Browser Detection: How Not To Do It

Web browsers used to behave so differently from one another that it was common to write code to detect which browser type and version was being used to display the page so that appropriate code could be run. Fortunately, modern browsers tend to support web standards better and so apart from a few CSS tweaks it is unusual to come across browser detection code (the one exception to this rule being the expense system I have to use at work which doesn't seem to like Firefox at all). So I was a little surprised the other day when I suddenly found myself bounced to a an unsupported browser page on a shopping site that I'd been browsing around a few days before. So being the inquisitive kind I had a dig around and came across this gem.
if (navigator.userAgent.match(/Firefox\/[12]/)) {
   window.location.href = "unsupported.html";
For those of you who don't speak JavaScript, this essentially checks (using a regular expression) for the presence of either "Firefox/1" or "Firefox/2" in the useragent string, which identifies the make and version of the web browser requesting the page.

Now I like living on the bleeding edge of browser development and so I run the nightly builds of Firefox. Given the recent change in the release cycle of Firefox, the version number has climbed quite rapidly and the nightly build now sends the following useragent string (you can find out where your browser sends using this website):

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:10.0a1) Gecko/20111012 Firefox/10.0a1

So from reading this you should be able to see that I'm actually running version 10.0a1 of Firefox. It should also be clear why the check of my browser resulted in me being bounced to the unsupported browser page: Firefox/10.0a1 contains the string "Firefox/1". This is a good example of why you really shouldn't write your own browser detection code, especially as there are a number of well written and up to date scripts out there that correctly extract the make and version number and which are easy to use. And if you subscribe to the not-invented-here school of thought, then at least make sure you actually implement a sensible solution!


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