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Online Ministries Community Blog

Apr 05

Grrr … Browsers!

Posted by Bill Anderton

Earlier with week, I updated my Google Chrome browser with its newest stable release 26.0.1410.43m; like many others when this release was put in the stable channel on March 26th. This was a pretty normal activity for me and a best practice to keep all of my browsers current.

The only problem was that this version of Chrome broke some of our cascading style sheet (CSS) programming that we use on our home page and all section-home pages!

grrr_browsers_400w.jpgGrrr … browsers!

This is such a common occurrence, we are used to it … but we still don’t like it.

It is also telling that it happen to us. We use a well thought-out CSS, programmed using known best practices. Also, we do in-depth cross-browser testing on the most commonly used browsers: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Opera Software’s Opera, including all of the back versions still in popular usage. Collectively, our test set covers 99% of all of the browser versions currently in use in the marketplace.

We put a lot of code into our CSS to cope with the way different browsers render pages.

In case you are wondering, yes, this too is a best practice. We have a philosophy of letting the user make their own decisions about what browser they wish to use and our site simply works with whatever choices they make. I recommend that all webmasters adopt a similar philosophy.

However, it isn’t easy. You have to use best practices in programming and then test the as-planned code in an as-render-with-real-word-browsers environment. Then, you have to continually keep an eye on changes made in new browsers releases.

This case is a textbook example.

I just released a design and technology refresh of the whole TransformingTheChurch.org website: public site and all password-protected facets of our large site; all communities and all courses. This was a major refresh where we also threw away our old CSS and built an entirely new one from scratch. Our old site design was several years old and continuously updated and patched over the years. Occasionally, it is a good idea to start over with a completely new and fresh CSS.

We completed this design and technology refresh on Match 14th.

As a standard operating procedure, our new design was tested in our cross-browser testing suite extensively. I did a lot of the work myself, including the testing with all of the current Chrome versions!

Then, less than two weeks later, a popular browser is updated and …. wham …. we’ve got a new issue with broken and incorrectly-rendered pages.

What worked well on the previous releases of Chrome now presented a problem in the newest release on one browser. What was still working well in all other browsers only presented a problem with only the newest version of one particular browser.

It took a little bit of time to even notice the problem. Fortunately, we didn’t have any trouble reports from users in the field. I also had no reports from any of our staff. I found the problem myself by accident (and that itself was a bit unsettling.) I had also updated my Internet Explorer 10 at the same time as Chrome and was doing some side-by-side comparison just as a quick check. After checking out IE, I popped into Chrome just to use in the comparison with IE. That’s when I noticed the problem in the way Chrome rendered our home page.

I then checked all other browsers. Yes, I keep the current versions of all five browsers on my desktop for this purpose.

The problem didn’t show up in other browsers and the pages in question continued to be rendered as designed in all past and current versions of other browsers. They also rendered correctly in all past versions of Chrome; only the newest release of Chrome presented a problem.

Once I noticed the problem, I located and fixed the issue in the CSS code in just a couple of minutes. It wasn’t a big deal to fix but the impact of the issue produced a big problem on very important pages in our site.

Note that I don’t blame Google Chrome. These things happen all of the time on all browsers. It was just Chrome's time to be the cause. The is why we have to continually test … all of the time!

The take-away from this experience is that no webmaster can rest on their laurels for very long without changes beginning to make an impact, sometimes unpleasantly.

Differences in browsers are the bane of any webmaster’s existence. It is just part of the realities of our technical life.

About the only thing one can do is occasional mutter through clinched teeth, “Grrr … browsers!” In case you are wondering, it is a pejorative phrase.

Category: (04-13) April 2013   Tag:

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