10 Common Mistakes Web Developers Make

web developer making a mistakeThere seems to be endless choices regarding how to accomplish the same task - to develop a website that works in today's modern web. Web developers have to choose a web hosting platform and underlying data storage, which tools to write HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in, how design will be implemented, and what potential JavaScript libraries/frameworks to include. Once choices are narrowed down, the online world is filled with articles, forums, and samples that provide tips for making a better web experience. Yet no matter which path is taken, all developers are susceptible to mistakes. Although some mistakes will be related to a specific approach, there are challenges shared among all web developers. So through research, experience, and recent observations, I thought I would share a list I compiled of ten common mistakes I see web developers make - and how to avoid them.

The following list is in no particular order.

1)  Writing old school HTML

Mistake: The early days of the internet had much less options for markup than we do today. However, old habits die hard, and many still write their HTML as if we were still in the 20th century. Examples here are using <table> elements for layout , <span> or <div> elements when other semantic-specific tags would be more appropriate, or using tags that are not supported in current HTML standard such as <center> or <font>, or spacing items on a page with a large number of &nbsp; entities.

Impact: Writing last decade's HTML can result in over complicated markup that will behave inconsistently across multiple browsers.

How to avoid: Stop using <table> element for layout of content, and limit usage for it to displaying tabular data. Get acquainted with the current markup options available such as seen at https://html.spec.whatwg.org/multipage/semantics.html#semantics. Use HTML to describe what the content is, not how it will be displayed. To display your content correctly, use CSS (http://www.w3.org/Style/CSS/).

2 )  "It works in my browser…"

Mistake: A developer may be fond of a particular browser or really despise one, and might primarily test web pages with that bias in view. It is also possible that code samples found online may be written without factoring how it would render in other browsers. Also, some browsers have different default values for styles.

Impact: Writing a browser-centric site will likely result in very poor quality when displayed in other browsers.

How to avoid: It would not be practical to test web pages in every browser & version during development. However, having a regular interval of checking how your site will appear in multiple browsers is a good approach. Sites such as http://browsershots.org/ show snapshots of how a given page would render over multiple browsers/versions/platforms. Tools such as Visual Studio (https://www.visualstudio.com/en-us/visual-studio-homepage-vs.aspx) can also invoke multiple browsers to display a single page you are working on. When designing with CSS, consider "resetting" all the defaults as shown at http://meyerweb.com/eric/tools/css/reset/.

If your site is using any CSS features created specific for a browser, be cautious as to how you will approach vendor prefixes such as -webkit-, -moz-, or -ms-.  For guidance on industry trends in this regard, it would be worth your time to examine the following references:

While the above references explain a movement away from vendor prefixes and why, this site http://davidwalsh.name/goodbye-vendor-prefixes provides practical suggestions on how to work through this today.

3)  Bad form

Mistake: Prompting a user to provide any information (especially when entered into a text field) and assuming the data will be received as intended.

Impact: Many things can (and likely will) go wrong when user entry is trusted. Pages may fail if required data is not provided, or data received is not compatible with an underlying data scheme. Even more serious is the intentional violation of the site's database, perhaps through Injection attacks (see https://www.owasp.org/index.php/Top_10_2013-A1-Injection).

How to avoid: The first bit of advice here is to make sure it is clear to the user what type of data you are looking for. These days, asking for an address could result in either a business, home, or even email address! In addition to be specific, take advantage of data validation techniques available in today's HTML as seen at this article http://devproconnections.com/html5/html5-form-input-enhancements-form-validation-css3-and-javascript. No matter how data is validated on the browser side, be sure it is always validated on the server-side as well. Never allow a concatenated T-SQL statement to use data from user entry without confirmation the each field is the type of data it should be.

4)  Bloated responses

Mistake: The page is filled with many high quality graphics and/or pictures, scaled down with use of <img> element height and width attributes. Files linked from the page such as CSS and JavaScript are large. The source HTML markup may also be unnecessarily complex and extensive.

Impact: The time to have a page completely render becomes long enough for some users to give up or even impatiently re-request the whole page again. In some cases, errors will occur if page processing is waiting too long.

How to avoid: Don't adopt the mindset that access to the internet is getting faster and faster - thus allowing for bloated scenarios. Instead, consider everything going back and forth from the browser to your site as a cost. A major offender in page bloat is images.  To minimize the cost of images that slow down page loads, try these three tips:

  1. Ask yourself: "Are all my graphics absolutely necessary?" If not, remove unneeded images.
  2. Minimize the file size of your images with tools such as Shrink O'Matic http://toki-woki.net/p/Shrink-O-Matic/ or RIOT http://luci.criosweb.ro/riot/.
  3. Preload images. This will not improve the cost on initial download, but can make other pages on site that use the images load much faster. For tips on this, see http://perishablepress.com/3-ways-preload-images-css-javascript-ajax/.

Another way to reduce cost is to minify linked CSS and JavaScript files. There are plenty of tools out there to assist in this endeavor such as Minify CSS http://www.minifycss.com/ and Minify JS http://www.minifyjs.com/.

Before we leave this topic, strive to be current with HTML (see mistake #1) and use good judgment when using <style> or <script> tags in HTML.

5)  Creating code that *should* work

Mistake: Whether it is JavaScript or code running on the server, a developer has tested and confirmed that it works, thereby concluding it should still work once deployed. The code executes without error trapping, because it worked when it was tested by developer.

Impact: Sites without proper error checking may reveal the errors to the end users in an ugly way. Not only can the user experience be dramatically impacted, the type of error message content could provide clues to a hacker as to how to infiltrate a site.

How to avoid: To err is human, so bring that philosophy to coding. With JavaScript, be sure to implement good techniques to prevent errors as well as catch them. Although this article http://www.palermo4.com/post/JavaScript-for-Windows-Store-Apps-Error-Handling.aspx addresses JavaScript coding for Windows Apps, the majority of the topics apply to web development too, and it is full of good tips! Another aid to help create solid code that can hold up well to future changes in code is unit testing (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_testing).

Failures in server-side code should be caught without the user seeing any of the nerdy details. Reveal only what is necessary, and be sure to set up friendly error pages for things like HTTP 404s (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_404).

6)  Writing forking code

Mistake: With the noble notion of supporting all browsers and versions, a developer creates code to respond to each possible scenario. The code becomes a heap of if statements, forking in all sorts of direction.

Impact: As new versions of browsers update, management of code files become bulky and difficult to manage.

How to avoid: Implement feature detection in code versus browser/version detection. Feature detection techniques not only dramatically reduce the amount of code, it is much easier to read and manage. Consider using a library such as Modernizr (http://modernizr.com/) which not only helps with feature detection, it also automatically helps provide fallback support for older browsers not up to speed with HTML5 or CSS3.

7)  Designing unresponsively

Mistake: Site development assumes viewing in the same size monitor as the developer/designer.

Impact: When viewing the site in mobile devices or very large screens, the user experience suffers with either not being able to see important aspects of the page or even preventing navigation to other pages.

How to avoid: Think responsively. Use responsive design (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsive_web_design) in your sites. A very popular library ready to serve in this area is Bootstrap (http://getbootstrap.com/).

8)  Making meaningless pages

Mistake: Producing public facing pages with content that might be very useful, but not providing any hints to search engines. Accessibility features are not implemented.

Impact: Pages are not as discoverable through search engines and therefore may receive little or no visits. The page content may be very cryptic to users with impaired vision.

How to avoid: Use SEO (search engine optimizations) and support accessibility in HTML. Regarding SEO, be sure to add <meta> tags to provide meaning to a page with keywords and description. A good write up on that is found at http://webdesign.about.com/od/seo/a/keywords-html.htm. To enable a better accessibility experience, be determined to provide an alt="your image description" attribute in each of your <img> or <area> tags. Of course, there is more to do and further suggestions can be investigated at http://webdesign.about.com/od/accessibility/a/aa110397.htm. You can also test a public web page at http://www.cynthiasays.comCythiaSays.com to see if it is compliant with Section 508 (http://www.section508.gov/).

9)  Producing sites that are too refreshing

Mistake: Creating a site that requires full refreshes of a page for each interaction.

Impact: Similar to bloated pages (see mistake #4), performance of page loading time is affected. The user experience lacks fluidity, and each interaction could cause a brief (or long) resetting of the page.

How to avoid: One quick way to avoid this is by determining if posting back to the server is truly required. For example, client-side script can be used to provide immediate results when there is no dependency for server-side resources. You can also embrace AJAX techniques (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajax_%28programming%29techniques) or go further with a single-page application “SPA” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-page_application) approach. Popular JavaScript libraries/frameworks are available to make adoption of these methods much easier, such as http://jquery.com/, http://knockoutjs.com/, and https://angularjs.org/.

10)  Working too much

Mistake: A developer spends a long time creating web content. Time might be spent doing repetitive tasks, or simply typing a lot.

Impact: Time for initial web site launch or subsequent updates is too lengthy. Value of the developer diminishes when it appears other developers are doing comparable work in less time and with less effort. Manual labor is prone to mistakes, and troubleshooting mistakes takes even more time.

How to avoid: Explore your options. Consider using new tools or new process techniques for every stage of development. For example, how does your current code editor compare to Sublime Text (http://www.sublimetext.com/) or Visual Studio (https://www.visualstudio.com/en-us/visual-studio-homepage-vs.aspx)? Regardless of what code editor you are using, have you recently dived into its features? Perhaps a small investment of your time perusing the documentation could unveil a new way to do something that could save hours & hours of time later. For example, note how an extension to Visual Studio can increase productivity for web developers as seen in this post http://www.palermo4.com/post/WebCamp-Essentials.aspx.

Don't miss out on tools available on the web to help! For example, check out the tools at http://dev.modern.ie/tools/ to simplify testing (across multiple platforms and devices) and troubleshooting.

You can also help reduce time and mistakes by automating processes. An example of this is using a tool like Grunt (http://gruntjs.com/) that can automate things such as the minifying of files (see mistake #4). Another example is Bower (http://bower.io/) which can help manage libraries/frameworks (see mistake #9).

How about the web server itself? With the help of services such as Microsoft Azure Web Apps (http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/app-service/web/), you can quickly create a site for virtually any development scenario that can easily scale with your business!


By identifying common mistakes, web developers can eliminate much frustration that others have already endured. Not only is it important to acknowledge, but when we understand the impact of a mistake and take measures to avoid it, we can create a development process catered to our preferences – and do so with confidence!

    Copyright © Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
    The code provided in this post is licensed under the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL).

HTML5 Form Inputs

My latest article published at DevProConnections is about collecting and validating data using the new HTML5 enhancements to form inputs. In the article I cover new attributes to input elements such at required, placeholder, and pattern. I showcase how to style forms with CSS3, and how to customize validation with script.

To read the article online, please visit HTML5 Form Enhancements with CSS3 and JavaScript at DevProConnections!

    Copyright © Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
    The code provided in this post is licensed under the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL).

HTML5 Syntax & Semantics

My latest article published by DevProConnections is dealing with a fundamental yet very misunderstood topic – semantics.  If you would like to learn why semantics matter, I encourage you to read the online article – “HTML5 Syntax and Semantics: Why they Matter

The article demonstrates the use of semantics by building a simple web site using Visual Studio 2010.

    Copyright © Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
    The code provided in this post is licensed under the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL).

HTML5 is in Style


The next article at DevProConnections is out!

This article is all about using the new features in CSS3 in your HTML5 web sites.

This article discusses layout, media queries, and the little things that make a difference to user experience!

    Copyright © Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
    The code provided in this post is licensed under the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL).

DevProConnections–HTML5 Series

I am excited to announce that the in-depth HTML5 series of articles that Daniel Egan and I are co-authoring made it’s first article debut!


    Copyright © Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
    The code provided in this post is licensed under the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL).