User Agent Man
I don’t know about you, but I just love browsing the mobile web on my development machine. The minimalism is so striking. It’s so refreshing to view things from a mobile device perspective in today’s content- and graphic-laden Internet…. Since sarcasm is so hard to notice on the Internet, I’ll tell it like it is: I’m being sarcastic.
That being said, sometimes it is necessary to view a website you are developing from a mobile perspective. I am a huge fan of websites that are mobile friendly. There are two main ways of making a website mobile friendly:
- 1. Considering mobile browsers in your initial design
- 2. Building a mobile version of your site specifically for mobile browsers
I like sites that provide both. An example of option one is making sure that any dropdown menus are functional on a mobile device. Most mobile devices don’t have a means to hover a pointer over an element like a desktop mouse. An example of option two is the Volvo Rents Construction Equipment website. Visiting www.volvorents.com in a browser will result in two different websites based on whether or not you are using a mobile device.
This functionality is built on something called a user agent. To see your current user agent visit http://whatsmyuseragent.com. While that long string of names and numbers might not mean a lot to you, a developer can harness that user agent in order to provide two very different experiences to users of a site.
Now, let’s get a little technical. I develop, work, and live (during my workday) in the Chromium browser, the open-source version of the Google Chrome browser. If I want to check the features and display of a mobile version of a website, I can launch Chromium or Google Chrome from the terminal and tell it what user agent to use.
$ chromium-browser --user-agent="Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 2.1-update1; en-us; DROIDX Build/VZW) AppleWebKit/530.17 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/530.17 480X854 motorola DROIDX"
$ google-chrome --user-agent="Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 2.1-update1; en-us; DROIDX Build/VZW) AppleWebKit/530.17 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/530.17 480X854 motorola DROIDX"
This launch flag/command line option is extremely useful. I encourage you to try it out. Start up a terminal and run one of the above commands respective to the browser you have installed. Go ahead, you can use my phone’s user agent. I don’t mind. Once you have the browser running, visit www.volvorents.com and see what you get. Several other sites you can visit and play around with a mobile user agent are Facebook, Amazon, NFL, ESPN.
To see a large list of different user agents, visit: http://www.user-agents.org/ You can use the user agents listed on that site to see what it’s like to browse the web as a robot.