Spellchecking belongs in the browser, not on the website

With all of the different sites, forums, blogs, etc… that use textareas for writing on the web, it’s unrealistic to expect them all to have a good spellchecker. Even sites that do have spellcheckers have very different levels of quality. I finally had the common sense to install a browser based spellchecker more recently and what a difference!

Spellchecking doesn’t belong on websites because it requires significant personalization to work well depending on the authors areas of interest or expertise. For example, I want to tell my spellchecker to ignore springmvc, webwork, mysql, postgres, etc… Given most people don’t run browser based spellcheckers at the moment it’s still a good idea to have one built into your site but I hope that need goes away soon. The most popular browser options at the moment are using the built-in feature in Safari, the Google toolbar, Spellbound for Firefox (doesn’t support 1.5), or IESpell for IE.

The bottom line is that if you want good reliable spellchecking you need to have it in your own browser. My hope is that browsers begin shipping with built-in spellcheckers turned on by default that spellcheck as you write (Safari already has it and it looks like Firefox will be getting built-in spell as you type in the 1.8 branch). Then we can finally forget about having to integrate spellchecker X, Y, or Z into our sites and get on with it!

Related reading: Spellcheck as you type built into Safari, Mitchelaneous on SpellBound, Spellcheck as you type comes to Firefox, Harry Chen on upgrading WordPress, The best spellchecker for WordPress, In love with Spellbound

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7 Responses to Spellchecking belongs in the browser, not on the website

  1. Lorelle says:

    Excellent point. And it’s not just specialized words (like my name). It’s also languages. Which version of English will you tolerate for spelling? Browser-integrated spell checkers are definitely a better option.

  2. Konqueror has had integraded spell checking for a while now (KDE 3.1 I think) and I have found living without it almost impossible. Of course, I say this typing on my wife’s XP laptop… in firefox.

  3. Todd,

    Would you still have the preference for the physical location of the spellchecker were functional requirements related to PERSONALIZATION, PERFORMANCE, and AVAILABILITY satisfied by a remotely-maintained spellchecker?

    I ask because I have some interest in what some folks (like Ismael Ghalimi at IT Redux) are saying about “Office 2.0” and remotely hosted applications.

    One link where I discuss this (which inlcudes links back to Ghalimi’s site) is here:


    I should say that, despite my above post, I am increasingly impressed with the functionality of remotely hosted applications and their ability to incorporate varying degrees of personalization. Granted, I have been disappointed by the performance of the Yahoo! Mail Beta but I think such performance issues are temporary.

    – Dennis

  4. Todd Huss says:

    Dennis, great question and thanks for the link, very interesting read! The issue I have with the office 2.0 approach is that you’re using a large number of separate applications that currently don’t share data at all, such as a contact list, spellchecker exclude words, files, etc… In the long long term this can be rectified for sites that offer office 2.0 features by allowing you to select a 3rd party contacts provider, spell checking provider, file provider, etc… that knows about your preferences and credentials to access that service. However, even when that happens, I think it’s unlikely that ALL websites where I would want to enter text would know how to use my spellchecking provider, so for that reason I would still argue for a spellchecker in the browser! I think office 2.0 has a long way to go before it’s usable for the masses because at the moment you end up having to shuffle a whole lot of data manually between applications.

  5. Todd,

    In light of this discussion, I thought this might interest you, a ZDNet column by Washington area colleague Don Hinchcliffe titled “The future is hosted, online e-mail.” It’s located here:


    I’m not sure I agree with everthing Dion says, and I still can hear the company executive saying, “You want me to store my company confidential emails where?” But the arguments for remote access from anywhere are pretty strong, especially for mobile professionals.

    – Dennis

  6. Todd Huss says:

    Dennis, I agree that the argument for remote access is compelling but I think there’s a misconception that remote access and web based access are synonymous. For example there are some applications I still prefer to have on the desktop because they feel more like real applications and I can then use them remotely and disconnected such as when I’m on a plane. For me they include my email, RSS reader, word processor, spreadsheet, and IDE. I manage these across multiple computers by using synchronization such as IMAP, BlogBridge, Firefox bookmark synchronizer, and Subversion (to manage my documents and source control). I think this will become less of an issue as we can easily connect over the net in more and more places. I think 5 years from now I may have a different take but we’re not there yet!

  7. Peter Blue says:

    Many browsers on Linux have built-in spell checkers like Konqueror – very useful when you are in a hurry. Perhaps IE7 will have this feature.

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