In this guest post, Alexandra McPeak from SmartBear explains cross-browser testing and why it matters

When it comes to consuming web content, there are more choices than ever to enjoy your own unique experience. However, this can easily be overlooked in software development. The biggest culprit? Cross-browser testing.

It’s easy to understand why this happens. A developer puts a lot of work into building a web application that looks and functions great — for them. But when you don’t fulfill a basic level of cross-browser testing, you can only be sure it works that way on your machine.

If you’re using Google Chrome on a Mac, how can you know that your tests also pass when someone uses Safari? What about Internet Explorer or Firefox on Windows? Have you considered iPhones or Androids?

Cross-browser testing is the only way to know whether other users are experiencing your website the way you made it to, and it’s becoming more and more critical as technology evolves.

What is Cross-Browser Testing?

Cross-browser testing is exactly what it sounds like — testing a web application across browsers, operating systems, screen resolutions, and devices to find out if it meets your expectations and standards.

But why do different browsers respond differently in the first place?

Each browser has a different rendering engine, which means that they have different rules on how the browser should work, making them read and display content differently. Pair that with different devices and operating systems, and there are an infinite number of ways to experience the web.

This gets more difficult because, most of the time, developers only work on a single machine, which means they’re only seeing the end result in one configuration.

In order to perform cross-browser testing, software teams need either an in-house device lab, or they need to outsource to a third-party cloud testing tool.

These options both have their pros and cons, but what it comes down to is accessibility and cost. If you don’t have the means to buy and maintain the hardware, a cross-browser testing tool is a great option to give you access to thousands of devices without having to manage the infrastructure.

Once you have the resources to test on multiple browsers, you can begin to outline a plan to test the application on various configurations.

You’ll want to start by performing manual, exploratory tests to actually go through the application like your users do. After you have a foundation of prioritized test cases, you’ll probably want to automate them when new features are added since running the same test in different browsers is not only tedious, but also prone to error.

Why is it Important?

You might think that cross-browser testing is just an extra step in QA because everybody is on Google Chrome, but that’s the kind of misconception that leads to buggy apps.

Chrome holds about 52 percent of the browser market share, which is the majority. However, only testing Chrome means you’re leaving the application up to chance for 48 percent of users.

You could hope that your website works for those browsers without taking the time and effort to go through them, but it only takes one bug to affect your company’s revenue and reputation.

Rather than risk it, cross-browser testing can be the difference between a seamless user experience and a fleet of unhappy customers.

If your company cares about quality, it’s best to determine a few baseline configurations to test. The more that you test, the more confidently you can release your application.

Cross-Browser Testing Best Practices

While the idea of cross-browser testing is straightforward, knowing where to start can be complicated and confusing.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind when taking your tests to different browsers:

It’s a Balancing Act – You’ll likely find that the best method to test browsers is striking the right balance between manual and automated testing. While manual testing is important for assessing an application that has yet to be thoroughly tested, test automation will allow you to speed up testing cycles and check previously working functions. Familiarizing yourself with the best times to go through an application manually versus when to automate will be the key to broad coverage and productive testing.

Make Good Choices – Like most good testing, successful cross-browser testing is the product of smart planning. One of the biggest considerations will be which browsers you want to test on. The most effective way to decide is by looking at how your customers are visiting your website through Google Analytics. Looking at popular, problematic, and new configurations is also helpful for creating a comprehensive cross-browser testing strategy.

Don’t Forget Mobile – As mentioned, different devices can also affect the way your web application works and looks. Think of how you visit websites on your phone or tablet vs your desktop — it’s a completely different experience. Developing a website to be responsive for mobile devices adds another layer of difficulty, which means that it’s something that needs testing. Run your application on different iOS and Android devices (and don’t forget a few tablets!) to get a better idea of what your users experience on mobile.

Keep Realistic Expectations – Because all browsers are different, it’s impossible to expect your application looks the same on all of them. The goal of cross-browser testing is to make sure that it meets a standard of quality on an acceptable number of browsers that includes a good majority of your users. This means that you want to look out for bugs that affect functionality or design, but you shouldn’t expect the experiences to be identical and you shouldn’t strive to test every browser or you’ll quickly become frustrated.

Conclusion

Where standards are higher, the quality of your software is more important than ever. Having a website that works in Firefox but not Safari will be unacceptable to your users who will likely just go to a competitor’s site instead.

Cross-browser testing is no longer a step to skip when there are so many ways to check compatibility. In order to earn the trust and loyalty of your users, you have to provide a web application they can actually use. Use cross-browser testing to put yourself ahead of the game instead of waiting for you customers to point out your bugs.

 


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