When a software program is developed for multiple computer platforms, it is called a crossplatform program. Similarly, when a website is developed for multiple browsers, it is called a cross-browser website.

The job of a Web developer would be much easier if all browsers were the same. While most browsers are similar in both design and function, they often have several small differences in the way they recognize and display websites. For example, Apple's Safari uses a different HTML rendering engines than Internet Explorer. This means the browsers may display the same Web page with slightly different page and text formatting. Since not all browsers support the same HTML tags, some formatting may not be recognized at all in an incompatible Web browser. Furthermore, browsers interpret JavaScript code differently, which means a script may work fine in one browser, but not in another.

Because of the differences in the way Web browsers interpret HTML and JavaScript, Web developers must test and adapt their sites to work with multiple browsers. For example, if a certain page looks fine in Firefox, but does not show up correctly in Internet Explorer, the developer may change the formatting so that it works with Internet Explorer. Of course, the page may then appear differently in Firefox. The easiest fix for browser incompatibility problems is to use a more basic coding technique that works in both browsers. However, if this solution is not possible, the developer may need to add code that detects the type of browser, then outputs custom HTML or JavaScript for that browser.

Making a cross-browser site is usually pretty simple for basic websites. However, complex sites with a lot of HTML formatting and JavaScript may require significant extra coding in order to be compatible with multiple browsers. Some developers may even generate completely different pages for each browser. While CSS formatting has helped standardize the appearance of Web pages across multiple browsers, there are still several inconsistencies between Web browsers. Therefore, cross-browser design continues to be a necessary aspect of Web development.

Updated January 2, 2009 by Per C.

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