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Know the Big Players

Any web designer should have an adequate knowledge of the tools used to view their creations, these are the big players of the Internet - web browsers. Web browsers come in all shapes and sizes, so making sure that your website is viewable in each one is essential. The first step to developing cross-browser websites is getting to know all of the major web browsers, and a few smaller ones.

Major web browsers include Internet Explorer (external link), Mozilla (external link), Firefox (external link), Opera (external link), and Safari (external link). Smaller web browsers include K-Meleon (external link), Camino (external link), Konqueror (external link), Netscape (external link), and Epiphany (external link). We'll take a look at the commonly used rendering engines and a few web browsers they power.

KHTML

KHTML is a very powerful rendering engine used in Konqueror and Safari. KHTML has full support for HTML 4.01, complete CSS 2.1 support, accurate CSS 3 support, and DOM3 support. KHTML browsers were the first to pass the Acid2 test with Safari first and Konqueror following.

The two web browsers using KHTML are very platform dependent with Konqueror being on the Linux platform and Safari on OS X. Both browsers offer typical features such as tabbed browsing. Konqueror also doubles as a file manager, and is included on the KDE graphical desktop environment.

For more information on the KHTML rendering engine visit Konqueror's website (external link).

Gecko

The Gecko rendering engine is the second most popular engine, with Trident (used by Internet Explorer) being number one. The Gecko engine (originally known as Raptor and then NGLayout) was originally developed by Netscape and first used in Netscape 6. Eventually the Gecko engine ended up in the hands of the Mozilla Foundation.

Web browsers currently using the Gecko engine include Mozilla, Firefox, Netscape (which also uses Trident), K-Meleon, Camino, and Epiphany. The Mozilla Foundation produces Firefox, Camino, and Mozilla all using the Gecko engine. Emiphany is based off of Mozilla, and used often in the Gnome graphical desktop environment for Linux.

The Gecko engine supports today's web standards with good CSS and DOM support. You can view specific Gecko information at Mozilla's website (external link).

Trident and Tasman

Trident, sometimes referred to as MSHTML-Modern, is the layout rendering engine used in Microsoft's Internet Explorer, first introduced in Internet Explorer 4. Trident lacks support for current web standards especially in CSS standards. For full information on what Trident supports visit Wikipedia (external link).

Tasman is the rendering engine used in many Microsoft products for Macintosh. Tasman was first seen in Internet Explorer 5 Mac Edition. Microsoft attempted to bring together better standard's support to Tasman, which was seen in the upgraded version of the engine used in the MSN for Mac OS X browser. Tasman is also integrated into Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac as the rendering engine for the email client Entourage. For full specifications of Tasman visit Wikipedia (external link).

Presto

Opera is the only web browser that uses the Presto engine, as it was produced by Opera Software. Presto is a very advanced rendering engine with extended support for CSS and DOM. You can view the specific support of the Presto engine at Opera's website (external link).

The Netscape Dilemma

Netscape 8 integrates two layout rendering engines for a very unique web browser. Netscape put together a list of websites that it considers "safe" to which it applies the Trident engine. All other websites are rendered using Gecko. In some way this is useful as many major websites optimize only for the Trident engine, and smaller websites tend to be more cross-browser compatible.

This is an example of why your websites should be compatible with all the major rendering engines.

Cross-Browser Design

With so many rendering engines out there you may think that cross-browser design is close to impossible. Luckily, due to web standards it isn't. The KHTML, Gecko, and Presto engines will handle most pages similar, so your design will be maintained. The Trident and Tasman engine treat web pages different than other rendering engines, which will prove to be a conflict. In the end you really are only designing for Trident/Tasman and all the other engines, which makes the job a lot easier than it appears.

Summary

With four major rendering engines some web designers may feel overwhelmed in having cross-browser compatible designs. Before you publish a design on the Internet make sure to check it in these four rendering engines.