Web Browsers

Browsers are desktop software applications that allow you to browse the web and enjoy all of its infinite beauty.

Browsers are desktop software applications that allow you to browse the web and enjoy all of its infinite beauty.

Let’s take a few steps back, and think about what the web is really made of. We can all agree that the web is comprised of websites and social networks and video sharing sites and blogs and ecommerce destinations and some other miscellany, right? But what do all of those have in common? What are they all made of?

If you boil it down to its essence, the web is just a bunch of text, plus some photos, and a few videos, saved on different computers around the world, that you are able to access from your computer thanks to the Internet.

So let’s say that you want to look at a website that lives at www.skillcrush.com. Without a web browser, how do you get to it? You could fire up your command line and type into the prompt:

wget www.skillcrush.com

Which will download the index.html file to your home computer. You can then open that file and see all the website code, but you won’t be able to see what that website is supposed to look like.

What web browsers do is take code and represent that code as the aesthetically pleasing, navigable, animated, multimedia, interactive wonderland that good websites can be.

Web browsers come in all shapes and sizes: open source, proprietary, standard compliant, forward-thinking, and super-duper old and dysfunctional. About 85% of web browsing people use Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome, but there are literally hundreds more out there if you want to go out digging.

Although the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets forth new browser guidelines, they aren’t actually able to enforce them. And since web browsers are made by different companies, or distributed open source teams, who all have different priorities, pet projects, or revenue goals, web browsers vary greatly and browsing the web can be quite different depending on what browser you pick.

So pick wisely!

Cocktail Party Fact

One of the biggest problems that web developers face is backwards browser compliance. Otherwise known as problems getting their super spiffy websites to work on old browsers.

It’s great that techies are always inventing cool new technologies but what do you do when someone is looking at your site using a browser so old it doesn’t know about cool new things like HTML5 video and CSS3 pseudo-selectors?

You write a big, fancy JavaScript library that translates all your new fangled HTML into something your antique browser can understand, of course! Modernizr.js is just that library, and it’s literally a life saver for any developer who has to worry about how their site looks in Internet Explorer 7 or (GASP!) Internet Explorer 6.