Tips for debugging in Internet Explorer

April 14, 2014

Debugging in old browsers hurts. Here are some tips I use to ease the pain.

Use virtual machines

Instead of having to keep old, rusty Windows XP/Vista/whatever laying around with specific versions of Internet Explorer, just use virtual machines. It’s remarkably painless with VirtualBox and a fantastic script called ievms.

ievms sets up VirtualBox with machines pre-installed with whichever versions of Internet Explorer you choose. Fair warning: It takes a solid amount of time to download and install everything.

Run a local server, access it from your virtual machines

The real power of virtual machines comes from creating pathways between them and the physical machine running them. To run a Python web server (from the command line):

$ python -m SimpleHTTPServer

Your content will be server at

Bonus tip: Devices on the same network can access what you’re serving, too, making mobile debugging equally easy (read: still not that easy). Find your IP address (on OS X, it’s shown under System Preferences -> Network), and visit from your phone.

When things hopelessly break, use Depict

A lot of new techniques for data visualization simply do not work in old versions of Internet Explorer. If all else fails, depict makes it easy to generate fallback images to replace the “broken” content.

depict takes a screenshot of a given HTML element. It can be used quite creatively, but in it’s simplest form looks something like this:

$ depict complex-chart.png -s '#chart'

Those are all of my IE-debugging secrets. I’d love to hear yours.