IEBlog: Debugging Common Canvas Issues

I wrote this article on the IEBlog discussing common Canvas debugging issues:

8 Sep 2010 3:12 PM

As we’ve previously discussed, IE9 includes support for HTML5 canvas. You can test it out right now by downloading the latest platform preview. In our testing of sites that use the latest web standards, we are pleased to see that many canvas sites just work in IE9. For those of you using <canvas> on your site, we have two tips to make sure it works properly across browsers and in IE9: use feature detection instead of browser detection, and use <!DOCTYPE html>.

Be sure to use feature detection instead of browser detection

If you are using browser detection, such as automatically falling back to a non-canvas implementation if you detect that the user is using an IE User Agent string, you may be blocking HTML5 content from rendering in IE9. Instead of doing browser detection, you should
do feature detection
to check if the user’s browser has a certain capability. For instance, you can use this code to check if your user’s browser supports canvas:

var canvas = document.createElement("canvas"); 
if (canvas.getContext && canvas.getContext("2d")) 
   // Code requiring canvas support 
   // Canvas isn't available. Put non-canvas fallback here 

This eliminates the need for you to make assumptions about current browser feature support and ensures your site will continue to work as browsers evolve. We explain more about feature detection in this post.

How to check if the user’s browser supports Canvas:

  • DO: Canvas feature detection code
  • DON’T: Browser detection using User Agent string
  • DON’T: Conditional comments

Make sure your site is in IE9 mode

By default, if your site is following web standards, such as using a standards DOCTYPE, IE9 will render it in standards mode. You can check if your site is in this mode by bringing up the Developer Tools (press F12) and checking to see if your site is in IE9 standards Document Mode.

Canvas is a new feature only supported in IE9 standards mode – a design decision we took to ensure that legacy document modes remain fully backward compatible. If you see a Document Mode for your site other than IE9 standards, HTML5 elements like canvas won’t be displayed. For example, if you don’t have a DOCTYPE in your page, IE9 will display the site in Quirks Mode. To ensure your page works as expected in IE9, we recommend that you add a strict DOCTYPE to your webpages. For example, you could add the W3C HTML5 DOCTYPE:

<!DOCTYPE html>

Or you can use a common strict DOCTYPE such as this:


You can read more about how IE determines the document mode here.

Interoperability and Canvas

Interoperability is a high priority for IE9, to the point where we recommend sending IE9 the same standards-based markup your site sends to other browsers. Most canvas sites should just work on IE9 if the site was originally developed for another browser. That being said, there are a few behavior differences between browsers. For instance, consider the shadow demo from the Canvas Pad test drive site.

This is one example of a canvas feature that is rendered a little differently in each browser. We are making IE9 interoperable whenever possible, but for some canvas features, other browsers do not have a complete or correct implementation. In these cases, we follow the W3C spec. We submit test cases to the W3C as a way to help ensure everyone agrees on how the spec should be interpreted and implemented. To learn more about our shadow implementation, check out our canvas tests from the IE Test Center.

The purpose of the W3C spec is to define a standard that all browsers should follow. If we find examples where browsers uniformly behave differently from the spec, we feel that spec should be updated to reflect the interoperable behavior, if it makes sense for web developers. For instance, HTMLFrameElement did not contain the contentWindow attribute in the W3C spec; however IE8, Firefox, and Chrome all support this attribute. We filed a bug with a proposed change, and the HTML5 editor updated the latest revision of the spec.

If something looks unexpected in IE9 and you believe it is an interoperability issue or an area where we deviate from the spec, please let us know by filing a bug with Microsoft Connect. One of our goals around the platform previews and the beta of IE9 is to give our users a chance to give us as much feedback as possible, so don’t hesitate to let us know if you think you see a bug!


Elizabeth Ford and Jatinder Mann

Program Managers, Internet Explorer


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s