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Best Practices for Flash Player Detection

Best Practices for Flash Player Detection

The problem has riddled developers since the birth of Macromedia Flash: What happens when a site visitor doesn’t have the version of Macromedia Flash Player needed for my content, or doesn’t have one at all? Many answers have appeared over the years. And so far, the work has not been the result of developers trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it’s been the result of developers trying to invent a wheel that actually works.

Can Flash detection be truly effective? Can it be seamless for site visitors and simple for you to implement? Can it make the player upgrade process friendlier?

In this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of several approaches to Flash detection (and include a Flash Detection Experience Matrix). I also describe the new Flash 8 detection script, which, along with Flash Player Express Install, just might be the answer we’ve all been waiting for.


To complete this tutorial you will need to install the following software and files:

Flash Basic 8

or Flash Professional 8

Flash Player 9

Flash Player Detection Kit

Note: The Flash Player Detection Kit has been updated to address changes that Microsoft has made in the Internet Explorer browser regarding the use of embedded (“active”) content on websites, such as Macromedia Flash Player.

Sample files:

These files can be used as reference material for each type of Flash detection discussed in this article.

Prerequisite Knowledge

Basic knowledge of HTML (or XHTML) and JavaScript is assumed.

A Brief History of Why We Need Flash Detection

With new versions of Macromedia Flash Player appearing on the web roughly every 18 months for the last several years, the task of ensuring your site visitors’ player versions are compatible with your content can be downright frustrating. On the flip side, nothing is a bigger turn-off than landing on a web page that points a finger at you and says, “Macromedia Flash Player is required to view the content on this page,” leaving you without a way to continue your experience without upgrading your player. After all, it’s the developer’s job to make sure you can do what you want to do on his or her site. It’s the developer’s job to determine which version of Macromedia Flash Player is installed in your browser and to react accordingly.

User experience, as we all (should) know (by now), is vital to the success of a website or web application. Bad experiences are the equivalent of walking into a clothing store, asking a salesperson to see that fancy shirt hanging on the wall, and being told, flatly, “No.” And telling me my system is somehow incompatible with your allegedly amazing website is like following up this experience by telling me to leave the store. Take a good look at the Flash detection experience implemented on your own website and try to see it the way your grandmother might see it. Does she have the plug-in she needs? If not, what does she see, if anything at all? What happens if she chooses not to upgrade? If she does upgrade, will she be able to quickly return to your page?

If you use Flash on your website, your only real option is to make sure you have an answer for all of the preceding questions, and implement a detection method that handles each situation.

So far, that’s been much easier said than done.