Nicholas Zakas has a great writeup explaining a web browser to non-technical people. I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain what a web browser is to web developers.
No, at the heart of it, a web browser is just one thing — an HTTP client.
Built upon this HTTP client could be various entities. A real web rendering engine, a crawling bot, an audio browser, a web service client, or a script kiddie using curl. While it may be impossible to know of all possible entities on the other end, as web developers, we must build applications that are prepared to deal with anything.
We use progressive enhancement to create an engaging experience for genuine users of our site regardless of the capabilities of the user agent they use. We validate everything that comes in over that HTTP connection to prevent the destruction or degradation of our service either by malice or accident, and we trust nothing that comes in from the other end. Not the POST data, not the query string, not the cookies, not the request time, and certainly not the user agent string.
Do we assume our users are the kind that Nicholas describes or do we assume that they're all out to destroy us, or perhaps somewhere in between? The reality is that we have to build our sites for all of them. Start with HTTP and progressively enhance from there.
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