Internet Explorer development has always been tougher than it should be:
- There are five versions of IE currently in use and at least three need attention.
- IE6, 7 and 8 have sparse support for modern web standards.
- Only versions 9 and 10 support HTML5 and they’re behind competing browsers.
- Only one version of IE can be installed and run at a time.
- IE is only available for Windows.
Admittedly, a proportion of developers find it easier to blame the browser than fixing issues, but creating cross-browser compatible sites remains a struggle even when you retain an unhealthy knowledge of legacy IE workarounds.
Fortunately, Microsoft appears to regret the pain they inflicted on web developers over the years. modern.IE is a new Microsoft resource to help test websites and applications on the major versions of Internet Explorer. There are several free features which will interest all web developers regardless of their preferred platform or browsers…
Scan a webpage is an analysis tool which generates a report of known compatibility issues such as:
- standards/quirks mode
- out of date libraries
- missing CSS prefixes
- reliance on browser plugins
- browser detection code
- responsive web design practices
There are a number of IE/Windows 8-only suggestions but, even if you have no interest in adding these, the report still provides useful information which will help you locate and destroy bugs.
Free Virtual Machine Images
If you’re testing a specific version of the browser, IE emulators and the F12 Developer Tools do not necessarily highlight all the problems. Ideally, you need a dedicated PC or Virtual Machine installation.
- IE6 on Windows XP
- IE7 on Windows Vista
- IE8 on Windows 7
- IE9 on Windows 7
- IE10 on Windows 8
The OS images range between 1GB and 7GB so ensure you’ve got enough disk space available. Look out for a Hyper-V tutorial coming on SitePoint soon…
Free BrowserStack Subscription
BrowserStack provides dozens of desktop and mobile browsers on virtual machines which can be accessed remotely via your browser. There’s nothing to install, manage or configure — just log on, choose a platform and load your site. The service also provides tunneling facilities so you can test applications hosted on your local PC or network.
Sign-up at modern.IE and you’ll receive a three month BrowserStack subscription for free.
Finally, there’s 20 tips for building modern websites which contains simple best-practice advice for maximizing compatibility.
The more cynical among you will claim this mess was of Microsoft’s making and modern.IE should never have been required in the first place. However, at least the company has recognized our testing problems and provided a number of practical solutions.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.