WWW FAQs: What web browsers should I design for?

2004-09-29: in an ideal world, you don't have to design for any specific web browser. XHTML, cascading style sheets and other World Wide Web Consortium standards allow you to specify exactly how your site should look and behave. Following standards allows you to ensure that your pages will not be "locked in" to a single web browser and will remain compatible with future software.

Of course, in practice, not all web browsers implement all of the World Wide Web consortium's standards, and not all web browsers implement them correctly. There are always quirks, and it makes sense to test your pages with the most popular browsers in order to iron out any rough edges. Right now, the most important browsers to test are Microsoft Internet Explorer (the most popular), Mozilla Firefox (the second most popular and growing quickly), Safari (standard on new Macintoshes), Netscape 4.x, and the plain text browser Lynx. Testing with Lynx is important because when search engines index your site, they "see" it in much the way text-only browsers do. For more information, see how do I promote my website?

Although Netscape 4.x and 3.x are still in use by a small percentage of users, I do not recommend limiting your design choices entirely to the feature set of such older browsers. After all, users of those browsers have the option of upgrading to Firefox for free, unless they are using very old computers. I do recommend that you make sure your site is "reasonably useful" with those browsers. Every visitor to your site is a potential customer and deserves your respect.

As of this month (September 2004) on www.boutell.com, the breakdown of web browsers among visitors was as follows:

Internet Explorer 6.x60%
Internet Explorer 5.x6%
Mozilla / Firefox14%
Netscape 4.x (very old)1.8%
Safari (MacOS X)1.25%
Netscape 3.x (very old)1%
Konqueror (Linux)0.5%
Search engine spiders13%
All other browsers2.45%
Similar figures from a broader range of sources can be found on Chuck Upsdell's Browser News website.

Legal Note: yes, you may use sample HTML, Javascript, PHP and other code presented above in your own projects. You may not reproduce large portions of the text of the article without our express permission.

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