dummypagefixed.html) with the buggy one ( http://icant.co.uk/forreview/browsertests/dummypage.html) shows.

Checking the site’s accessibility

IE does not make it easy for us to check how our page looks like without Javascript or Style Sheets. For Javascript, we need to go to Tools -> Internet Options and select the Security Tab. Then we need to click the “Custom Level” button and scroll down a long way until we reach the option “Active Scripting” under “Scripting” to disable it

Browsers as Test Platforms

For CSS, there is no such option. The accessibility dialogue, which can be found via Tools -> Internet Options and the button “Accessibility” on the “General” tab allows us to either overwrite the style with a user style sheet or turn off the font settings – our CSS layout remains intact though.

Browsers as Test Platforms

Even creating a blank style sheet and assigning that one doesn’t work. To turn off CSS, you need an extension that does so via the DOM or cut the link to the CSS file.

Testing how the page looks without images is easier. The advanced Tab in the Tools -> Internet Options sports and extensive Multimedia section which allows us to turn different media in the page on an off.

Browsers as Test Platforms

To change the font size in IE, we need to go to View -> Text size and select the one we’d like to have. Default is middle, and there are two levels shrinking the font sizes and two enlarging it.

Browsers as Test Platforms

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