What is a browser?

  • Why is there more than one browser?
  • Are all browsers the same?

A browser is like a chauffeur and interpreter for the internet. It takes you where you want to go (a webpage) and then translates the code it finds into a visual representation on your screen (or printer). Like most things, competition arises when there is either money or disagreement involved (or both). And that’s a good thing. Since your browser is your window to the internet world, can you imagine how different your experience would be if that window was controlled by only one company? Right.

So thankfully we have more than one browser to choose from. And they are not necessarily interpreting code the same way. While there are recommended standards (guidelines) as to how code should be interpreted, they are just that: recommendations. And sometimes the people who make the decisions on how to interpret, decide not to go with the guideline. As a result, the translation can vary from one interpreter (browser) to another.

For the most part, variations are slight and do not prevent a page from loading in a meaningful way. But as web pages become more complex and the number of languages and libraries it takes to render the designer/developer’s vision increases, the more interpretation matters to the tiniest detail. So you may wonder why something doesn’t ‘work’ on a site like you think it should. Chances are it might work fine on a different browser and the developer did not catch the difference in interpretation. And if you’ve not updated your browser in the last year or more, you are definitely running a risk of an old interpretation (not to mention security vulnerabilities…). So update that browser!

For a long time, Internet Explorer was the bane of a developer’s existence. Probably due to its market dominance, it largely ignored advancements and trends and subsequently parts of a page. This was a disaster in more ways than one. But eventually the aforementioned competition kicked in and IE had to man up. So the later versions are much more in accordance with the standards. In fact now that other browsers like Firefox and Chrome are available on other platforms like Android and iOS, no browser is safe from competition. This helps keep everyone mindful of standards even if they do still deviate somewhat. So if adhering to standards is working itself out, what else matters?

Now browsers are competing in other ways. They offer little tools at your beck and call that help make your browsing experience a little better. Think of them like hands-free Bluetooth in your car. If you’ve not played around with the toolbar on your favorite browser, I highly recommend it. But that’s a topic for another post…