Internet Explorer on Windows 8.1: One browser, two experiences
Starting with Windows 8, Internet Explorer provides one web platform that supports two browsing experiences: Internet Explorer in the new Windows UI that is optimized for touch devices, and the familiar browsing experience of Internet Explorer for the desktop. By understanding the differences between the two, developers can use the same HTML5 markup to build rich, interactive websites that will run in both experiences on Windows 8 and beyond.
This article has been updated for IE11 on Windows 8.1 and covers the following topics:
CSS Media queries and media query listeners and CSS Device Adaptation in both IE experiences enable you to selectively serve different layouts and styles based on your display characteristics such as device dimensions, screen orientation, and resolution. For more info about how to get started using media queries and media query listeners and to review some general strategies for building across a range of Windows 8 devices, see Design adaptive websites.
Session cookies are shared when users switch to Internet Explorer for the desktop from Internet Explorer in the Windows UI (from Page tools, select View on the desktop). Persistent cookies are shared only when both Internet Explorer in the Windows UI and Internet Explorer for the desktop have the same security context, or Enhanced Protected Mode (EPM) setting. Starting with IE11 on Windows 8.1, both Internet Explorer for the desktop and Internet Explorer in the Windows UI run with EPM turned on by default. Prior to that, Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 ran with EPM on by default only with Internet Explorer in the Windows UI. See the "Security" section for more details.
Starting with Windows 8.1, IE also provides consumers the option to block all third-party cookies (without affecting first party cookie behavior) for better control over their online privacy. The third-party cookie blocking setting in IE11 can be enabled from the Settings panel of Internet Explorer in the Windows UI, and works in the same way for both IE experiences. For more info, see Third-party cookie blocking in the IE11 Developer Guide.
Internet Explorer in the Windows UI and Internet Explorer for the desktop share a common home page, or multiple home page tabs if specified. You can set your home page and home page tabs from the General tab in the desktop Internet Options control panel.
Your RSS feeds are only available from Internet Explorer for the desktop, but your favorites, frequent sites, history, and typed URLs are shared between the two browsing experiences. The following table describes how this data is surfaced across the two UIs.
|Internet Explorer in the Windows UI||Internet Explorer for the desktop|
|Favorites||Used to populate suggestions above the address bar||Favorites center|
|Frequent||Quick Site Access panel||New Tab page|
|History||Used to populate suggestions above the address bar||History center|
|Typed URLs||Used to populate suggestions above the address bar||Used to populate search suggestions below address bar|
The Quick Site Access panel appears in Internet Explorer in the Windows UI when you set focus to the address bar. The Favorites and History centers of Internet Explorer for the desktop appear from the View favorites, feeds, and history star button (Alt+C).
Do Not Track is turned on for both Internet Explorer in the Windows UI and Internet Explorer for the desktop when you choose the Express settings option when setting up your Windows 8.1 PC. You can manage Do Not Track from the Advanced tab in the desktop Internet Options control panel under Security. InPrivate Browsing is also available in both browsing experiences. On Internet Explorer in the Windows UI, the New InPrivate tab option is available from the tab bar “…” menu (swipe in from the bottom or top of the screen with touch, press Windows key + Z, or right-click with the mouse).
Your IE pinned sites, favorites, history, passwords, and typed URLs are synced across all Windows 8 machines that you log into using your Microsoft account. With IE11 and Windows 8.1, your open tabs (except for InPrivate browsing tabs) and all of your browser settings are also synced. For more info about syncing features in Windows 8, see Syncing settings between PCs and Syncing across devices .
Upon initial login with your Microsoft account, your pinned sites from all previous Windows 8.1 machines will appear in the order that they were pinned. Pinned sites from the desktop taskbar don't roam, and neither do the sites you pin to the Apps view of the Windows 8.1 Start screen with Internet Explorer for the desktop (using the Tools (Alt+X) menu option, Add site to Apps).
Both IE browsing experiences are powered by the same underlying layout and script engines, and thus have the same support for performance-optimized, standards-based features.
The following IE security features have the same support on both Internet Explorer in the Windows UI and Internet Explorer for the desktop:
- Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) filter
- Domain highlighting
- enhanced memory protections
- Enhanced Protected Mode (EPM), see Note
- HTML5 Sandbox
- SmartScreen filtering
- Do Not Track and Do Not Track (DNT) exceptions
- Web Cryptography API
Security settings can be managed from the Advanced tab in Internet Options.
Both IE experiences enable fast and fluid multi-touch experiences on the web, and most sites work fine with touch without requiring any special changes. Touch detection features in IE such as the maxTouchPoints property and the Touch user agent string token enable you to take full advantage of multi-touch support when it's available. For basic guidelines on making the most effective use of touch on your site and troubleshooting touch issues, see "Get your site ready for touch-first browsing". For general strategies for building rich touch-based experiences across a range of Windows 8 devices, see "Design adaptive websites".
There is no way to programmatically detect if your site is running on Internet Explorer in the Windows UI or on Internet Explorer for the desktop, as the Internet Explorer 10 user-agent string is the same for both. Furthermore,
- With touch capable hardware, touch input is supported in both.
- Internet Explorer in the Windows UI provides Adobe Flash support. It doesn't otherwise support plug-ins or Microsoft ActiveX controls and your users might choose to disable plug-ins for Internet Explorer for the desktop using ActiveX Filtering.
- You can resize both Internet Explorer in the Windows UI , and Internet Explorer for the desktop to be any width, or to fill the entire display.
In general, to ensure the best possible cross-browser compatibility for your site, use standards-based features, detect features instead of browsers, and provide effective fallbacks for browsers that don't support the feature.
Internet Explorer in the Windows UI includes additional functionality that lets users know if an associated Windows Store app is available from the website they’re visiting and offers them the option to contextually switch to the app, or download it from the Windows Store if it hasn’t yet been installed. For more info, see "Connect your website to your Windows Store app".
As a Windows Store app, Internet Explorer in the Windows UI abides by the Application lifecycle for Windows Store apps, which means that any given time it can be in, or in between, any one of three states: Running, Suspended, or NotRunning. When Internet Explorer in the Windows UI is in the Suspended state, the end-user experiences it as running in the background. However, although the suspended process is still in memory, it doesn't receive any CPU cycles, and thus sites with running audio won't play when Internet Explorer 10 is in the suspended state.
Under conditions of low system memory, the Process Lifetime Management (PLM) system might terminate, or swap out any suspended app to disk, if the system requires additional memory resources. Although there is no notification or event provided when the PLM system terminates a Windows Store app, Internet Explorer in the Windows UI saves off the state of the browser before getting suspended. For performance tips that are also applicable to websites and web apps running in Internet Explorer in the Windows UI, see " Best practices for Windows Store apps" .
By default, hyperlinks from outside of Internet Explorer 10 will be opened contextually. This means that hyperlinks from other Windows Store apps including the system UI will open in the Internet Explorer in the Windows UI and hyperlinks from the desktop including those from desktop applications will open in Internet Explorer for the desktop. You can change these default behaviors by opening Internet Options, selecting the Programs tab, and modifying the settings under Opening Internet Explorer.
Starting with Windows 8.1, Internet Explorer in the Windows UI provides context menu options to Search and Share, in addition to Copy for selected text. When selected:
- Search launches with the selected text as a query to the user’s default search provider.
- Share displays all the Windows Store apps registered as share targets for web content.
Internet Explorer for the desktop continues to provide the same context menu options as available on Windows 7. Custom context menu options are only supported on Internet Explorer for the desktop; for more info, see Plug-ins.
F12 developer tools is only accessible while browsing a website in Internet Explorer for the desktop. If you're browsing in the Internet Explorer in the Windows UI, you can debug the website by switching to the desktop (from Page tools, select View on the desktop) and opening F12 tools from there. To emulate Internet Explorer in the Windows UI on the desktop:
- Enable ActiveX Filtering (from the Tools menu, select ActiveX Filtering)
- Enter Full Screen mode (F11)
- Ensure that Enhanced Protected Mode is enabled (listed under Security on the Advanced tab in Internet Options)
Using Internet Explorer in the Windows UI you can navigate back to previously visited pages using a swipe gesture, as well as flip forward through multi-page sequenced content like magazine articles. With IE11 on Windows 8.1, Flip ahead browsing is turned on by default. (In Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8, you can enable flip ahead for Internet Explorer in the Windows UI from Internet Explorer Settings accessed from the Windows 8 Charms bar on the side of the screen).
A subset of Internet Explorer 10 Group Policy settings apply to Internet Explorer in the Windows UI in addition to Internet Explorer for the desktop. For more info, see "Configuring and Administering Group Policy Settings", which describes new policies for Internet Explorer 10 and changes in Windows 8, plus New group policy settings for Internet Explorer 11.
The full set of options for both browsing experiences can be managed from the desktop Internet Options control panel. Additionally for Internet Explorer in the Windows UI, Internet options can be accessed from Settings on Windows 8 Charms bar on the side of the screen.
Starting with IE11 on Windows 8.1, Internet Explorer in the Windows UI automatically turns phone numbers into clickable links. Automatic phone number detection is not supported on Internet Explorer for the desktop. When IE encounters a telephone number as part of content rendered using a supported HTML element, it turns the number into a clickable link (and does so without modifying the DOM). When the user clicks the link, the default application that handles telephone calls on the system will be invoked. To learn more, see Phone number format recognition.
Users can pin sites directly to the Windows 8 Start screen, where you can use high quality visuals to display your site brand and engage users through badge notifications. With Live Tiles support in Windows 8.1, you can make your site even more visually engaging and provide periodic notifications whenever your users pin your site. You can also display your site's logo on the tile when it is saved as a favorite or listed as a frequently viewed site.
To pin a site from Internet Explorer in the Windows UI, press the Star button from the address bar (swipe in from the bottom or top of the screen with touch, press Windows key + Z, or right-click with the mouse), and then press the Pin site button in the Favorites center.
On the desktop, IE provides the same taskbar site pinning functionality with jump lists and thumbnail toolbars first introduced with Windows Internet Explorer 9.
See Pinned sites for the desktop for a full list of differences between Pinned sites in Internet Explorer in the Windows UI and Internet Explorer for the desktop. For more on the latest Pinned sites features, see Pinned sites for the Windows Start Screen.
The IE experience Windows 8 is optimized for a clean and secure user experience and only supports plug-ins in Internet Explorer for the desktop. The native Flash player in Internet Explorer in the Windows UI provides support to play Flash content for most sites. For optimal future-proofing and cross-browser compatibility, the best practices are to replace critical plug-in functionality with standards-based technologies. If your site delivers a premium experience with a plug-in, offer a fallback for users on browsers without plug-in support or use the requiresActiveX HTTP header or meta element to prompt users to switch to the desktop. For more info, see "Get ready for plug-in free browsing".
IE on Windows 8.1 provides a reading view for a more streamlined, book-like reading experience of webpages, without the distraction of unrelated or other secondary content on the page. Reading view is a view of Internet Explorer in the Windows UI that, when available for a given page, can be toggled on or off from the Switch to reading view / Leave reading view (book icon) button on the address bar (or with Ctrl + Shift + R). Reading view is not supported on Internet Explorer for the desktop. See Reading view in the IE11 Developer Guide for more info.
The default search provider is shared between Internet Explorer in the Windows UI and Internet Explorer for the desktop. You can change your default and manage your search providers by opening Internet Options, selecting the Programs tab, clicking on Manage add-ons, and selecting Search Providers.
When typing into the address bar, Internet Explorer for the desktop provides search suggestions using only your default search provider. Internet Explorer in the Windows UI provides suggestions from Microsoft and also additional features, including: weather and finance-specific suggestions, search suggestions, webpage suggestions within suggested domains, domain suggestions, and matching webpages that you’ve visited before (from your typed URLs, Favorites, Pinned sites, and History).
As a Windows app, Internet Explorer in the Windows UI can fill the entire screen, or be adjusted to narrower widths. When the user snaps Internet Explorer in the Windows UI to the left or right side of the screen, your site will be auto-scaled by default to ensure at least 1024 pixels of layout width for a good default experience with most sites. Similarly, when Internet Explorer in the Windows UI is in portrait mode, it will auto-scale content when the windows is narrower than 1024 pixels. You can override the default automatic scaling with the following CSS Device Adaptation rule:
For more info about device adaptation and adaptive layouts, see "Design adaptive websites".
When switching from the Internet Explorer in the Windows UI to Internet Explorer for the desktop (from Page tools, select View on the desktop), only the page and tab you are currently viewing opens on the desktop, and not any other pages open in other tabs.
Open tabs are synced across all your Windows 8.1 devices that are signed in to your Microsoft account. For each device, your open tabs in both Internet Explorer in the Windows UI and Internet Explorer for the desktop are aggregated into a single list of links (labeled with the originating device name) from the Tabs view of the Quick Site Access panel (for Internet Explorer in the Windows UI) and on the New tab page of Internet Explorer for the desktop.