Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

You might remember that I published a post called UK government draft browser guidance is daft browser guidance last September, calling out a draft document outlining some UK government browser testing guidelines.

These suggested that for government web sites, webmasters need not test in less popular browsers (those with less than 2% in that site’s usage statistics) and that there should be a page on the site listing the popular browsers which had been tested with the message “We advise you to upgrade your browser version as far as your computer allows and if possible to one of those listed above”.

I called on readers to email the consultation address and object that the guidelines did not advocate web standards and methodologies like progressive enhancement to ensure that all browsers were served. The Register carried the story, and two days after I made that call, the author of the guidelines, Adam Bailin, commented that over 400 people had already emailed him.

Last Friday, 16 January, Adam published the revised browser testing guidelines, and he’s done a great job of including best-practice development. The guidelines point to the BBC‘s support table as a good example of graded browser support, and notes the importance of supporting standards-compliant browsers (paragraphs 17-18):

Coding a site to web standards should ensure that any browser that supports web standards will render and behave as intended. Therefore your browser testing matrix must include browsers that support web standards.

You should follow a progressive enhancement approach to developing websites to ensure that content is accessible to the widest possible number of browsers.

The importance of valid code is noted (paragraphs 21-23):

All (X)HTML content must validate with respect to your chosen DTD.

You must use valid CSS for the presentational layer of your website including layout and styling. (X)HTML tables should only be used for presenting tables of data.

Code used for adding richness to the user interface (e.g. JavaScript, ActionScript) must be ECMAScript-compliant.

The guidelines now emphasise functionality over identical layout across browsers (paragraph 39):

You should check that the content, functionality and display all work as intended. There may be minor differences in the way that the website is displayed. The intent is not that it should be pixel perfect across browsers, but that a user of a particular browser does not notice anything appears wrong.

Graceful degradation without scripting/ plug-ins and accessibility are required (paragraphs 41-42)

You should also test your website to make sure that it works with scripting and plug-ins turned off.

Some users will be unable to use pointing devices so you should verify that the site works using a keyboard only.

I could be churlish and quibble about a couple of points in the document that I personally disagree with, but I won’t; the philosophical framework of the new Guidelines is a scalable, future-proof one that will properly serve taxpayers, web visitors and government webmasters in the UK.

I’d like to congratulate Adam Bailin and the team who revised the guidelines, and I’d like to congratulate every one of the 400+ readers who took the time and the trouble to write and support web standards.

It’s a job well done.

(Disclosure: I work for Opera, the browser vendor, and wrote the Opera consultation response).

Your Replies

#1 On January 19th, 2009 8:02 am