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The fight for the suckiest UA string
This way, browser usage on different websites can be monitored and interesting stats can be generated, just like I did some time ago here.
And there are good specs that describe how a user agent should look (defined in HTTP 1.0 and HTTP 1.1 RFCs) - but even those already state "Note: Some existing clients fail to restrict themselves to the product token syntax within the User-Agent field."
Yay - the spec already notes that clients don't comply with the spec. Nice.
But it's even worse: The spec notes for what purpose this HTTP header should be sent: "This is for statistical purposes, the tracing of protocol violations, and automated recognition of user agents for the sake of tailoring responses to avoid particular user agent limitations."
Over the years, many web site designers extended the "avoid particular user agent limitations" to "block any unknown client from accessing content" though - and with this, all the problems started.
Websites started to sniff for "Mozilla/" at the start of the UA string (which Netscape had) and gave only those clients access to their (most of the time) non-standards-compliant content that it somehow displayed, and they did this hard enough that Microsoft could not release their browser without the "Mozilla/" at the start of the string, unless they wanted to be blocked from content. And clearly they didn't. Following that, almost any decent browser had to use Netscape-style "Mozilla/" user agent strings, even if they weren't the mythical "Mosaic killer" that this internal code name stood for.
When the Mozilla project wanted to note a Gecko version, and later the Firefox name and version, they were forced to hold on to the more and more useless "Mozilla/" prefix and some syntax surrounding it, and just add additional product tokens, ending up with a standards-compliant, but a bit lengthy convention for Mozilla user agents - which also SeaMonkey is using.
Instead of a handy
"SeaMonkey/1.1.2 (Windows NT 5.1; de-AT) Gecko/220.127.116.11"(which would tell all statistics-relevant data and have a common "Gecko" name and version to detect to "avoid particular user agent limitations" common to all Gecko products), we end up with
"Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; de-AT; rv:18.104.22.168) Gecko/20070617 SeaMonkey/1.1.2"because of that legacy.
When those website that use user agent sniffing would do it correctly, they would send W3C-compliant content to every unknown browser and only do small tweaks for those which don't comply correctly (along with explicit checks for only those versions that are known not to comply, still sending the W3C-compliant version for future releases that might fix this) - and we would never have ended up even at this stage.
But that's not even where the story ends, actually, it gets much worse:
When Gecko gained market share, browsers like Konqueror and Safari began adding "(like Gecko)" to their UA string to fool websites testing for "Gecko" in the UA string into letting them in when they would close out anything beyond MSIE and Gecko. And then, we arrived at the stage where Firefox gained a whole lot of market share and those crappy web designers decided to let "Firefox" into their websites, apparently not knowing that Gecko is Gecko and Firefox is "just" Gecko plus a nice UI (which is cool enough, actually). Because of that, there is a number of websites that don't work in non-Firefox Gecko browsers even if they could - that includes SeaMonkey, the Firefox development builds labeled e.g. "Minefield", and also Camino.
Instead of helping us all and the whole web with increasing the market share of non-Firefox Gecko browsers and making web designers aware of the problem and the easy solution (yes, the by far hardest part), the Camino team is now trying to win the prize for the suckiest UA string of them all by adding a "like Firefox" string to their UA. WTF?
If we're continuing on this path, every useful browser will have to add this, and probably a few other strings, in the future. I don't intend to support this or any project which decides to go down that road.
It would have been nice if one day I could have used
SeaMonkey/4.3 (Linux x86_64; de) Gecko/3.2
or something like that.
The new proposal sounds like I may end up with one in this style though:
Mozilla/5.0 (X11 [like Windows]; U; Linux x86_64 [like Intel Mac OS X]; de [like en-US]; rv:3.2) Gecko/20100704 (like KHTML) SeaMonkey/4.3 (like Firefox) (like Safari) (like Opera) (like Netscape) (like MSIE) (like Mosaic)
Thanks to the Camino team!
Entry written by KaiRo and posted on June 23rd, 2007 03:23 | Tags: Mozilla, UA String | 9 comments