Have you ever hung a series of shelves without first checking out what's behind the drywall? Maybe you dig out the stud sensor from your tool kit, or just give it a few knocks with your knuckle, but you'll probably (hopefully) decide early on whether to use wall anchors or to screw right into the wooden studs. Proceeding without that simple step could mean disaster for your shelving, no matter how carefully you screw in those brackets.
>In many ways, web development works the same way. Right at the start of the project, developers will build a simple but stable foundation that will eventually support all those videos, animations and styles you want your site loaded with. Over the course of multiple iterations, additional elements are hung on that stable foundation, with the last stage being support for leading edge technology. Testing should first "knock on the walls" before anything is hung, then test at each step of the process to ensure each iteration is as stable as the last.
Knocking on the walls - Early release browser testing
Running your foundation version of the site through an early browser is the web development equivalent of knocking on the walls. The websites stable core should allow users of your earliest supported browser to use all key functionality and access all content. They may not see the same styles or have the ability to use all the bells and whistles, but the functionality should still be stable and the appearance a clean and attractive representation of your brand.
Next, run the site through that high usage browser on your support list. This will ensure the foundation of your site is using those web standards that continued on through future browsers, not the standards that failed in earlier browsers, then disappeared over time. When you hang up those fancy styles, transitions and embedded media in the next stage, you'll know to look at those new features if any bugs emerge, not the foundation code.
Securing the hardware - Ensuring browser stability during backend work
There comes a point in development when most of the work is being carried out behind the walls. Databases are being integrated, calculations performed and algorithms developed. During this time, very few visual differences will be seen between browsers. Run the site again through the highest usage browser on your list. You'll need to get pretty targeted with your testing though - this is where you'll be testing specific content, calculations, databases and other back end functionality.
Take some time to spot check throughout to stress the underlying stability. You'll want to be sure it has not been unexpectedly compromised by a slight change in the displaying of data and dynamic content, or even by a simple typo in the wrong place.
Hanging the shelves - A stable browser experience for both early adopters, and late bloomers.
Finally, you get to the releases holding the features that separate your project from those of your competitors. The development team has worked tirelessly to build in smooth screen transitions, eye catching animations and embedded audio and video, the whole time considering whether their new code will continue to play nicely with older browsers.
These releases require testing across more browsers than the early stages, but with the well tested stable core behind it you shouldn't expect many major bugs. Most bugs will be pretty specific to the implementation of leading edge functionality. The teams may need to tweak those features to get it working across the board.
Run the site across all the browsers on your list. You should expect the most recent browsers to serve up all those bells and whistles that make a statement about your brand and product. The mid-range browsers should show off most of those features, but maybe without the most recent transitions or embedded media. The earliest browser on your list should still serve up the same content, with a look that differs from the other browsers only in the details. In most cases, even video and animations will be visible to earlier browsers, but without as much seamless integration into the design itself.
Focusing browser testing on the right browsers for the right releases is an important step in crafting a browser support plan that is efficient and cost effective. Understanding what your site is expected to support at each stage of development will help ensure a stable core, resulting in strategic, targeted testing.