Whenever cross-browser support includes mobile, use browser-side feature-detection for styling/functionality, and server-side browser-sniffing for desktop/mobile content management.
Ever since I learned a few years ago that best practices discourage browser-sniffing for cross-browser support, I’ve been using feature-detection instead. However, for mobile support my challenge goes beyond styling and functionality…
Because mobile data plans are expensive, I need to also manage the amount of content sent to devices. Using feature-detection to hide desktop-only content from mobile browsers won’t help on this count — the device has already downloaded the desktop content and wasted that bandwidth, before feature-detection occurs browser-side.
What I needed for mobile support content management was server-side browser-sniffing. I don’t think there’s any other way to manage what kind of content gets sent out in the first place. This would enable me to send only mobile content to mobile browsers — the server would omit sending any desktop-only content, thus saving bandwidth.
Server-side browser-sniffing would also give me the option of redirecting mobile browsers to a completely different subdomain, say m.tze1.com. For now though, I think I’ll stick with just one domain to preserve maintenance efficiency.
So, does the feature-detection best practice still apply? Yes, but only browser-side and for styling and functionality. For desktop/mobile content management, use server-side browser-sniffing.
Google could only help me to a certain extent on this topic, because most online articles would focus on only styling/functionality or only content management. Browser-sniffing would always be discouraged in styling/functionality articles, but always cited as the only way to implement desktop/mobile support in content management articles. It took me quite a while to figure out that the two categories of articles were not actually contradictory but rather complementary! This is why I’m posting here, because I could see other developers scratching their heads like I did about this topic.
Hope this helps someone! As always, please chime in and let me know YOUR thoughts!