My Dev Setup, part 3: Browser Testing

Some years ago browser testing meant just testing in Firefox, Safari and possibly Opera, and cursing and testing in IE6. Good standards support in current browsers has made development easier on one hand, but more complex than ever on the other hand with the demands of responsive design, the rise of mobile and websites themselves becoming more advanced.

Now on the desktop we have to worry about Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer 7,8,9 & 10, and on ‘mobile’ there’s at least Safari for iOS (phone and tablet), Windows Phone, multiple versions of the Android Browser, Chrome for Android, the BlackBerry Browser, Firefox, Opera Mobile and Opera Mini.

This post describes a snapshot of my current browser test setup and it’s the third part in my “web dev on Mac OS X” series. The first two were about utilities and web development apps. I’ll try to keep this series of posts up to date as the tools of the trade change.

Latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari

Google Chrome with Web Inspector

You should of course have all the latest versions of the most popular desktop browsers. Ideally it would be a good idea to have older versions too, but since both Firefox and Chrome update themselves automatically, this is not much of an issue (see Arstechnica’s browser share analysis from last October)

Since Firefox 3.6 was the last version not to be updated automatically, I like to keep it around, since it has quite a few issues with some HTML5 elements and CSS3. An easy way to install an old version of FF alongside the current version is via portableapps.com.

Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9 & 10 in VMWare

IE 8 running in XP, IE 10 running in Windows 8

Internet Explorer testing is annoying, because installing multiple stand-alone versions of IE is difficult, and in some cases impossible. I currently have a VMWare virtual machine running XP with IE versions 6,7 and 8, installed using Multiple IE. Unfortunately this setup is somewhat buggy, but it works. I have a separate Windows 7 and 8 VM’s running IE 9 and 10 respectively. This can get messy and requires a lot of HD space. Also, testing local websites requires editing the hosts file of each VM.

Microsoft offers free VM images for IE7-10.

Mobile testing

The Real Thing

Testing on iPad, iPhone, Nexus 4 and Nokia E51

Testing on real devices is essential, and at least before going live I try to test on as many devices as possible. Since my own collection is limited (Android, iOS and S60) and there’s no open device lab near me, I occasionally visit the local department store and try out all the phones on display. Necessary, but not very practical for quick debugging.

Adobe Edge Inspect

Adobe Edge Inspect

For devices that support it (ie. Android and iOS), Adobe Edge Inspect is a great time saver. Basically it allows you to browse the same site synchronously on your desktop and your mobile via a mobile app and a browser extension. Even Edge Inspect doesn’t allow browsing local sites though, and that’s where the next solutions come in.

Opera Mobile Emulator

Opera Mobile Emulator simulating a Nokia N9
Opera Mobile Emulator simulating a Nokia N9

The Opera Mobile Emulator is an excellent and easy way to test a responsive web site in a huge number of different sized displays. It’s a useful tool whether your users use Opera or not.

iOS Simulator

Apple iOS Simulator

The free Mac OS X Developer Tools include an iOS simulator, which is at least 99% identical to the actual devices (iPhones and iPads). The emulator allows rotating the device, simulated shakes etc. This is probably the mobile testing tool I use the most.

Going forward: Remote virtual machines with Browserstack

Maintaining all these emulators is messy, to say the least. So I’ve been eyeing Browserstack, which allows testing in IE 6-10, recent versions of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and best of all, emulators of most Android & iOS devices of significance. From my point of view the only thing missing is Windows Phone. Oh and Symbian would be nice too.

Browserstack running IE7 in Windows XP

The interface is really easy to use and straightforward. You input the address you want to test, choose an operating system and browser, and that’s it. Using a remote desktop via a browser is of course fairly slow, but the really killer feature of Browserstack is the ability to test local sites (like testsite.dev). This often makes Browserstack more convenient than the alternatives.

Browserstack is a subscription service (starting at $19 per month for an individual user). If you feel like trying it out, there’s a Microsoft-sponsored three-month free trial available. CrossBrowserTesting is another similar-looking service, although I haven’t tried it out.

Final Words

Browser testing is a complicated business, and your needs will depend on the type of site you’re developing and user demographic. Testing in more than one browser is a start, but mobile testing has also become a must. In a year or two it might even be more important than desktop browser testing, if it isn’t already.

Testing on a real device gives a good feel to the restraints of that device, but remember your iPhone/Samsung/Nokia model isn’t the only one out there. As more and more varied devices enter the market and testing needs get more complex, tools like Browserstack are likely to be the only realistic testing option for the vast majority of designers and developers in the future.

2 thoughts on “My Dev Setup, part 3: Browser Testing

  1. I’d recommend MiHTool for this list. It’s a neat iOS debugger app that lets you inspect and debug right on an iOS device.

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