Note: My Web pages are best viewed with style-sheets enabled.
Note that the information presented applies regardless of the browser you use. This is not a defense of Mozilla. Instead, this is a defense of standards that affect all browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, SeaMonkey, Safari, Opera, Konqueror, Chrome, and all the rest.
I am not an employee of the Mozilla Foundation. My only affiliation with that organization is that I use the freeware SeaMonkey browser, which is based on Mozilla developments.
[On this Web page (and on some of my other pages), I use certain technical terms that appear as links to their definitions. If you select any of those links, my Internet Glossary will appear in a separate browser window so that you will not have to keep going back and forth between pages. Once the window with the Internet Glossary has opened, selecting a link for a different term will reposition the page to that term. However, if that window was in the background when the link was selected, it will remain in the background. In that case, you merely need to bring the Internet Glossary window forward.]
The purpose of this page is to aid those planning to use professional Web developers by informing those potential customers about issues of technical quality. My emphasis on the W3C specifications and WAI guidelines serves to promote the Viewable With Any Browser Campaign, which is necessary as the dominant browser continues to lose market share.
Also note that there are several professional Web developers with names the same as mine. I do not know any of them. Doing a Google seach on my name, I examined the first three such developers. Only one had a home page that was error-free. None of them are listed below.
Web developers offer to create and maintain Web sites for a fee. Too many such individuals and companies, while very good in visual design, have no real ability in the technical aspects of creating error-free Web pages. Instead, they rely on tools that might create acceptable Web pages for Internet Explorer (IE) — tools such as FrontPage — but fail to comply with the internationally recognized specifications for HTML (or XHMTL) and CSS. (Of all the tools for creating Web pages, Word may be the worst.)
With the continued erosion of IE's share of the browser market, this is unacceptable. Web pages that can be viewed as intended only with IE ignore 50% to 70% of their potential audience. Worse, non-standard Web pages can also completely exclude any audience that is handicapped, an audience that relies on specialized Web browsers (e.g., audio browsers for the blind). A commercial Web site that excludes the handicapped from its potential audience risks legal action against its owner under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
A legitimate Web developer should have its own domain with both E-mail and Web pages. Do not even contact developers who hide behind Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail E-mail services. While many individuals (including my own children) make good use of such services, a message from a business with such an E-mail address is generally spam. To fight spam, NEVER respond to it. Unless you want the public to associate you or your company with spam, never hire a Web developer who uses spam to advertise.
One very persistent spammer was CMLS China. The messages themselves were HTML-formatted using invalid HTML and CSS. The home Web page for CMLS China also contained HTML and CSS errors. The spam messages suggested you visit the CMLS China Web site, giving an invalid URI. CMLS China is no longer in the list below because I can no longer locate a valid URI for testing its Web site.
In the chart below, developers who have used spam to advertise are indicated with a bold S.
In the following table, the sites of Web developers themselves were evaluated for three criteria:
Where a plus (+) appears after an HTML error-count, the page could not be initially tested because it lacks an important declaration. The page was tested by forcing the validation tool to assume the existence of that declaration. This is an error not included in the error-count.
Where an X appears in the CSS column of the table below, it indicates a page that uses no style-sheet. Given the importance of style-sheets in modern Web page design, this lack may indicate a significant deficiency in the Web developer's capabilities.
The two cited evaluation tools are readily available and free. There is really no excuse for a Web developer not to use them as part of its quality assurance process. This page that you are now viewing was tested. The initial version did have errors, but they were all corrected before this page was released for public viewing.
Only errors are reported, not warnings. Where both error criteria (which excludes Flash) show no errors, the entry is highlighted in bold Italics (except if viewed with style-sheets disabled).
Think: If Web developers cannot create error-free Web pages for themselves, what kind of garbage will they create for you?
|3W-Outsource (S)||21 Aug 11||home||57||24||0|
(aka Dominion Enterprises)
|23 Jan 11||home||98||49||0|
|Affinity Internet||28 Mar 10||home||0||47||0|
|Alese Technology||28 Mar 10||Solutions||12||X||3|
|Allwebco Design Corp||28 Mar 10||home||5||3||3|
|Amara Grimes Design||2 Jan 11||home||12||9||1|
|Ambrosia Web Design||1 Nov 12||This developer appears defunct. But see the Notes regarding Ambrosia Web Design and its owner.|
|AnEc Designs (S)||14 Mar 12||home||0||2||0|
|Angell EYE (S)||22 Mar 11||home||2||120||0|
|Aplink World (India)||18 Feb 10||home||84||5||0|
|Armadillo Web Design||2 Jan 11||home||0||0||0|
|Marino Baccarini||2 Oct 11||Home||3||1||0|
|Blackbaud Internet Solutions||2 Oct 11||home||163||151||0|
|By the people, for the people
(also known as OpenPublic)
|29 Nov 12||home||85||92||0|
|Code for America||29 Nov 12||home||?||9||1|
|Compass Internet Systems||29 Mar 10||home||3||0||0|
|Convio||2 Oct 11||home||100||13||0|
|CTI Networks||2 Oct 11||home||0||8||1|
|Curvine Web Solutions (S)||12 Mar 12||home||50||0||1|
|The Design People||31 Dec 10||home||5||10||1|
|EBAWebs||28 Mar 10||home||14||1||1|
|EfuRa||23 Jan 11||home||1||0||0|
|Elevacion||23 Jan 11||home||19||16||2|
|eZdia (S)||12 Mar 12||home||44||325||0|
|quackit.com: HTML Templates||37||319||0|
|Free Web Design Online||2 Jan 11||home||0||0||0|
|Gleaming Technologies (S)||16 Mar 12||home||11||2||0|
|Goldleaf Financial Solution||28 Mar 10||home||17||0||1|
|Google Sites||12 Mar 12||home||10||287||0/td>|
(aka Avenet, LLC)
|16 Mar 12||home||168||21||0|
|Terms and Conditions||256||21||0|
|Gumboh Web (S)||17 Sep 12||home||28||38||2|
|Happy Cog Studios||1 Nov 12||home||17||11||0|
|HomeBuildersLive.com||21 Aug 11||home||26||0||0|
(aka Digital Agency,
aka HotHouse Australia)
|16 Mar 12||home||12||47||0|
|IC Global India (S)||15 Mar 10||No Web site for this spammer could be found. Both the spam message and an E-mail address within the message trace to China, not India. It may be that the name is an attempt to take business from ITGlobalIndia, another spammer with an actual Web site (see below).|
|IMAJ Designs, Inc.||28 Mar 10||home||34||2||1|
|iNetGate||20 Feb 12||home||1||0||0|
(aka Ishika Infotech) (S)
|2 Oct 11||home||92||1||1|
|ITGlobalIndia (S)||18 Feb 10||home||0||0||0|
|The Kennedy Advantage||26 Dec 10||home||35||9||1|
|LawFirmSites (S)||5 Sep 10||Concepts||15||7||0|
|LoopNet, Inc.||28 May 10||home||545||96||0|
|Los Angeles CA Web Design(S)||23 Feb 12||home||34||0||0|
|Maxposure Marketing (S)
(aka Websites Redone)
|2 Oct 11||home||13||1||4|
|NewpathWeb (S)||31 Dec 10||home||25||44||0|
|Nexternal Solutions||18 Jan 10||home||91||6||1|
|Ohio Connect||28 Mar 10||home||11||0||0|
|Detail of Services||13||0||0|
|Frequently Asked Questions||11||0||0|
|Omnidata||23 Jan 11||home||43||0||1|
|Omnikron Systems||28 Mar 10||home||14||0||0|
|Online Store Creators||16 Mar 12||home||60||2||1|
(aka Utah Web Design, aka Law Firm Sites, aka Only Dentist Website Design, and others)
|2 Jun 10||OnlyWebsites home||62||34||1|
|Law Web Design||82||40||1|
|Dental Website Design||1||62||0|
|ooLite Media||2 Apr 12||home||1||0||1|
(was Affordable Website Design)
|26 Dec 10||home||14||19||0|
|Page O Rama||12 Mar 12||home||12||568||0|
|Pehrson Web Group||28 Mar 10||home||97||1||3|
|Plan B||2 Apr 12||home||19||7||1|
|RealtyTech||20 Feb 12||home||67||6||0|
|Register.com||12 Mar 12||home||6||22||0|
|silverorange||9 Apr 10||home||0||79||0|
|Site Me (S)||21 Sep 11||home||78||0||0|
|SiteSell||20 Feb 12||Company Profile||0||0||0|
|SketchPad Graphic Design Services||20 Feb 12||home||0||0||0|
|SpokeStudio||12 Nov 11||home||3||6||0|
|Stockton Web Designs (S)||2 Apr 12||home||34||0||0|
|Superlative||28 May 10||home||87||27||0|
|Tatem Web Design||28 Mar 10||home||13||0||2|
|TechSoft (S)||18 Jan 10||home||43||X||1|
|TemplateMonster.com||25 Jan 10||home||17||28||0|
|UK Web Design Co.||15 Mar 10||home||33||4||0|
|Frequently Asked Questions||3||3||0|
|Universal Net||15 Mar 10||Web Design||26||X||0|
|Vision Internet||28 Mar 10||home||17||2||2|
|WebDesignerLive.com||23 Jan 11||home||27||1||0|
|Webfoot Studios (aka Ventura County Digital Media Advertising)||28 Mar 10||home||54||23||1|
|28 Mar 10||home||65||61||1|
|WebsiteWizard||26 Dec 10||home||24||6||0|
|Weebly||12 Mar 12||login||74||134||0|
|WickedInnovations||28 Mar 10||home||11||2||4|
|Yola||12 Jul 11||home||21||246||0|
|David Ross||1 Nov 12||This page||0||0||0|
Amara Grimes Design, Plan B: For each of these, the home page is one large Flash presentation. The page is otherwise blank. Unlike Curvine Web Solutions and ooLite Media, however, there is only a single Web page. Selecting a link within the Flash launches a new Flash presentation in that same page. With all content and navigation embedded in Flash, these nevertheless had HTML errors.
Ambrosia Web Design: This company was identified in a Los Angeles Times article as owned by a Chris Ambrosia. Chris Ambrosia is also the registered owner of CAM Services Direct, which operates at the same address as Ambrosia Web Design. According to the newspaper article, CAM Services Direct is a front for telemarketing that violates the Do Not Call Registry and might be an identity theft scam. On 1 November 2012, the Federal Trade Commission announced legal action against both Ambrosia Web Design and Chris Ambrosia (and others) for "unfair or deceptive acts" in violation of federal laws, including "misrepresenting affiliation with a government entity". Before going defunct, the home page for Ambrosia Web Design was NOT error-free. All this indicates the risks of dealing with a Web developer that cannot even create an error-free Web site for itself.
The HTML used by Code for America could not be tested because it was an experimental version HTML that is still under development by W3C and has not yet been officially approved.
Curvine Web Solutions, ooLite Media: The home page is one large Flash presentation. The page is otherwise blank (except perhaps for a copyright notice).
The spam from Gleaming Technologies asserted that "We maintain Web 2.0 standards and W3C validations in all the websites we design and develop." W3C validations of their own Web site, however, showed errors.
Google Sites, Page O Rama, and Weebly are online, do-it-yourself sites where you create your own Web sites.
The Concept page for LawFirmSites contains a link to obtain a quote for services. That link is 404; that is, it is to a non-existant Web page. How many bad links would this developer leave in your Web site?
NewpathWeb spammed a Web forum where the topic was about making Web sites viewable by all browsers.
Nexternal Solutions created at least one commercial Web site with invalid sniffing, thereby locking out potential customers.
WebsiteWizard and Yola are actually sources for do-it-yourself Web design tools, not Web design services. The presence of HTML and CCS errors on their own Web sites — if they use their own tools to create their own Web pages — indicates a lack of quality in their tools.
All of the following plagiarized one or more of my own copyrighted Web pages:
Potential customers should be aware of not only a firm's technical competency but also its business ethics. Copyright infringement is unethical, unprofessional, and — in some cases — criminal. If a Web developer lazily plagiarizes copyrighted content and then charges customers as if the content were newly developed, in what other ways is that developer ill serving customers?
Any business contracting with an outside service for Web development should specify in the contract that all Web pages comply with the HTML or XHMTL specifications and that any style-sheets comply with the CSS specifications. Final payment for the service should be withheld until compliance is successfully verified. Further, I urge customers of Web developers require compliance with either Section 508 requirements or WAI guidelines for accessibility.
For vivid graphics that truly help promote a product or service, Flash presentations can be very effective. A number of these developers make extensive use of Flash on their Web pages. However, several of their Web pages use Flash to present links and buttons for site navigation.
*** Begin right Sidebar ***In February 2012, Adobe (the developer of Flash) announced that it would soon cease development of new versions of Flash for Linux systems except as embedded in Google's Chrome browser for those systems. On Linux systems, browsers other than Chrome will be relegated to staying with Flash version 11.2 (the current version); no subsquent Flash versions will be developed for non-Chrome Linux browsers. Web sites that depend on Flash displays might thus begin to lose some of their potential audiences.
*** End right Sidebar ***
Many Web users disable Flash. They do this because the presentation files are quite large. Many individuals who access the Internet at home still do so through dial-up modems. Further, many Web servers cannot consistently deliver content at broad-band speed to those with DSL or cable modems. Thus, the choice is between tying up a computer for a minute or more to download the presentation or simply disabling Flash.
When a Flash presentation is finally downloaded, it can be so complex that the process of displaying it freezes all other functions of the user's computer. An Italian restaurant that my wife and I like has such a Flash for its home page. I could not even terminate my browser while Flash presented a slide show promoting the restaurant. Worse, all navigation into the Web site from the home page was embedded within the Flash presentation.
Where a Flash presentation is necessary for site navigation, the utility of the Web site for promoting a business is destroyed when a user disables Flash. Web users who have disabled Flash are more likely to go elsewhere on the Web rather than enable Flash to navigate a site. Also, Flash presentations are often inaccessible by the handicapped.
… most of the Flash that Web users encounter each day is bad Flash with no purpose beyond annoying people. The one bright point is that splash screens and Flash intros are almost extinct. [No, Flash intros are not extinct, even six years after Nielsen wrote his comments.] They are so bad that even the most clueless Web designers won't recommend them, even though a few (even more clueless) clients continue to request them. [This too is not true, as evidenced by the continuing use of gratuitious Flash in Web designers' own sites.]
Flash is a programming environment and should be used to offer users additional power and features that are unavailable from a static page. Flash should not be used to jazz up a page. If your content is boring, rewrite text to make it more compelling and hire a professional photographer to shoot better photos. Don't make your pages move. It doesn't increase users' attention, it drives them away; most people equate animated content with useless content.
Using Flash for navigation is almost as bad. People prefer predictable navigation and static menus.
© 2005 by Jakob Nielsen
Customers of Web developers should carefully question any plans to use Flash, to ensure that visitors to their Web sites are not driven away by gratuitous graphics or by graphics that are required for site navigation. Otherwise, you might be paying for a feature that is counter-productive.
In any case, no meaningful text content should be presented within Flash. Such content cannot be processed by audio browsers. With such content, users cannot resize the type, change the color of the type or background, change the font, or make other adjustments to improve readability. Here, accessibility is an issue not only affecting the blind. It also affects those who are color-blind, have dyslexia, or whose eyes are merely getting old.
However, Flash itself should not be considered a bad feature of a Web page without considering the context in which it is used. For example, Flash can be quite effective for displaying a product in action. Thus, the column showing the count of Flash presentations in the table above is separate from the columns showing errors.
Just before the list of developers, I indicate that I validated the HTML and style-sheets (CSS) of their Web pages. Why is this important?
When I was a software test engineer, one of the first questions we would ask before starting to test a software package was: "Were there any compilation errors?" We would refuse to test it until it compiled error-free. We would not test garbage.
Validating both the HTML (or XHMTL) and CSS of a Web page is very similar to compiling computer software. And the consequences of errors is also similar: A Web page with HTML and CSS errors will display unpredictably.
No truly professional Web developer should deliver a Web page that cannot validate error-free. This is something clients of Web developers must demand. After all, would you purchase software that fails to compile correctly?
Yes, some browsers are tolerant of HTML errors, often unintentionally as the result of bugs. Some Web developers try to take advantage of that tolerance, intentionally making use of those bugs. However, are you trying to reach an audience that only has buggy browsers; or are you trying to maximize your audience? And what will you do when your audience upgrades their browsers to newer versions in which the bugs have been corrected or (worse) behave differently?
Note, however, that validating a Web page merely checks to determine if the HTML and CSS syntax comply with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications. The spelling, grammar, and punctuation of text are not checked. The aesthetic appearance of the page is not checked. A Web page that has been validated should be merely presumed to comply with standards, the next topic.
Light bulbs and lamp sockets are manufactured according to compatible standards. This is necessary because the several companies that make bulbs need to ensure their products can be screwed into the sockets made by several other, unrelated companies. Similarly, Web pages are written by individuals not associated with the companies that create Web browsers. Thus, the files that constitute Web pages must meet standards compatible with those used to create browsers.
Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft does not produce the only Web browser and thus does not dictate the standards for Web pages. The standards are developed and documented by the W3C, a non-profit organization. In its mission statement, first among W3C's long term goals for the Web is
To make the Web accessible to all by promoting technologies that take into account the vast differences in culture, languages, education, ability, material resources, access devices, and physical limitations of users on all continents.
Strictly speaking, W3C does not create standards. It provides specifications. Lacking any competing specifications that are not proprietary and tailored to a particular manufacturer's product, however, the W3C specifications may be considered as standards. The University of Minnesota Duluth presents an extensive list of Web sites that discuss the need for following standards when developing Web pages.
For a business contracting with a Web developer service, the key issue is maximizing the audience for the business's Web site. This requires maximizing the variety of browsers that will display the site properly. This also requires being found by search engines, several of which correctly index only those Web pages that comply with standards. A business that ties its marketing and public image on the Web only to Internet Explorer (with its declining market share) — using proprietary, non-standard Web page features supported only by Internet Explorer — is headed for trouble. Without adhering to the W3C specifications, that business says:
We are not interested in presenting ourselves to those with Web-capable cell phones, to the handicapped, or to the 50% to 70% of the world that use non-IE browsers. And we are not interested in search engines finding us.
Cartoonist Dan Piraro vividly illustrates the importance of standards. A browser can only do what we tell it to do. What a Web developer wants must be expressed according to the standards. Only then will tell = want without regard for what brand of browser is used. Otherwise, there may be significant differences between how the developer wants a Web page to appear and what his page tells my browser to display.
In the end, the issue is clear:
Note that there are other standards involved in Web page creation. For example, there is RFC 3986 (actually a request for comments on a proposed standard) for the format of Web page addresses and the addresses of other entities on the Internet. These addresses are Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs, commonly called Uniform Resource Locators or URLs). A common violation of RFC 3986 is the presence of blanks within a URI. Thus, we see
<http://www.abc.com/my page.html>,which should instead be something like
<http://www.abc.com/my_page.html>.Since Web servers generally cannot accept a URI containing a blank, many browsers compensate by converting the blank into %20 (a byte that translates at a blank). Thus, the first example would result in a request to a server for
<http://www.abc.com/my%20page.html>,Other characters that are illegal according to RFC 3986 (e.g., \) are also occasionally found in URIs; not all browsers can convert such characters successfully into bytes that can be translated. Users often complain that their browsers are buggy in such cases when the fault actually lies within the Web page containing illegal URIs.
RFC 3986 also specifies that, when quoting a URI, it should be bracketed within < and > (as seen above).
A non-technical overview of Web terminology might be helpful, not only for understanding the table above but also to help when choosing a Web developer or discussing your needs with a developer.
A Web page is what a user sees in the browser window. Primitive pages consist entirely of unformatted text, such as the page for RFC 3986 cited above. However, most people think of formatted pages when discussing the Web.
A formatted Web page consists of three major parts, each in their own files: HTML, style-sheets, and images.
HTML stands for "hypertext markup language", an annotation used to format a Web page. The term "hypertext" refers to the use of links in a page to reach other pages. HTML is used to describe the language used in the page (e.g., English, Russian, Chinese), the characters used for text in that language (e.g., Roman, Cyrillic, Greek), the layout of text into paragraphs and tables, and the placement of graphics. HTML also creates the links to other Web pages. Most important, the actual text of a Web page is contained in the HTML file. To view a Web page, the user generally requests the HTML file for that page (thus the extension htm or html in a link). Some pages — especially pages displayed as frames — use multiple HTML files.
For this discussion, HTML also includes XHMTL and other markup languages, each of which has a formal specification under the control of the W3C. It also includes dynamically-generated PHP files.
Style-sheets define the margins, fonts, colors, spacing and other attributes that characterize a formatted Web page as different from an unformatted page. While much of this formatting can be specified using HTML in an HTML file, current practices indicate that cascading style-sheets (CSSs) should be used instead. CSSs are found in three forms:
This allows a hierarchy of styles — the cascade — where embedded specifications override a CSS section, which overrides an external CSS file. The hierarchy also allows multiple CSS files, with rules describing how one overrides another. The use of external CSS files is important because they permit changes in the formatting of a collection of Web pages without requiring each HTML file to be changed, the changes being made in only one or two CSS files. (I once changed the font for an entire Web site of over 30 pages by changing only one line of a CSS file.)
Style-sheets also have a formal specification under the control of W3C.
Images are the graphics seen on a Web page. They can serve merely as decoration or to illustrate a point. Images can also be the primary purpose of a Web page, such as a display of photographs. Images are generally either GIF (Graphical Interchange Format) or JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) files. The former is a patented format of Compuserve freely used in the computer industry with Compuserve's permission; the latter is an international standard. BMP (Bit Map) and PNG (Portable Network Graphics) image files are also seen; both of these are international standards.
Besides HTML, style-sheets, and images, Web pages might contain other features such as audio, streaming video, and Flash.
For more Internet-related terms, see my Internet Glossary.
*** Begin Right Sidebar ***
Whether the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to commercial Web sites and the sites of state and local governments is not clear. However, that will soon be made very clear.
On 2 October 2007, Federal District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel certified a class-action lawsuit that alleges the Target Corp violates the ADA (and California laws) because audio screen-reading software cannot work on parts of Target's Web site, making the site unusable by the blind. Since Target's Web site is a means of on-line shopping, this is indeed a commercial site.
Target indicates it will appeal Judge Patel's ruling. Whatever happens, the result will be a definitive determination whether the ADA applies to the Web.
Note that federal law explicitly requires the Web sites of federal agencies to be handicapped-accessible. However, many federal sites are in violation of that law.
4 October 2007
Target settled the lawsuit rather than go to trial. This means that a judicial decision whether the ADA applies to commercial Web sites has not been made.
The settlement, however, implies that Target admits its Web site did indeed violate the ADA. In settling the lawsuit, Target agreed to pay $6,000,000 in damages to the National Federation of the Blind for distribution to those adversely affected by Target's Web site. Target also agreed to work with the Federation on repeated testing of its Web site to ensure it is accessible by the blind. (Accessibility by individuals with other handicaps was apparently not addressed in the settlement.)
28 August 2008
*** End Right Sidebar ***
We often think of accessibility in terms of physical barriers: stairs confronting those in wheelchairs, door knobs impossible to work for those with arthritic hands, and distant parking spaces creating excessively long walks for those with heart disease. With the Web, there are communication barriers. The deaf cannot hear streaming audio and arthritic hands might not be able to grasp a mouse or work a track-ball.
The largest problems confront those with visual handicaps. Some of these problems even affect the rest of us.
This last only touches a much more serious problem. Audio browsers function poorly — or fail entirely — when Web pages do not comply with published HTML specifications. This is the most important consideration for making Web sites accessible to the handicapped: the pages need to comply with the W3C specifications.
After embedding content in an image, the next most significant barrier against visually handicapped users is the prevailance of faulty sniffing. When a Web site has different versions of its pages for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome and rejects all other browsers, audio browsers are unlikely to work. In this case, sniffing must provide a default version of the site's Web pages for any browser not otherwise recognized. Furthermore, the default version must comply with the W3C spcifications.
Other considerations relate to design characteristics that maximize the user's options (e.g., allowing the user to change fonts and font sizes, override colors). For audio browsers, pages merely have to be coherent if displayed as plain text, without images or formatting. Such a display might not be aesthetic, but it should be understandable.
Two different accessibility guidelines exist:
See also Policies Relating to Web Accessibility.
In an attempt to create Web sites for all browsers, some Web developers create a separate set of Web pages for each major browser. They then try to take advantage of non-standard peculiarities of each browser to enhance those pages.
To detect which browser is accessing a Web site, the Web server is programmed to "sniff" (detect) the browser's user agent (UA) string. The UA string is an identifier sent by each browser when requesting a Web page.
There are several problems with sniffing for browsers:
*** Begin Right Sidebar ***For details on why servers should not sniff for Firefox and — only if there is indeed a valid reason to sniff at all — should sniff for Gecko, see Gecko is Gecko.
Users of browsers that cannot properly view Web pages because of incorrect sniffing should see my Browser Sniffing: Detecting It, Dealing With It, and Defeating It.
*** End Right Sidebar ***
Obviously, there is something wrong if I cannot properly view your Web page from a browser that identifies itself as
Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1; rv:5.0) Gecko/20110706 SeaMonkey/2.2but I can view it if the exact same browser identifies itself as
Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1; rv:5.0) Gecko/20110706 SeaMonkey/2.2, NOT Firefox/4.0.1This clearly indicates sniffing for Firefox without concern for the context. As noted above sniffing for Firefox is wrong; if sniffing is necessary, the correct term is Gecko.
Clients of Web developers should ask whether there will be any browser sniffing. If there is, question how the four points above are addressed. More important, question why there is sniffing at all. Generally, Web sites that require sniffing also require more frequent maintenance to adapt to new browser versions. There is usually a cost associated with such maintenance; at the least, there is a cost associated with maintaining duplicate copies of Web pages, a copy for each version.
In any case, a Web site that adheres to the W3C HTML and CSS specifications and follows the guidelines of the Viewable With Any Browser Campaign should not require any sniffing at all.
*** Begin Right Sidebar ***One aspect of a secure Web site is the site certificate. The site certificate is, of course, installed on the Web server. However, if there is an intermediate certificate, that too must be installed on the server. Too often, intermediate certificates are not installed.
If you are paying a Web developer for a secure Web site, you will likely also have to pay for a site certificate. Make sure your developer not only installs the site certificate on your server but also installs any intermediate certificate.
Since a site certificate is issued for a particular domain, if you decide to change the name of your domain, you will need a new site certificate.
*** End Right Sidebar ***
There is another form of sniffing. Secure Web sites (e.g., those where you access your bank account) sometimes sniff for your IP address. The intent is to determine if you are using the same computer that you used before; the computer is being authenticated, not the user. If a site finds an IP address different from the one you had when you previously logged-on, you are required to go through additional steps before you are allowed to logon.
The problem is that, if you access the Internet through a dial-up modem (as do about 10% of the Internet users in the U.S.), your IP address changes every time you connect. Even with a broadband connection, your IP address might change if you reboot your computer or modem (e.g., after a power failure, after a shutdown for a vacation, after installing a Windows patch).
There are better ways — less annoying ways — to authenticate a user's computer than sniffing an IP address. One way would be to set a cookie on the user's computer with some random string of characters, also saving that string in a database on the Web server. The logon process could then compare the two strings. If they match, the computer is likely the same as the one you used previously.
Authenticating by checking IP addresses is actually not very secure. When you disconnect from the Internet, your IP address might then be reassigned to another user who connects through the same ISP.
If you are having a secure Web site developed (e.g., for E-commerce), you should ask the developer how customers will be authenticated when they logon. Unless you want to annoy your customers, be sure that authentication does not involve sniffing for IP addresses.
Some larger businesses and many government agencies have internal organizations for Web development. Non-profit organizations often rely on unpaid volunteers. This avoids any problems caused by using incompetent outside Web developer firms, but it does not excuse them from HTML and CSS errors or from having pages that are inaccessible to the handicapped.
Two major factors lead to problems with internally developed Web sites:
When Web sites are developed internally, management must still be concerned about reaching the broadest possible audience. Thus, they should require a quality assurance process that subjects each Web page to the same two error tests that I performed for the chart on this page. While this testing might not be necessary for each minor update to a page that was already tested, it should be repeated occasionally when a section is added to or deleted from a page. If a Webmaster has any pride in the work she or he performs, this testing should be done even if not required by managers.
In any case, managers responsible for how a company or agency presents itself to the public should be concerned about how Flash is used, about adherence to standards, and whether that presentation is accessible not only to the handicapped but also to any of the 50% to 70% of the public that use non-Micro$oft products to view the Web.
Even if you retain an outside Web developer, you should supply all text content for your Web site. In the end, you — not the developer — will be held accountable by others for your site's content.
Whether you use an outside Web developer or create your Web site in-house, be careful when creating your text content. If the content libels a competitor or plagiarizes someone else's copyrighted work, you can be the target of a lawsuit. Actually, plagiarism can even be a criminal offense. Some Web hosting services will immediately shut down a Web site against which a copyright complaint has been filed. How would you react if the site for which you paid a significant amount to develop was suddenly terminated?
On the other hand, if you create good, original content, be sure that you retain publication rights (e.g., a copyright). Do not surrender your rights to an outside Web developer who might then collect a fee for supplying your content to another customer. After all, you either put your own effort into creating the content, or else you paid someone to create it for you. Only you should be allowed to profit from that work.
Updated 29 November 2012
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