Why does my web page look different on different computers/browsers?

Questions we often get asked are ‘why does my website look different when I look at it on another computer?’  or ‘why does my website look different when I look at it on Safari (or any other browser)’?

A common misconception about designing a web page is that it is just like creating a printed page using a graphics package. Anything is possible and the end result will look exactly the same whatever computer/browser you use to view the site. But that is definitely not the case. A web page is absolutely nothing like a printed page in the way it is created or looks. A web page is essentially a page of computer code which says what should be displayed and where. A web page is also dynamic – which means that the blocks of text/images (sometimes called ‘elements’) can move around depending on what device/browser/screen size is used to view the page.

When creating a web page, a web designer is essentially creating a set of computer code which instructs your browser what to display and roughly where on a web page. A web page never looks exactly the same when viewed on any computer or browser because although the computer page computer code is always the same, how it how it looks depends on the browser that you use, your computer (PC, tablet, mobile phone, desktop etc), the operating system used, size of screen, your settings etc. – ie factors that are local to your computer/viewing device NOT the website’s code which always stays the same. Think of the browser/computer as a translator. It receives exactly the same page computer code as everyone else, but how the page is displayed depends how the local browser/computer translates the code.

As there are many different browsers/computer setups, the way a page of computer code is translated and displayed is unique to the viewer’s set up. This is why exact line ups and positioning are not possible when creating a web page – the web designer has no control over what device/set up is used to display a web page.

Of course, if you have a budget of thousands and thousands of pounds, you could have a bespoke version of your site made for each browser type. Indeed, many large corporations do just that.  For a small site, this is unnecessary and beyond most people’s budgets anyway.



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