Home > Desktop > Opera to stop spoofing User Agent as IE

Opera to stop spoofing User Agent as IE

July 29, 2005

In a step that should move Opera to a higher position on the browser usage statistics charts, Opera will change the default browser User Agent (UA) to identify itself as Opera – no more as Internet Explorer (IE).

Typically when the browser requests a webpage, it sends along with the request the browser User Agent. The User Agent contains the identification of the browser, usually the browser name and version (e.g. IE 6, Firefox, Opera 8.02, etc).

This is how many sites gather their statistics on browser usage.

For most sites Opera comes in very low on this usage list (not on Opera Watch though, more than 60% of the visitors use the Opera browser – no surprise there).

One of the reasons why these statistics show Opera with a lower browser usage than it should be is because the User Agent can be easily spoofed.

By default, Opera spoofs its User Agent and identifies itself as IE. Now granted Opera doesn’t have a large user base like IE and Firefox. Opera has between 10 and 15 million active users.

Opera identifies itself as IE, by default, because there are some sites that specifically lookout for the Opera browser, and supply it with broken HTML code for the webpage. To counter this, Opera identifies itself as IE.

Though I most say there are a lot less sites now that actively block Opera than in the past. Firefox, no doubt, helped raise more awareness for alternative browsers to those ignorant webmasters.

As a result of the spoofing, many sites undercount Opera users, making these statistics somewhat useless.

Now, however, Opera is moving in another direction with this regard. It will identify itself as Opera, by default, no longer will Opera pretend to be IE.

For those sites that still block out the Opera browser, Opera still has the ability to spoof the User Agent on a per site basis.

In Opera 8, Opera introduced a feature that allows users to report sites that don’t work properly in Opera (Firefox just copied this idea from Opera to its own browser).

Under some circumstances, Opera will spoof the User Agent for those sites to correct the problem.

Though I’m not sure why this change had to be done in a preview version.

Preview versions generally contain features that require testing, and aren’t ready to be included in a stable release.

The people who download preview and beta versions of the Opera browser most likely are aware of the default User Agent setting and change it to Opera. So what does Opera accomplish by introducing it in this preview version? They should have included this with the stable release of yesterday, version 8.02 final.

I was preparing to write about this very subject a couple of weeks ago, but it seems like Opera preempted me.

Opera looses out by not identifying as its true self.

If Opera were to identify as Opera, by default, less webmasters would target the Opera browser. We don’t see much targeting with the Firefox browser.

Opera has got to show up in a prominent place on these browser usage statistics to force webmasters to include Opera in their plans.

I hope this important change will have a positive effect on Opera. And I definitely expect to see Opera climb up in the browser statistics lists.

Kudos to Opera.

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Categories: Desktop
  1. July 29, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Firefox’s reporter was first proposed in July 2004 according to it’s author in a blog post made Dec 2004. Opera’s reporter made it’s first appearence in beta 2, which was Feb 2005. And Firefox is copying Opera?

    Also even when identifying as IE, the string ‘Opera’ (+version) is still part of the UA. It’s only since version 8 (ua.ini) that it’s even been possible to remove ‘Opera’ from the UA string.

  2. July 29, 2005 at 3:59 pm

    Doug,

    Thanks for the correction.

  3. July 29, 2005 at 5:10 pm

    One of the reasons why these statistics show Opera with a lower browser usage than it should be is because the User Agent can be easily spoofed.

    I keep hearing this from people, but I’m not convinced. As Doug pointed out, the Opera name/version is still present in the user-agent string even when Opera identifies itself as IE or Mozilla.

    A stats program has to be (a) outdated or (b) broken in order to miss that.

  4. Anonymous
    July 29, 2005 at 5:56 pm

    Or perhaps the person who wrote the browser UA logger didn’t know about Opera. If the program just asked if the code contains the substring MSIE 6.0, then browser=”Internet Explorer”. However, a better program is written by someone who is informed about browsers on the web, including Opera.

  5. Anonymous
    July 29, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    “Opera identifies itself as IE, by default, because there are some sites that specifically lookout for the Opera browser, and supply it with broken HTML code for the webpage. To counter this, Opera identifies itself as IE.”

    Actually I don’t think this is the reason. Sites that want to diss Opera could do so if they wanted even with the IE setting (thank you Doug). The motivation for the IE’ing was that most browser detection scripts looked for IE or Netscape and if none were found sent you to a page with some links to upgrade to some new frame-supporting browser, simply because the writer didn’t know or care about Opera’s existance. However since Opera generally is quite capable of showing frames, and actually most stuff you trow at it, they just decided to lie.

    This helped a lot it the days of 7, but is less and less necessary. It caused some controversy over stats but I very much agree with Kelson. But Opera just speaking the truth seems nice, more professional. And as you said, with the arrival of reporting and “browser javascript” most problematic sites get fixed by Opera Software itself, so jippie.

    “If Opera were to identify as Opera, by default, less webmasters would target the Opera browser. We don’t see much targeting with the Firefox browser.”
    Come on, were’s the logic in that? You think Opera gets targetted because it tries to conceal itself? Only Microsoft actively tries to prevent Opera from working (don’t know if they do this to firefox aswell), the rest just doesn’t expect Opera.

  6. July 29, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Come on, were’s the logic in that? You think Opera gets targetted because it tries to conceal itself?

    No, Opera would be more on the minds of the webmasters, if Opera would show up more in their stats.

  7. July 29, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    Anonymous #1: That would fall under the category of (b) broken.

    The fact that you are using Opera is not hidden from the website unless it shows up in ua.ini with a 4 or 5. Assuming my copy of this file is current, that means online.wellsfargo.com and nowhere else.

    Traffic analyzers differ from browser sniffing in that there are relatively few stats scripts compared to websites. Pick a random website, and if the developer decides a browser sniffer is necessary, he’ll probably throw one together himself or use browscap.ini. There are plenty of opportunities for people to write bad or short-sighted detection code, which is why Opera started spoofing the UA in the first place. But when the site owners want stats, they’ll probably go with a pre-built package like WebTrends, AWStats, Sitemeter, etc. That means a lot of webmasters using a few products, and a lot of opportunities to notice a bug in what it detects.

    Any stats package that makes the effort to track Opera in the first place should detect Opera even when it spoofs IE. If it does not, it is a bug in the stats package. I’m sure it happens, but I can’t imagine that the majority of high-profile traffic analyzers all have the same problem after years of opportunities to find and fix it.

    If Opera’s stats climb after they disable spoofing, it won’t be for that reason. It’ll be because of a good old fashioned increase in users.

  8. July 29, 2005 at 7:06 pm
  9. Boris Zbarsky
    July 29, 2005 at 10:11 pm

    People seem to be obsessed with this idea of copying features. For the record, as I recall discussion about a reporter feature in Firefox started after Safari shipped just such a feature. So trust me, no copying of Opera was involved. 😉

  10. July 30, 2005 at 1:31 am

    Good. We’ll see 1 percentage of minor decrease in the share of Internet Explorer, and 1 percentage of minor increase in the share of “Unknown” browser: making our statistics somewhat more useful. 😉

  11. July 31, 2005 at 3:21 am

    I agree w/ Mr. Goldman.

    I check my websites for how they appear in IE, Firefox (& Mozilla), and Safari since these browsers make up more than 99% of my hits.

    Additionally, I use redirect scripts funnel IE users to separate CSS files (since an IE CSS file will *inevitably* have to be coded with a million hacks).

    If Opera quit masquerading, I think the browser would get more attention and possibly avoid being sent to pages that would appear broken for them, since Opera CSS support is superior to IE.

  12. July 31, 2005 at 9:30 am

    Clicked to post a comment that you can id if its our favorite browser even if Opera disguises itself as IE (so it’s not Opera’s fault but a lousy code in those stats) but I see you people already pointed that out. Great blog btw.

  13. Anonymous
    July 31, 2005 at 5:09 pm

    I agree that the Opera’s spoof is not very successful under most of the serious status counting technologies, such as the one from onestat.com, but i think to identify as opera by default will sure to improve the authority and importance of Opera in browser market

  14. July 31, 2005 at 5:25 pm

    First of all, I am a Firefox user since it was named Phoenix.

    This is a great step for the Opera community, which will also help the whole internet community. This won’t only raise numbers for Opera, but also lower Internet Explorer one to a more realistic measure.

    This is not about names, but about coding styles and standards. Good luck!

  15. Anonymous
    August 1, 2005 at 3:40 am

    It seems that some people don´t get it. Opera is Identified as IE (with the word “Opera” in the string) by default in order to bypass browser sniffers from sites that BLOCK Opera (Banks,…) or send BROKEN CODE to Opera (JS menus in most cases) if Opera is Identified as itself. That is the problem here, this is not really about “Stats”; the point is that since Opera has introduced browser.js in Opera 8.01, the developers can use scripts in order to fix this type of sniffers and menus and that´s the reason why they are testing this option now (obviously, they cannot add every single site that targets Opera to ua.ini so browser.js is a big step forward).

    Anyway, the decision has not been made yet. This is just a preview…

  16. August 1, 2005 at 6:18 am

    You can also parse your webserver stats with some stats program, like webalizer.

    And, because the default configuration is optimized for speed and is brain-damaged, you could use this configuration file for webalizer, which has an updated GroupAgent list for webalizer.

  17. August 1, 2005 at 10:42 am

    The majority of web analytics packages do report Opera usage correctly – they look specifically for “Opera” at the end of the UA string.

    Unfortunately, even though Opera is an amazing browser (my first choice), they are always going to have a hard time competing with the free options. Voice technology (as that requires major investment) might be the thing that tips the balance.

  18. Anonymous
    August 1, 2005 at 10:45 am

    “For most sites Opera comes in very low on this usage list (not on Opera Watch though, more than 60% of the visitors use the Opera browser – no surprise there).”

    Check it out:
    http://www.sitemeter.com/default.asp?action=stats&site=s10operawatch&report=13

    Not quite 60%
    🙂
    http://www.getfirefox.com

  19. August 1, 2005 at 10:49 am

    Not quite 60%
    🙂

    The browser share page only shows the stats of the last 100 visitors.

    Since this site has been slashdotted, I have revceived many Firefox visitors. However, when all dust settles, you’ll see a predominant Opera visitor base.

  20. Anonymous
    August 1, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    Opera usage is slightly worse because the many magazine reviews I’ve read about Opera, miss some of its most important features. The journalist gets excited on some of features and leaves out proper zooming and all the rest that are important to pull new people in.

  21. ondro
    August 2, 2005 at 4:59 am

    So why not to write an excellent article about opera’s cool features at shlashdot, osnews, or anywhere else? Just an idea…

  22. Donna
    September 22, 2005 at 9:30 am

    I am trying really hard to understand all of this.

    I just bought my first Mac, because my PC died of post-spyware related complications. I love it so far. I am not much of a computer person, but it has been really easy, even setting up my wireless internet myself.

    Now to the browser problem – I always thought the internet was just the internet and it didn’t matter what browser you used. Apparently my office email, which I need to be able to access on my days at home, requires me to have IE6. Then I find that the Mac IE is NOT the same as IE6. Then I found something that said Opera could identify itself as IE 6.

    Could anyone kindly walk me through how I, with a Mac, could get around this IE6 thing, and whether it jeopardizes the security of my computer at all.

    I am trying so hard to learn! But I need to be able to start doing more actual work soon on my computer.

    Thanks

  23. December 7, 2005 at 3:32 am

    Thanks for the correction.

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