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Progressive enhancement vs Graceful degradation

The terms Pro­gres­sive enhance­ment and Grace­ful degra­da­tion are often used in con­juc­tion with each other although they offer com­pletely oppo­site view­points in terms of web development.

Grace­ful Degradation

This refers to the devel­op­ment phi­los­o­phy of build­ing appli­ca­tions rely­ing on the fea­tures pro­vided by newer ver­sions of web browsers. This implies that older browsers will either crip­ple or will not sup­port those fea­tures and will require your clients to upgrade.
This is gen­er­ally not con­sid­ered a good way to build­ing appli­ca­tions anymore.

Pro­gres­sive Enhancement

Pro­gres­sive enhance­ment is about first deter­min­ing a base­line of fea­tures that your appli­ca­tion needs to sup­port across all ‘rel­e­vant’ browser ver­sions and then imple­ment­ing those fea­tures with­out hav­ing to rely on the bells and whis­tles of newer tech­nol­ogy. You then add another layer to enhance the expe­ri­ence of your appli­ca­tion for browsers with bet­ter capa­bil­i­ties.
This is a much more pre­ferred devel­op­ment philosophy.

Exam­ples of where you might con­sider using pro­gres­sive enhancement

  1. Your end user may or may not sup­port javascript. Mod­ern frame­works do a pretty good job at doing a server side ren­der, which means that your entire appli­ca­tion con­tent can be deliv­ered on first ren­der even if the user can­not load con­tent via ajax.
  2. Trans­par­ent png images are not ren­dered cor­rectly on older browsers. Pre­fer using JPEG’s with a white back­ground or the back­ground of your page to ensure that they are uni­ver­sally viewable.
  3. This phi­los­o­phy also inter­leaves with acces­si­bil­ity. Make sure that you use alt tags for all of your images and title tags for anchors and other impor­tant sec­tions of your page so that screen read­ers that are used by peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties can also deliver your content.

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