Essential browser tools for Web developers

What the professionals use and recommend to their colleagues

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Enhancing performance

Want that site to load faster? These tools will help you discover what's gone wrong with a slow site while pointing out all areas where further optimization is possible.

Yslow

Author: Yahoo

Browsers supported: Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera; also available as mobile bookmarklet and in command-line version

Price: Free

Where to get it: All versions available from Yslow site

What it does: Identifies website performance issues and recommends solutions.

Who recommends it:

• Ian Muir, lead solutions architect, Piehead Productions in Portsmouth, N.H.

• Tom Kroon, IDG

Yslow add-on

Yslow grades Web page performance in multiple categories, gives an overall score and offers specific suggestions on how to speed up your site. Click to view larger image.

Why it's cool: Yahoo's Yslow grades the performance of Web pages and offers recommendations on how to speed them up.

"It goes through all of the requests you're making, gives you warnings if you're not using optimized images and tells you what files to zip or other ways to improve client downloads," says Muir.

Page Speed

Author: Google open-source project

Browsers supported: Chrome, Firefox; Page Speed Online offers the same service without the need to add a browser extension

Price: Free

Where to get it: Install Page Speed for Chrome or Page Speed for Firefox

What it does: Runs performance tests on Web pages and suggests best practices to optimize resources on the page. Installs as a feature within Chrome's Developer Tools menu; in Firefox, it integrates with Firebug.

Page Speed add-on

Page Speed ranks a Web page on a long list of best practices.

Click to view larger image.

Who recommends it: Hassan Bawab, CEO of Web design firm Magic Logix in Dallas

Why it's cool: Page Speed gives each Web page a score and offers specific suggestions on how to improve its performance. The open-source project also includes a free Page Speed Service that automatically rewrites pages to optimize them.

Handy utilities

What does the HTTP traffic going to and from a website look like? What's a site's current IP address? These miscellaneous utilities offer quick answers.

ShowIP

Author: ShowIP Dev Team

Browsers supported: Firefox

Price: Free

Where to get it: Install ShowIP for Firefox

ShowIP add-on

ShowIP displays the current page's IP address at the bottom-left corner of the browser window. Click to view larger image.

What it does: As the name indicates, shows the IP address of the currently displayed Web page in the browser's status bar.

Who recommends it: Jen Kramer, 4Web

Why it's cool: "When working with clients I use it to see if the DNS has been transferred from one Web host to another."

Charles

Author: Karl von Randow

Browsers supported: Add-on for Firefox only; main program works with any browser

Price: $50

Where to get it: Download from developer's website

What it does: Provides an HTTP proxy/reverse proxy tool that tracks all HTTP and HTTPS requests, responses and header information that move in or out of the browser. While Charles does include an add-on component for Firefox, at its core it is a standalone program that works with any browser installed on systems running Mac OS X, Windows or Linux.

Charles

Charles lets developers dig into the requests made by a Web page, as well as the responses. (Credit: Ian Muir, Piehead Productions)

Click to view larger image.

Who recommends it: Ian Muir, Piehead Productions

Why it's cool: Charles shows the requests made by a Web page so the developer can examine the data going out and coming back. The tool formats and organizes the responses in such a way that the user can easily look through the values being returned.

"Charles is especially useful for tracking Ajax and Flash files," Muir says. "I can see exactly what Ajax and Flash are requesting and whether everything is being parsed correctly."

IE Tab

Author: Acquia

Browsers supported: Chrome, Firefox

Price: Free

Where to get it: Install IE Tab for Chrome or IE Tab 2 for Firefox

What it does: Runs an Internet Explorer browser session inside a Firefox or Chrome tab on any Windows computer. It loads the IE browser version currently installed on the host computer and is compatible with IE versions 6 to 9.

IE Tab add-on

IE Tab creates an Internet Explorer session as a tab within a Chrome or Firefox browser session. Click to view larger image.

Who recommends it: Ryan Burney, 3 Roads Media

Why it's cool: IE Tab lets you view ActiveX controls without actively firing up Internet Explorer. (Technically, IE is running, but it appears inside a Firefox or Chrome tab rather than as a separate browser instance.) Using IE Tab saves time when doing browser compatibility testing, says Burney: "It's one less browser window you have to have running on your computer."

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