Discourse not working on an old phone with an unsupported browser

For the longest time I have been putting up with “Unfortunately, your browser is too old to work on this Discourse forum. Please upgrade your browser.” when clicking on Google search results that link to Discourse forums. I sigh when I imagine how useful the result might have been, and moreso when I realise you guys are smart enough to figure out what capabilities my browser has, but not smart enough to give me the information I wanted in a way that matches those capabilities.

I can’t upgrade the browser on my phone, so I just signed up to discuss this (on my laptop).

I therefore take issue with this post:

How about “Discourse has been built for now.”?

I don’t disagree that Discourse is ‘nicer’ than some other BBS programs, but let’s be clear what it’s all about. It’s about information. You have heavily promoted Discourse as being a superior solution to earlier BBS programs and forum software, and now many sites are using your software to allow discussion, however, once the data (forum posts) are in your system, how easy is it to get it out? On my phone your software simply refuses to work. Or rather, it worked perfectly until one day it didn’t.

The future of the internet is the same as the past. Collecting and disseminating information. Collecting it and holding it hostage is anathema to the very reason of having all of these machines connected together so that information is just a click away.

I wasn’t aware of the “basic HTML” view. Maybe it’s new. Maybe it’s been around for a while, but never promoted. Instead of “Unfortunately, your browser is too old to work on this Discourse forum. Please upgrade your browser.” I’d love to see a basic HTML rendition of the information I wanted. I don’t care if I can’t contribute, or if I don’t get flashy, crowd-pleasing eye-candy, I can get that on my laptop, or tablet, or another phone. All I want is what I was promised (from a link or from a Google search).

Thank you.

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Well good news! You can get it today by either disabling JavaScript or by setting a GoogleBot user agent.

In the next few months we will work to push it to older browsers too.

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Thanks @ame. The first detail we need here is your phone. Which phone is it, what is the OS and version, what is your browser (and version)? Given all that, we may be able to help. We can’t fix issues we don’t know about.

As to the basic HTML view, it doesn’t exist yet. Or, more technically, we don’t yet present it to outdated browsers yet. As noted in the time line above, we plan to have that support ready no later than June. You can also force it to appear using Falco’s suggestions.

Lastly, I want to be upfront here. We do our best, and strive to support as many browsers as we can. With that in mind, supporting every version of every browser that ever existed is not feasible. >95% of the hundreds of millions of pageviews we see on our hosting come from supported browsers. We’ve chosen to focus on giving the vast majority the best possible experience, and that means that over time older devices and browsers will become incompatible. That’s just how software development works.

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Sorry, I can’t do that in the browser on my phone.

Thanks for your reply.

I can’t see how knowing what phone I have, what OS and version, and what browser is going to help. It might help me, but it won’t help anyone else that has the same problem but an ever-so-slightly different setup. My phone renders HTML perfectly. If you could just send that that would be great.

I also know exactly how software development works. You choose what software you write, and how you write it. Discourse from two years ago worked on my phone. Discourse from today doesn’t.

I can still use phpBB websites on my phone, with full functionality. Mailing lists and their web-enabled views (through gmane, etc.) still work. Even Google has a simple HTML implementation for email, which is essentially not dissimilar to a forum. Is Discourse about discourse, or is it about the shiny?

Actually, email is the pinnacle of communication, which is why it is despised by so many organisations- imagine Facebook as a mailing list, same content, but no monetisation, and no way to ensnare the individual. I can send email from any client (or no client), and my recipient can view it on any client. Discourse- not so much. Only from the Discourse web page, with Javascript turned on, and with whatever “current, evolving web standards” are fashionable at the moment.

I don’t mean to have a downer on Discourse, but since there are many sites using it then whenever I do a web search and get a hit on something that was discussed I can’t see it. Only if it’s Discourse. Not phpBB or any other forum software. And I don’t care how bad phpBB is (maybe it isn’t, or maybe it’s truly awful)- I can get information. That’s what it’s all about.

If you had a basic, but functional, HTML-only interface like Gmail, I’d use it right now in my browser with Javascript turned off. And on my phone. As it is, I’ll just keep reading information on other sites that I can see with my phone, along with the IE11 users who are soon to join me.

I’d also like to make it clear that I am not a complete luddite. I did install another browser on my phone just to get Discourse, but unfortunately another recent change stopped that working too.

And sincerely thank you for continuing the discussion. As I said, I do know how software development works. It’s hard, and no-one thanks you for what you provide, they only ask for something different. Plus ça change.

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It helps us have an example of where Discourse isn’t working. Perhaps it’s a simple regression that we can fix? Perhaps our browser detection isn’t working as expected? Without that information, we can’t help you, or anyone else here.

We do provide an HTML-only view. It’s what we serve with JS disabled. It’s this view we plan to improve, and show automatically to users with older browsers by June. Here’s this very topic on my browser with JS disabled.

I’m not sure what your point is here. I’d expect Discourse to change. Discourse is under active development. We’re always fixing bugs, improving performance, adding features, etc. 2 years ago we’d just released version 1.9, and started developing 2.0. 2 years ago we used Ruby 2.4.2, today we use Ruby 2.6.4. 2 years ago we used JS ES2017, today we use JS ES2019. And so on. Using the latest versions of the key components in our tech stack allow us to take full advantage of the features, improvements, and fixes that the developers of each component makes. Like Discourse, not all releases are fully backwards compatible, so as we move to newer releases we lose support for very old devices.

That’s great! And it has nothing to do with Discourse. I could list numerous applications that worked on my phone in 2017 and would still work today on that phone. And I can just as well list numerous applications that I use today that would not work on my 2017 phone.


I appreciate what you’re looking for here. I do. But you’re not letting us help you. We do have a no-JS view. But you say both

and

Further, without telling us which OS and browser you’re using, we can’t see if this is something we can fix! You need to give us something to work with.

I’m going to move this discussion to its own topic, as this doesn’t have anything to do with our IE11 deprecation plan - IE11 isn’t running on your phone. We do want to help you, but all we’ve got so far is a complaint that Discourse used to work, and doesn’t anymore, on an unknown phone running an unknown OS in an unknown browser. Given that you know how software development works, you know we can’t do anything with that report!

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Ok. I’m running Android 4.4.4 on a Xiaomi RedMi phone, with Lightning 5.1.0 and Mi Browser 9.4.10.

Lightning gives me the “Unfortunately your browser is too old to work on this site…” message.
Mi Browser gives me a blank screen with a small black outline rectangle at the top left.

Since you do have a No-JS view, and you can detect that my browser is too old, why not present me with the No-JS view without me having to do anything?

Doesn’t it bother anyone else that this happens? It’s like walking into a library and discovering that the books have been replaced with things that need special glasses to read, and that last year’s special glasses no longer work. And the worst thing is that you know the information is still there. Rather than enabling me to see the things I used to be able to see, the software is actively preventing it.


If I were in your position I’m sure I’d be annoyed too. But this is one of the reasons I use an iPhone instead of an Android phone. With iPhone, you get updates for years after buying your phone, while Android is very hit or miss and company-dependent. This means that I can continue benefiting from improved web features used by Discourse while, unfortunately, you lose support.

It’s not that the software is actively preventing it. It’s that they are nicely informing you that your browser isn’t supported instead of failing silently. As soon as they started using features not supported by your browser, their only options were to let you know or let it fail silently while things don’t work properly. At least until they bring the no-JS version to old browsers that is.

Ending support for a small percentage of users enables them to use new features that benefit the vast majority of users. I know saying that doesn’t help your situation at all, but that’s just the way it is.

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I’ll be honest, your usage is definitely an outlier. We do not have many users with 5+ year old phone OS’s using third-party browsers.

Some notes:

  1. I did some quick testing of Discourse on Chrome Android 4.4 using BrowserStack. It worked without issue. This leads me to believe that the issue is with your non-major browsers.
  2. We have never, and have no plans to, officially support non-major browsers. We support and test against the latest versions of Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, and Apple’s latest browsers. Anything else is considered unsupported. Unless the issue can be reproduced in an officially supported browser, we do not consider it a bug.

As to why we don’t currently show the no-JS view to old browsers? First, we want to encourage users to upgrade browsers. Browsing Discourse without JS isn’t a good experience. All the features users expect in Discourse, like read tracking, replying, liking, etc. are not there. All you can do is read public topics. Most users are able to upgrade or install a new browser, so better to encourage that. Second, the view is not ready for prime time. There are bugs, layout issues, unclear next steps and more. Given that the vast majority of our user base run modern browsers (>95%), investing engineering time on this view didn’t make sense.

In short, give Chrome a try, it should work, and no-JS support for older browsers is coming, you’ll just need to wait a few months.

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You should honestly just move to a new browser.

Here’s a list of reputable browsers (that are available for Android).

  1. Google Chrome
  2. Mozilla Firefox
  3. Microsoft Edge
  4. Vivaldi
  5. Opera
  6. Brave

Use one of the six browsers mentioned above and you shouldn’t experience any problems.


You could also just buy an iPhone, but if you don’t have the money to buy a new one or you don’t want to go the refurbished route, moving to a new browser is your best bet.

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I prefer that Discourse devote resources to other tasks than maintaining compatibility with old and atypical browsers. But I do appreciate their efforts to maintain a working interface that will assist a tiny proportion of users. Even so, it is a type of moral hazard because it supports the continuing use of less-secure, increasingly-obsolete systems.

It bothers me more that even if an upgrade to Android 5.x were available some Android 4.4.x users would not make the upgrade. Some would continue to insist on support so Discourse will always face demands to retain obsolete code to support a small minority.

It does bother me more that the Android ecosystem forces unnecessary obsolescence. But I don’t expect Discourse to fight that battle:

  • Android doesn’t receive upgrades to new versions on old devices so we are forced to replace our handsets to retain Android support. Consequently Android 4.4 usage is dying out … but these are 5-6 year old handsets:
    7% in May 2019
    3% in August 2019
    not even measured now in 2020 e.g. statcounter.com

  • Android 4.4 will soon be out of support from Google. Consequently many apps I use have already dropped support - my banking app has required Android 5.0 since 2018.

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Probably the topic should be renamed as it’s not specifically down to old phones. Basically, it’s a lack of backwards compatibility which means that as Discourse development moves forward more people are being cut off from reading content held in Discourse and from contributing.

I realise that you are categorising this issue as “won’t fix”, which is fine, but be aware that the most important thing is the content. Your shiny presentation is nice, but if it gets in the way of me seeing content (and it does) then it’s essentially useless. And “buy an iPhone” is not really a viable solution for me.

But, fret not! I have found a workaround. I can view the content in Google’s cache! Most of the time I am searching for something and reading results. If one of the results is in a Discourse silo then I can’t read it directly (on my phone), but I can read a cached version. That’s all I need. If it’s interesting enough to follow then I’ll use my laptop. If it’s really interesting I’ll create an account and contribute (on my laptop, not on my phone). Obviously this is a non-issue for any other forum software, but I’m happy that I have an interim solution.

I am looking forward to the non-JS view. Especially as I browse with noscript all the time on my laptop. I hope you get it going soon.

Thanks.

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This statement is false. You’re using a version of Android which is seven years old, development of Discourse only began in 2013. You’re also using a very nonstandard browser. Let’s look at global mobile browsers for Jan 2020:

  • Chrome: 64.1%
  • Safari: 17.21%
  • Firefox: 4.7%
  • Samsung Internet: 3.33%
  • UC Browser: 2.61%
  • Opera: 2.26%
  • Edge Legacy: 2.17%
  • IE: 1.68%
  • Android: 0.54%
  • Other: 1.41%

Lightning and Mi Browser falls somewhere in that bottom 1.41%. On that basis I would expect zero compatibility effort - if something works then great. When it stops working, and it is a matter of when and not if, then it’s time to get a better browser.

I don’t think this is fair, based on the list of supported browsers nothing is broken. You’ve no more right to ask for a fix here than anyone can insist you use a different browser. If you don’t want to use a better browser, then nothing’s going to change.

Extended support for Android 4.4 ended in October of 2017. That date has also long passed.

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I don’t think I have made any false statements. One day I was able to use Discourse forums on my phone. The next, I was not.

How many people have seen the message “Unfortunately, your browser is too old to work on this Discourse forum. Please upgrade your browser.” and been unable to do anything about it? Luckily I know how this stuff works, and I took the time to register here and mention it. There’s probably a bunch of other people who are now shut out from reading or contributing to Discourse-based websites. I surely can’t be the only one who gets that error message.

Like I said, I have a workaround, so it doesn’t matter.

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I hear you, but this also comes across as “doctor, it hurts when I jump off a cliff”. You have a trivial fix: use the standard browser for your platform.

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