How to Use Multiple Browsers on a Single Machine

To Check Your Site for Cross-Browser Compatibility


How to Check Your Website with Multiple Browsers on a Single Machine (Cross-Browser Compatibility Checking)

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

We all know the importance of checking our web pages with multiple browsers, especially when we are designing a new layout for a website. This is the case even if we are writing validated standards-compliant code. This article suggests some ways for you to run multiple browsers (and if you wish, even multiple versions of each) on one computer.

Note that this article is written primarily from the point of view of a person using Windows (the majority of people reading this article), although it does address the issue of Mac browsers and Linux browsers as well.

Firefox and Seamonkey

It's possible for different versions of Firefox and Seamonkey to all co-exist on the same machine.

If you did not already know, Mozilla Firefox and Seamonkey use the same rendering engine (called "Gecko"). As such, if you have one of these browsers, you probably don't need to install the other to test your site.

It is easy to make multiple versions of Firefox and Seamonkey co-exist with each other. Install them into separate directories and create a different profile for each browser you install. The browser allows you to create different profiles so that you can store different settings for different situations.)

To create a different profile for Firefox, simply start Firefox with the following command line:

"c:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\firefox" -ProfileManager

Once you've finished creating profiles, you will want to create shortcuts to run the different versions of the browser. This will make life easier for you since you can then just click the appropriate icon for a particular versions, and it will load using the correct profile. To specify which profile the browser is to load, put the profile name after the "-P" option.

For example, if you have created a profile named "currentfirefox", your command for running the current version of Firefox with that profile may look like:

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe" -P currentfirefox

Similarly, your command to run the Firefox with a profile called "oldversion" may look like:

"c:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\firefox" -P oldversion

And so on.

I'm not sure that you really need all the different implementations of the Gecko engine to test, though. I personally only test my sites with latest version of Firefox since my site design tends to be simple.

Chrome, Vivaldi and Opera

Google's Chrome browser, as at the end of 2016, is supposedly the browser now used by the majority of people.

Chrome, the Vivaldi browser and the current version of Opera all use the same engine (called "Blink"). In general, you can expect that the vast majority of people who use the Chrome browser to be using the latest version, since that browser automatically updates itself whether you want it to or not. As such, I tend not to bother to test my sites with earlier versions of Chrome.

You can get Chrome from Google's Chrome site and Vivaldi from Vivaldi.com. Since these browsers use the same engine, you don't really need both. If a site works with one, it will probably work with the other too.

Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer

Although Internet Explorer ("IE" for short) is no longer the majority browser, it is still being used by a fair number of people, so you probably cannot ignore it. The main version to test is IE 11, which is the latest version available for Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10. If in the (probably unlikely) situation that you have Windows Vista visitors, the latest version on that platform is IE 9.

As far as I can tell, IE 6, long the bane of webmasters everywhere, is now really extinct. It will probably not even connect to many websites these days, let alone display them, since it lacks the ability to decrypt pages on modern secure sites (ie, where the web address begins with "https").

On Windows 10, IE has been replaced by Microsoft Edge as the default browser. The browser was based originally on the same code as IE 11, but has since diverged from it. It runs only on Windows 10, but like IE, you can still test your site with it regardless of which version of Windows, Linux or Mac OS X you run.

The official Microsoft-sanctioned method of testing with multiple versions of IE and Microsoft Edge, is to install a virtual machine.

Loosely speaking, virtual machine software allow you to run another copy of Windows within your existing system, be it Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, FreeBSD or whatever. The virtual machine software pretends to be a new computer, and Windows gets installed into a small space on your hard disk which it uses to mimic a new drive.

Microsoft provides pre-activated copies of Windows with various versions of IE and Edge in virtual machines free of charge to web developers who need to test their sites in these browsers. The pre-activated Windows expires periodically, so you will need to download a fresh copy from time to time.

You will also need to install one of the supported PC virtual machine software that can run those pre-activated Windows machines. For Windows users, this is either one of the free software found on the Free PC Virtual Machines and Virtual Machines page (eg VirtualBox or VMWare Player), or VMware Workstation (commercial software). Mac OS X users can use either VirtualBox (which is free), Parallels Desktop (a commercial program) or VMWare Fusion (also a commercial program). Linux users can use VirtualBox.

Once you've installed the software and downloaded the virtual machine from Microsoft, all you have to do is to run it. This will give you a copy of the appropriate version of Windows with a matching version of IE or Edge, which you can use to surf to your website to test it.

For the technically inclined, another way to run multiple versions of IE on a single machine is to install multiple versions of Windows on that machine, each in its own partition. In plain English, this means that you need to divide your hard disk into (at least) two sections, called "partitions". Then install different versions of Windows into different partitions. You may have to modify your Windows boot menu to support all of them, or use a third party boot manager. (Sorry for the vagueness in this paragraph, but I don't envisage many people to actually need to use this method, and those who do, already know how to do all it.)

How to Test Mac Browsers: Safari

The Safari web browser shares a lot of code in common with both Chome, Vivaldi and Opera, since all four ultimately derive their engine from yet another browser called Konqueror. This similarity will diverge over time, since the engine for Safari (called "WebKit") is being developed separately from the other three.

There are no current versions of Safari for Windows, so I don't test my sites with it. Frankly, I doubt many Windows/Linux webmasters do either.

(Before you ask, although there are things such as free Mac emulators, which are software that run in Windows but pretend to be a Mac and thus can run Mac software, they are not particularly useful from a webmasters' point of view. The working Mac emulators pretend to be the old obsolete Macs, not the modern ones.)

Testing Linux Browsers

One of the easiest ways to test your site under Linux is to run Linux from a CD or DVD. There are numerous Linux "live" CDs around; see the Free Linux LiveCD Distributions page for a list of them. These allow you to simply boot your machine from the DVD/CD directly into Linux without having to install anything onto your hard disk. Essentially, all you have to do is to download an ISO (which is just an image of the DVD or CD) of the Linux distribution, burn it to your CD or DVD, put it in your CD or DVD drive, and restart your computer. The computer boots from the media and runs Linux without installing anything on your hard disk. From the DVD (or CD), you can run many Linux applications, including the Linux version of Firefox and Konqueror.

If you are feeling lazy, and you have already installed a virtual machine, as mentioned above, you don't even need to burn the ISO to a CD. You can simply use the virtual machine to boot the ISO — your copy of Linux will then run in the virtual machine. Or, if you prefer, you can also directly install Linux into the virtual machine.

Yet another alternative is to install Linux on your hard disk, using one of the many free Linux distributions around. You can set it up so that it co-exists with Windows (ie, dual-boot). Make sure you have space for a new partition on your hard disk, install it and you're done.

The default browser that comes on many Linux distributions is Firefox (although not necessarily so). However, you will find that even though Firefox tries to render your page the same way under all platforms, the fonts available under Linux are different from those available on Windows. If you don't code your fonts in a cross-platform compatible way, your site may end up being rendered with an ugly font. For example, if your site only specifies "Arial" or "Impact" or some font only present in commercial systems like Windows and Mac, it will be displayed in a font that the browser thinks roughly matches what you've specified, since commercial fonts are not available by default under Linux.

If you don't want to bother to run Linux to test, be sure that you at least:

  1. Test your pages under Firefox for your platform.

  2. Specify alternative fonts for your web pages. For example, don't just use a font like "Arial" in your design. Provide a generic fallback like "sans-serif", should Arial not be available. If you don't know how to do this, please see my article on choosing fonts for more information.

Testing Your Website on Mobile Phone Browsers

If your site uses a straightforward responsive web design, that resizes itself according to the browser window width, in most cases, you can get away with resizing your desktop browser window to see what a mobile phone user will get when he/she visits your site. Firefox even has a "Responsive Design Mode" with preset window widths that makes it easy to do this.

For more complicated sites (eg, if yours provides an online game which your visitors can play), you will probably want to test it on a real smartphone. There are also such things as an Android simulator and a Microsoft Phone emulator, but I have not actually tried them, so I don't know if they are any good at mimicking the real experience.

Conclusion

It's a good idea to test your site with multiple browsers, particularly if you plan to do anything fancy with style sheets on your site. This way, you can at least have confidence that things will appear as they should.

Copyright 2003-2017 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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