Do websites still need to support older browsers?

Making concessions for older browsers was pretty much seen as a hard necessity in previous years. Previously, it was perceived as a web development crime not to provide support for old browser versions, even going back more than five years since release. But is this practice still necessary?

So, it’s 2019 and you’re wondering whether it’s still necessary to test your website in older web browsers.

It’s a great thought.

With all the progression that the web space has seen, does your website really need to support older browsers?

Yes, no, and not really.

Did that come as a surprise? I sure bet it did. But let me explain...

Web browsers have come a long (loooong) way in recent years, and with HTML5 and CSS3 respectively having been released quite a few years ago by this point, the web is now more accepting and forgiving than it ever has been.

The rise of popular web design frameworks (think Bootstrap by Twitter and Material by Google) mean that there is a much greater unity between the underlying front-end markup and styling used to skin many websites today.

In fact, for many developers, these frameworks form the basis of an extravagant and elusive eventual website design.

The web browser space has also seen much greater consolidation.

Quite simply, things just aren’t as segregated anymore.

Web browsers today operate in a much more uniform, generic way than they did in years past, which is a very good thing.

In fact, it’s what web designers and developers have been waiting for across the world, ever since the boom of the dot-com era.

As I’m sure you’d expect, Google Chrome continues to top the list of the world’s most used web browsers at nearly 62%, which is no surprise given the company’s global influence.

It’s good news that this trend has held up for so long because Chrome is arguably (well, almost definitively) the best web browser that has ever been released.

Chrome powers users’ browsing of the web on both desktop and mobile devices, as well as everything in between. It’s been the go-to choice for both professionals and consumers for years now.

I’m sure that isn’t likely to change, and so it shouldn’t.

But it sure makes our job as web developers much easier.

Apple users also have their own popular default browser, Safari, which is supported cross-device and preinstalled on all Apple devices.

Safari is the second most-used web browser globally, following Google Chrome, with over 15% of the worldwide market share.

Thankfully, with Apple holding over 22% of the global smartphone market share, and 7.1% for personal computers, I’m pleased that both Chrome and Safari render websites in practically the same way.

This is what we call consolidation.

With Android also holding an impressive 74% share of the global smartphone OS market, Google Chrome is also positioned to remain the first-choice browser for millions of consumers worldwide.

Internet Explorer who?

So, as you can see, things are already getting a lot easier in terms of providing a more uniform user experience to the masses.

We are no longer experiencing the phenomenon of decades gone by, where users were browsing the web from a scattering of various open-source web browsers.

Every web designer can relate to the challenges of working with (the now retired) Internet Explorer, Opera, and Firefox.

This is a great feat for web developers because it means that websites are now being delivered with much-improved uniformity to users all over the globe, regardless of operating system choice.

Additionally, the majority of internet browsers now ship with settings defaulted to automatic updates, which is a major win.

This, of course, means that a much greater proportion of users are now running the latest browser technology, which (generally) brings improved support for front-end development languages and libraries.

The question still remains, however, about whether this is still a need for web designers and developers to build new websites with older browsers in mind.

Making concessions for older browsers was pretty much seen as a hard necessity in previous years. Previously, it was perceived as a web development crime not to provide support for old browser versions, even going back more than five years since release.

Nowadays, though, thanks to years of change and innovation, it’s probably a good idea to question this age-old practice.

Is extensive browser-related testing still such a vital aspect of the web development delivery process?

In short, cross-browser testing very much remains a good practice.

It’s essential to verify that a webpage functions as intended in both Firefox and Google Chrome — that’s a given.

And for the most part, even browsers that make use of the same rendering engine (Chrome and Safari are both powered by WebKit, for instance) should still be usability tested before launching a website.

However, the story is slightly different when it comes to providing support for older web browsers.

And when I say older, I mean retired versions of browsers, not product age.

In general, it is still always best to test how a website looks and behaves in every single browser.

And frankly, that’s not too cumbersome of a task.

A few browser-specific modifications to your HTML and CSS won’t impact your loading times but can have a dramatic effect on user experience.

In an ideal world, developers would extend this testing and support to all previous versions of every browser.

This would ensure that older versions of the browser display an acceptable end product, regardless of when a negligent consumer last updated their OS or internet browser.

However, this ideology is pure fantasy.

Realistically, it just isn’t feasible to test a website’s functioning on all historic versions of a web browser. Sure, it would ensure a completely seamless experience, but for the most part, it just cannot be done.

We’re incredibly lucky to be living in an era in which the rate of innovation is increasing.

And thanks to that, users who are running severely outdated versions of their web browser are becoming much fewer and farther between.

It’s much more likely that your audience is now running a newer, supported version of their browser in 2019.

And by this point, the rate of innovation in the web development space has reached a point whereby browsers which lack good support for modern design techniques have been selectively phased out.

And that, folks, is 21st-century evolution.

For all the reasons stated above, I think it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of consumers today are running a version of their browser which mostly supports modern front-end design techniques.

By this point, even if their browser version is three to five years old, it’s likely to be rendering pages in a very similar way to it would today.

It’s a very rare occurrence for an active web user to be running a browser version more senior than this, especially given the rate of development and innovation we’ve seen in the tech space recently.

Trends show that users are becoming more tech-savvy, and that can only be a good thing.

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