What is Browser Compatibility?

R. Kayne

If you’ve tried using different Web browsers to surf to your favorite online hangouts, you’ve probably noticed that the same sites look a little different depending on which browser you’re using. That’s because page display varies according to browser compatibility.

Web page displays vary depending on the type of browser used to view them.
Web page displays vary depending on the type of browser used to view them.

Browser compatibility is the ability of the Web browser to properly interpret the hypertext markup language (HTML) that renders Web pages. HTML is a coding language that is “understood” a little differently by each Web browser. Most sites are designed to look correct in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, because it is believed to be the most ubiquitous browser. However, if you are a Web designer, your task is to code a site for maximum compatibility so that the pages look correct in other popular browsers as well, such as FireFox, Netscape, Opera and text-based browsers.

Browser compatibility is the ability of the web browser to correctly interpret the HTML coding that renders web pages.
Browser compatibility is the ability of the web browser to correctly interpret the HTML coding that renders web pages.

Browser compatibility creates potential headaches for webmasters. As newer popular scripting languages create flashy Web pages, older browsers may not understand the new code. For security reasons, many people disable scripting languages in their Web browsers, reducing compatibility. If the webmaster has been thorough, there should be a way to surf the site’s content without the flash and bang. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case, and a browser that has scripts or cookies turned off may not be able to get into the site at all.

To solve this problem, many surfers keep two web browsers installed: their favorite browser and Internet Explorer. If browser compatibility becomes a problem in FireFox or Opera, for example, one can simply open Internet Explorer to try the site. Internet Explorer can be configured to allow the scripts that the surfer doesn’t generally enable. If it is a trusted site, opening Microsoft’s browser to cruise the site is a quick solution and easier than reconfiguring the primary browser time and again.

Aside from the difference in browsers, another factor that plays into browser compatibility is whether the surfer is using a standard PC and Windows, Linux, or a Mac computer. The same browser will render the pages a little differently from each of these platforms. If hiring a webmaster to design your site, you might inquire as to how efficient he or she is at designing a site for maximum browser compatibility. While many hardcore surfers keep two browsers loaded and switch between them, it’s probably safe to assume that the majority of people simply click away from a site that has poor browser compatibility.

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Discussion Comments


@SkyWhisperer - Yes, I agree. That’s why I stay with plain vanilla HTML when I do my website design. I don’t mess with style sheets, JavaScript, VBScript, DHTML – I avoid it all. I especially stay away from Flash.

Sure these technologies have their place but they impose an additional burden on the webmaster. Of course, by shunning the technologies I create pages that are simple in design, but I find most people prefer simple design and navigation structure to a lot of pizzazz.

They mainly want sites with useful information that are easy to get around. I use HTML tables to do a lot of the basic structure, eliminating the need for style sheets. It works for me.


I was asked to help my church with its website design. I had to pick up a few scripting languages and learn some stuff about style sheets as well.

Everything looked perfect, and I was designing mainly with Internet explorer in mind. When I opened the same site under Firefox or Opera or Safari, everything changed.

My columns were all out of whack and text was in the wrong location. I couldn’t believe it. I went back to my code and everything looked okay, but someone told me something about browser compatibility.

At that point, I had to admit that I wasn’t an expert, and I handed off the project to someone else who had more experience with website design. Designing for all browsers has got to be one of the most challenging aspects of website design in my opinion.


@pleonasm - That's funny, because I've run into difficulty with Firefox as well. In fact I keep three browsers installed on my laptop. Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome.

Usually if a problem is effecting one, or two of the others, the third one will be OK.

And yes, I know about clearing the cache and all that stuff. Sometimes websites just will not work with a particular browser though, so it's always good to have a backup.

And honestly, it doesn't take much to install them.


Personally, I find that Firefox is increasingly the browser more websites are compatible with.

I know that Internet Explorer is supposed to be the standard that everyone is trying to fit to, and I guess that is true for sites that are targeting people who aren't very internet savvy.

But, more and more often, if I happen to be using another kind of browser, I get a message saying that I need to use Firefox to make part of a website work properly.

Usually it is my browser of choice, although I admit that it has problems as well.

It's still not as bad as IE though.

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