Some Caveats With Using Frames
Posted on 26 Jul 1999
by Adrian Roselli (aardvark)
Rated 4.32 (Ratings: 18)
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BookmarksIn current browsers, if a user bookmarks a page, the browser actually only bookmarks the parent frameset. When that user later calls up that bookmark, he/she will get the home page or equivalent. Until browsers can actually bookmark frame-state (bookmarks the page exactly as you see it, by bookmarking all the pages in all the frames), one of the most reliable methods of making a user come back to your site now works against your site. If that user had spent hours wandering through your site trying to find a specific page, that user will become very upset very quickly when he/she realizes that he/she has to retrace his/her path through the site when that user calls up the bookmark.It should be noted that some browsers, like Navigator 3.0 on the Macintosh will bookmark the selected frame. What this means is that users can accidentally bookmark a navigation frame, since that might be where they last clicked, or they may bookmark a blank frame, or any other frame in your layout. If they bookmark a content frame, then you run in to the problems I cite below about users who come to a specific page from a search engine, as well as the interface design issues.
LinksLinking to other sites within a frameset can pose some legal problems, even if you accidentally left out the target="_new" in the <href> tag. If your site is branding another site as its own, simply by placing it within one of your frames, that site may order you to stop. Precedents include brand dilution and lost revenue among their arguments. Some related articles:
- Washington Post Co. v. Total News Inc. at the John Marshall Law School site. [Note: This link added March 26, 2001. This link previously pointed to the Law Journal Extra! site, but they now charge for this content.]
- General frames issues at the Law Journal Extra! site. [Note: The Law Journal Extra! site has merged with some other sites and become the Law News Network. All this means is that they charge to read the cited article. The link cannot be updated, and is effectively dead.]
- Hyperlinks, Frames and Meta-Tags: An Intellectual Property Analysis from IDEA: The Journal of Law and Technology 1998.
- Unlawful Linking and Framing by Tanya E. Rose from her "Topics In Law of Cyberspace" course at the University of Kansas School of Law. See a great page of related links at her site. [Note: Links updated March 26, 2001. These links appear to be a mirror of her original site.]
- The Link Controversy Page for our foreign readers.
SecuritySome of you may remember problems with frame-spoofing (a web site inserting content into a frame that appears to be from another site), before the major browser vendors released patches. If you aren't absolutely sure your users have these patches, then you may be opening them and your site up to this issue. In brief, if I link to an e-commerce site from my page, say Amazon.com from some book links, it would be possible for me to insert my own content into a frameset that is branded as Amazon's, allowing me to post pages that request your credit card information and post directly back to my server instead of Amazon's.Independent of this, if you plan to use secure keys (you had darn well better) for your e-commerce applications, then you should know that neither Navigator nor Internet Explorer will display a secure icon in their browser if one of the frames is not secure, nor should they. This means that you now have to reload a new document for each frame with an https (a secured version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol that utilizes encrypted keys) connection.
Frame NamingIn addition to the problems that can occur when linking within a site, keeping track of frame names and targets can be problematic should you ever change anything on your site. The more frames you have, the more complex the site becomes. If your site is designed to update all frames with every page, then you are now looking at an exponentially larger number of pages that need to be tracked then on a non-framed site, all with links that must be verified.How many of you name your main frame '
main'? I have actually stumbled across sites that incorrectly load another site into a frame named '
main', while the new site also tries to load content into a frame called '
main.' Not a real issue, but a curious one at the very least.
Search EnginesMany search engine spiders can only index the parent frameset. As a result, your page may get poor ranking in search engines. If your
AccessibilityThere are still browsers out there that do not use frames, browsers that are brand new and make a conscious decision to not offer that traditional support. Some of these are browsers for the blind, or other handicapped users. If your audience possibly includes any of these users, be prepared for them to have serious trouble traversing the site. As an example of how problematic this may be, if you are a user of Microsoft FrontPage 3.0, then you can see that the
<noframes>tag by default has the text, "This page uses frames, but your browser doesn't support them." This is not exactly polite, or user-friendly. It doesn't even offer a link to a main frame page, nor does it automatically include the contents of that main frame within the
<noframes>tag.The U.S. government has signed a law requiring all government web sites (as well as vendors of the government) to be completely accessible to all users by Aug. 7, 2000, including the blind. While this may seem unrelated, frames are now a prime target for such regulation. Currently, only U.S. government sites are affected, but there is reason to believe that the law may also apply to not-for-profits who receive government funding. Since there have been no cases involving this law, there is no precedent as of yet, but I am also not qualified to give legal advice so you should check on your own:
- Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act, enacted on August 7, 1998.
- Freedom Forum Online article.
- ZDNet covers the story.