In an ideal world, a website would appear and behave identically to all visitors. In practice, this isn’t possible because:
- Visitors use different software and hardware.
- New techniques are continually being developed and implemented.
Web standards are a way to minimise the problem.
How Websites Work
When you visit a web page, a sequence of events takes place:
- A connection is made to the computer on which the web page is stored.
- The electronic files that make up that page are copied.
- Those copies are transferred along the phone line and stored on your computer.
- Web browser software on your computer then interprets the code in those files to display the web page on your screen.
The Need for Standards
A website’s creator uses a certain piece of code, and then has to rely on the visitor’s web browser software to interpret that code correctly. Without some form of standardisation, that isn’t likely to happen.
In the early days of the public internet, commercial rules forced the various web browser companies to offer their own types of proprietary code, each incompatible with that of the other browsers. Web designers could achieve certain effects only in particular browsers, and were forced to create two or three versions of each website in order to make the site work in all of the available browsers. The inefficiency of this was obvious, and led to standardisation both of the code that went into websites and the interpretation of that code by browsers.
Browsers and Standards
Web browsers are complex pieces of software, and the language of the web standards specifications is sometimes obscure and imprecise. Inevitably, browsers differ in the way they display the details of web pages. Browsers that adhere to web standards will, however, display all of the essential aspects of a modern website consistently.
The Benefits of Web Standards
Websites made with web standards have fundamental advantages over incompetently–designed websites:
- They require far less code, which means that pages download more quickly.
- The code is easier to maintain, which makes updates and changes cheaper for the website’s owner.
- The website will work in all browsers, both now and in the future.
Websites that do not abide by standards, however, that are coded to cope with the peculiar behaviour of delinquent browsers, are guaranteed to break at some point in the future, as browsers come to implement the standards more exactly.
We guarantee that our websites will abide by web standards, and that our websites will therefore appear correctly in all modern browsers which comply with those standards. It is, unfortunately, impossible to create an attractive, functional website that will appear absolutely identically in all browsers, but we will do our best to cope with the imperfections of older browsers and of those browsers that do not comply with web standards.
We will not, however, guarantee that our websites will behave correctly in browsers which require proprietary, non–standard, code. For the technically–minded, this includes any browser which requires a X–UA7–Compatible HTTP header or meta tag. If you specifically require your website to appear in a certain way in a certain browser, you must make this clear before work starts.
- See our Varieties of Web Browsers page for more information about browsers.
- Websites built with web standards have huge accessibility benefits, both to human visitors and to search engines.
- Cowboy web designers tend not to care, or even know, about web standards.
- Find out more about web standards at the Web Standards Project.
- Even Microsoft, whose main business plan involves forcing customers to use proprietary software and standards, has recently started following web standards.