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On many websites when you access them via a mobile phone you find a link in footer that links you to the desktop version of the site, sometimes vice-versa (UX.SE does both). However, if your site is well made I see no reason why this link is necessary. In fact the whole reason for a mobile site is to optimize the desktop version to work on a smaller screen so you would essentially be linking to a worse user experience.

Why did this trend come about, and more importantly should you still do it?

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    E.g., on the Stack Exchange network: do you see any easy way to access favorite tags from the mobile site? On the desktop site, they're in the sidebar. The desktop site makes it much easier to get to your favorite tags. – Joshua Taylor Jun 6 '16 at 14:05
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    I hate sites that do that, the site is never the same and always missing functionality. Or has things in some obscure location that you cant find because your used to the desktop version. Dont fool yourself into thinking yours will be any differant. – marsh Jun 6 '16 at 18:45
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    Mobile sites with wide tables that don't fit on screen is the main reason I want that link even on good websites. – Filip Haglund Jun 6 '16 at 20:11
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    "However, if your site is well made I see no reason why this link is necessaryn to use the site in desktop mode, ..." this is a valid point but if you remove the option then it is you telling your users the site is well made enough, not vice versa. Why not let your users decide for themselves? – chucksmash Jun 6 '16 at 22:01
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    Most mobile sites don't allow zooming (since the layout is perfect for the screen size), and many have fonts that are too small on my iPhone for me to read. I'll switch to the desktop site just to be able to zoom. – Randy Orrison Jun 8 '16 at 22:27

17 Answers 17

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It is necessary if you have different versions of the website for Desktop and Mobile.

For example, a lot of websites scrap out features that might get too complicated to be operated on Mobile. For example, Facebook's Mobile version does not feature all of its settings.

It is also possible that a large tablet which can process a webpage faster like a Desktop gets recognized as a Mobile.

In the above cases, it is necessary to switch to the desktop version for simply accessing the scrapped out features from the mobile website OR to experience the Web version on a device that can process the entire page as quickly as the desktop.

Instead of making two versions, it is much better to design a website that's Responsive without compromising features and experiences for multiple screen sizes, in which case there is no separate Desktop and Mobile site and no need to switch between them.

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    Good answer, but I disagree with your last point. In many cases mobile users and desktop users work in widely different workflows. Responsive sites, which simply provide the same features for mobile and desktop can never be as adapted as separated, dedicated pages. Mobile and Desktop users are different target audiences and have different requirements for features. – Falco Jun 7 '16 at 10:41
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    @Falco: Making the site responsive doesn't necessarily mean imposing the same workflow on mobile and desktop. Perhaps your display size breakpoints show/hide elements such that the workflow changes so it suits the available real estate better. – T.J. Crowder Jun 8 '16 at 6:20
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    @Falco Can you cite evidence or case studies for that claim? That might have been true 6 years ago but in my experience today, the only difference between me as a mobile user and me as a desktop user is that when I'm a 'mobile user', I'm on my mobile. Just use progressive disclosure to keep the default views clean and simple. I hate it when designers make wild assumptions that force me to wait until I get home to do important tasks (or, worst of all, that force me to get up off the couch and turn the computer on! Or more seriously, that exclude users who only have access to a tablet or phone). – user568458 Jun 8 '16 at 10:14
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    @Falco: "are different target audiences and have different requirements for features" I would say not that much anymore, for most sites – peterchen Jun 8 '16 at 10:16
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    A really, really common use case I've seen against assuming mobile and desktop users are a different species: person attends business conference, brings only their tablet or large smartphone, gets in an interesting discussion with a new contact, wants to show them some output from an enterprise web tool, and is then shocked to not be allowed to because the designers assumed "mobile users" wouldn't want that feature. The designer's decision means they fail to make their case, and feel humiliated in front of a potential client. – user568458 Jun 8 '16 at 10:23
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Personally, I think such an option is essential.

For two reasons:

  • Users might be accustomed to the desktop interface. For example, a user that is used to access the website through a desktop can have a really hard time finding the controls he is accustomed to in the mobile version. This is bad if the user wants to use the mobile version just once (e.g. checking something while away-from-computer).
  • There will always be difference in functionality between the mobile and the desktop version. Even if it's just a single line or a button that you don't find useful in the mobile version - there will always be a user that needs it.
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    Your first reason is why I almosty always switch to desktop versions on sites which I usually read on my desktop, and which I occasionally read on a tiny screen device. I suspect this holds for many users. – Hennes Jun 6 '16 at 17:02
  • Third reason: Links. If you have separate desktop and mobile sites, then anyone linking to your site will link to one of those, and then either a desktop user will land on your mobile site, or a mobile user will land on your desktop site. – celtschk Jun 10 '16 at 7:54
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    @celtschk If the website is responsive, the link should be the same and only the screen size should determine the version to be shown. Websites with different pages for mobile (such as m.wikipedia.org) usually redirect users according to their device (a notable exception is m.wikipedia.org which doesn't redirect desktop users automatically for whatever reason - in this case, I definitely agree there should be a link for the non-mobile version). – Imascha Jun 10 '16 at 16:00
  • @Imascha: While Wikipedia is indeed the most frequent offender, I've also had other mobile versions not redirecting to desktop (sorry, I don't remember any concrete one now). Indeed, that's how I usually learn that there is a mobile version to begin with. – celtschk Jun 10 '16 at 16:52
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Primary Reasons for Desktop site's necessity can be summarized in 3 bullet points:

  • Compatibility Issues
  • Providing Limited Working Features (while still working on full feature roll out)
  • Redirecting for alternative Rich Experience

The trend came about with the advent and early popularity stage of mobile sites ~10-12 years ago, because most mobile sites started out with a sub-set of the main site's features. eg my banking app would show me my balance and let me transfer between accounts, but wouldn't let me transfer money to other people or manage direct debit/standing order type activity. Banks and other enterprise grade software usually have to carry the tech debt for years because the legacy system beneath, which would have huge cost of replacement. And such systems were never created for Mobiles. A link to the desktop site was the only way to complete some functionality.

There was also an element of the fact some of the technology was new and relatively experimental - sometimes, that means it goes wrong, particularly in the relatively fast moving world of mobile, and with the number of different devices, operating systems etc. Sometimes it's better to give your user access to the clunkier-but-working desktop version, rather than make them fight it out with a buggy menu system.

Nowadays it's much less important as we're a lot better at being consistent in mobile interfaces, they tend to be just as feature rich as the desktop equivalent, and the technologies are much more mature. However, there's still the fact that if the user is used to the desktop interface and just wants to "get something done" they may prefer to switch to the desktop interface, rather than re-learn the mobile site just to do one task. On StackOverflow, for example, I've pretty much learned my way around, but the iOS app is pretty new to me.

At the end of the day, you're only giving your users the option of using the desktop site, it does very little harm having an unobtrusive link somewhere down in the footer to allow the few who want it, to have it.

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    "because most mobile sites started out with a sub-set of the main site's features" - in fact, many still have a subset. Using the banking example - I was in Montreal this past weekend and needed to notify my bank of my travel plans. The mobile version of the site didn't offer this functionality and insult to injury, there was no "Desktop Mode" option offered either. – chucksmash Jun 6 '16 at 21:59
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    StackExchange being another example. – Cai Jun 7 '16 at 1:18
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    "we're a lot better at being consistent in mobile interfaces" -- I don't see this as true at all. – Luke Jun 7 '16 at 2:25
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    +1 for @Luke's comment. I've lost count of how many "optimized for mobile" web sites I've used in the last few months alone where the designer has inexplicably decided to disable horizontal scrolling and then dump an image in that's too wide for my browser's display (or which gets scaled down to a size that's unrecognizable). Sometimes you need to view the full site to get proper access, and often it's not just because site features have been deliberately disabled. – Jules Jun 7 '16 at 8:51
  • @luke better is a relative term, I didn't say we were consistently good yet... But it's sure as hell better than 2007 – Jon Story Jun 7 '16 at 10:17
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I turn my phone sideways and it has higher resolution than my desktop. When you optimize for 320x480, and a tiny device comes along with over 2500x1400, there are going to be issues. The mobile version of most sites almost invariably is the worst UX. (--Worst UX for me, personally. I mean, obviously there are people who like the mobile versions, which is why it they persist, but there are many who don't.--)

You can't plan for everything, just for a lot of things. But you have to plan for the unplannable. Everyone makes mistakes. And a lot of mobile-friendly plans get trashed by the mobile devices. Let people make their own choice about whether they want your cutesy bubbly Duplo-block style mobile design, or the normal hard-edged, full-fledged, zoomable, dependable, familiar site, that works alright if they just turn their phone sideways.

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    You're probably right. I was trying to emphasize why blocking mobile users from the full site is a bad idea. – RoboticRenaissance Jun 6 '16 at 13:37
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    One reason for keeping such links is that the [well researched] consensus might not fit my particular preferences. More people might prefer one way, but if I prefer the other (and both exist, so there's no/little cost in switching), then ley me choose which way. – TripeHound Jun 6 '16 at 13:45
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    Your phone should not have 2500x1400 CSS pixels. – Random832 Jun 6 '16 at 15:09
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    That's what the hardware specs state. Samsung Galaxy S6 Active: 2560x1440 on a 5.1-inch screen. Whilst designing CSS solely by pixel count (eg: div{300px}), the only way I can get my web browser to look the same as my phone browser is by setting the Responsive Design View to that number of pixels. It's really blown up and everything, but it's the same ratio. My problem, and how I found this question in the first place, is that the text is too tiny to read, even when I have it at 20pt. – RoboticRenaissance Jun 6 '16 at 15:33
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    @RoboticRenaissance You might want to read this and this. Mobile browsers will scale pixels. For example, my phone has 1440x2560 physical pixels but Firefox for Android only reports 360x640 in CSS px. Yea, it's still slightly physically smaller than the same CSS px you'd see on a 1920x1080 24" desktop monitor, but only marginally so. As a rule of thumb, one should design for these device-independent pixels and let the browser scale according to user preferences. – Bob Jun 7 '16 at 7:29
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Well sometimes the mobile version of the site lacks content that is only available in the desktop version. This is often done to save bandwith (lower quality of images or exclude some elements completely) and eliminate visual clutter. Users might want to see that content from their mobile devices, so providing an link to the desktop or full site is suggested.

Another argument in favor of retaining the mobile/desktop link is that users might be accustomed to the desktop version of the site and on mobile its different so they prefer the desktop version.

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    "The mobile version...has content that is only availabke in the desktop" I think you said something wrong there. – JDługosz Jun 8 '16 at 14:45
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Steve Krug's opinion

In Don't Make Me Think, Revisited, Chapter 10 deals with mobile usability. Steve Krugg states the following (emphasis mine):

Always provide a link to the "full" Web site. No matter how fabulous and complete your mobile site is, you do need to give users the option of viewing the non-mobile version, especially if it has features and information that aren't available in your mobile version. (The current convention is to put a Mobile Site/Full Site toggle at the bottom of every page.)

There are many situations where people will be willing to zoom in and out through the small viewport of a mobile device in return for access on the go to features they've become accustomed to using or need at that moment. Also, some people will prefer to see the desktop pages when using 7" tablets with high-resolution screens in landscape mode.

In short

  • Users want to zoom. This is my #1 reason why I hate when there is no desktop version and zooming is disabled on the mobile version, sometimes it is nearly impossible to click for example a checkbox, a short link, etc because it is so small.
  • The desktop version has more features. This is usually the case in Mobile First design. As Krug describes during this approach you develop the mobile version first based on the most important features then you add additional functionality for the desktop version. People likely want to use that extra functionality sometimes.
  • Users are used to the desktop version. Especially in the case that Krug describes, there are "mobile" devices whose parameters are more close to a desktop setup and thus the desktop version would be more comfortable, but they may be recognised as mobile devices.
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Yes,

If desktop users are shown a different version of the site. This is a usability issue. I have seen so many sites that do not display properly on small screens or that do not serve the same content. (usually 'quickmenus'/reduced to content allegedly 90% of users want, not me!)

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Why did this trend come about?

For developing websites there are three major approaches toward how they are developed*:

  • Responsive Web Design
  • Adaptive Web Design
  • Separate "Desktop" and "Mobile" sites

Responsive Web Design (RWD) is where a site is designed in a way that it changes to fit whatever screen size it is rendered on. From a technological standpoint, media queries are often used so that the site changes automatically. For example, what might appear as three columns in a wide browser window could turn into a single column when the window is narrowed.

Adaptive Web Design (AWD) is where a site is designed in a way to use different features or different content for different devices. From a technological standpoint, media queries may be used, although they tend to depend on the actual size of the screen rather than the current size of the screen. Often device detection is used as well to change behaviors. For example, what might appear as three columns on a laptop with a wide screen could be rendered as a single column on a smartphone with a smaller screen.

Separate sites is where the server (and sometimes client) changes which website is rendered based on the device that's making the request. From a technological standpoint device detection is often used along with some other indicators, such as query string values to override default behaviors. Additionally this is what leads to the m.example.com URLs when viewing/linking to a "mobile" site instead of a "desktop" site.

should you still do it?

This question starts to be opinionated, and different people will have different opinions as to what the right behavior is.


My opinion is that RWD is the correct approach for the majority of websites, with AWD being appropriate for some applications, particularly where features are significantly different** such as with a keyboard and mouse compared to a touch screen for a drawing based web-application.


If you're using RWD, the content and feature set should remain identical (or at least congruent) and given that there is no separate mobile site, it is impossible to link to a "desktop site" because there isn't one. It's the same site.

If you're using AWD, the content and feature set should remain similar, but in some cases it may be necessary to provide a means to access the "desktop" experience. Feature detection can only do so much, and you may happen to use a small touchscreen device that has a keyboard and mouse where you want the "desktop" experience. In these situations it's appropriate to allow the user to toggle the behavior. This may not mean an actual link to the "desktop" site. This may be simply allowing a toggle between touch screen controls and keyboard/mouse controls.

If you're using separate sites, it is appropriate to allow users to toggle between which site they're viewing. Not allowing a user to view both versions of a site starts to enter into legal grey areas as well. Consider an article that has a sidebar that lists open job positions. If that sidebar is only rendered on the "desktop" site and you don't provide an equivalent listing for the mobile site, mobile users could claim that you're discriminating against them.


tl;dr:

Links to "desktop" sites are only necessary if you actually have a difference in content and functionality between "desktop" and "mobile" versions.

If you don't have two sites, and you're not hiding/showing content to users on different screen sizes, then there's absolutely no reason to use such a link.


* Be aware that there is no standards body to govern the exact meaning of the terms I'm using, so you may have differing definitions or use different jargon for the same concepts.

** although it's possible to combine the two approaches

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It was mostly used for "m.websites" (ex: m.cnn.com) which are already off trends and slowly fading away.

m.website are basically the same copy of your website with a different URL. You will be feeding content to 2 websites at the same time ex: m.cnn.com and cnn.com have duplicates in content with different screen optimisation.

The m.website has many pitfalls, it will be affecting how google indexes your website. The responsive websites came as a solution where you don't have to worry about the screen wether its a desktop, tv, tablet or mobile screen. The content will adapt to any screen size and will make your content easy to maintain and delivered across all platforms.

If you are designing a responsive website, the option of adding "View Desktop Site" is useless since you cannot technically switch between versions. The website has one version only unlike the m.websites.

  • This is a much more correct answer than any others thus far. However, you should include what a m.website is and the difference between a responsive website to be a full answer – Zach Saucier Jun 6 '16 at 14:11
  • Thanks for the feedback @ZachSaucier , I've added more explanation. – Charbel Jamous Jun 7 '16 at 7:12
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    "The m.website has many pitfalls, it will be affecting how google indexes your website." -- I don't believe this is true any more. I think that google are now tracking relationships between mobile sites and desktop sites and correlating the content between them in order to provide mobile links to mobile search users and desktop links to desktop search users. Depending on whether or not they can reliably detect a responsive design, it might even be better to have the mobile version from google's perspective, because they prioritise mobile results for mobile users. – Jules Jun 7 '16 at 9:04
  • Huh? The option should switch, by whatever means it takes if it's not a different url. It becomes essential to have such a button since you can't just delete tye m in the url. – JDługosz Jun 8 '16 at 14:49
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I agree with @JonStory where if you have both sites, there is no reason to not offer the option of visiting the full desktop site. Especially if technologies are potentially in place that mobile cannot utilize (Java, Flash).

On modern sites with Mobile-First development, there is potentially no reason to have a desktop site (ex: Bootstrap sites generally).

For sites transitioning to responsive formats, a desktop site makes sense. Good modern sites skip the "desktop" version and the link entirely.

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Possibly not even if there's a difference between your sites. At least if your user-agent handling works properly.

Example: SE on Android mobile has a "full site" link at the bottom. I only realised that when I went looking for it to post this answer.

The browser's own menu option for "request dekstop site" is easier to find for two reasons: the menu is accessible without scrolling to the bopttom of the page; it doesn't move depending on the whim of the site designer. It's also usefully always available even when the site pops up a "download our app" screen. This is all based on Firefox for Android; Chrome was similar last time I looked as is Dolphin on a tablet.

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As others have said, the trend originally came about because of the way full sites were ported to mobile devices. Early on, people were taking established sites and scrunching them down to work with the mobile technology and save on bandwidth. This meant changes in resolution, orientation, and browser capabilities. Features would often be removed along with whole portions of content.

Nowadays, proper development practices (mobile first, cross-browser compatibility, responsive design) should eliminate the need for a 'view full site' option.

To me, including the 'view full site' option is about one important UX concept. You give the user control of the experience. Your mobile site could be a model of best practices but I may still prefer to work with the full site. If that option isn't available I'm going to get frustrated and potentially leave your site rather than go find a browser.

There are 'request full site' options in the iOS, Android, and Microsfot browsers which is an interesting development but, you're still dependent on your users to know about that option and know how to use it.

Providing the familiar 'view full site link" bottom-center on your mobile version is a good practice for now.

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I think this is done when a site's desktop version is well established, and they are "grafting on" a very different mobile site, perhaps developed by a different team.

Either because the website Is The Product and is extremely well evolved and tuned, with many internal stakeholders, and they can't afford to break stuff (think Amazon or Yahoo homepage)... or because the Web team was told "Get a simple mobile site up fast" and that was the most expedient way to do it.

The desktop team is tasked with maintaining the full-featured flagship product, and only tunes it only to make it not viable for the most robust mobile platforms (deFlashing).

The mobile team is tasked with supporting as much of the world of "mobile" as possible, including iPhone 2's, Blackberrys, "feature phones" etc.

Even so, I find many sites have things you Just Can't Do On Mobile, period, either due to gating (forced diversion to mobile site) or requiring desktop-only interactions (mouseover, drag file into, etc.)

Ironically, the most robust mobile sites are actually simple sites like phpBB which don't even realize you're on a mobile device.

My own preference is the latter, since I sure don't have staff to maintain two web sites. Make the main site simple enough it plays well on smart phones, and is still non-awful on desktop. Of course this throws feature-phones under the bus.

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Yes it is necessary. Having Desktop site is good if the mobile site is not working in any case or if the user is unable to get the exact flow of activities.

Now a days as mobile users are increasing, every site should be responsive enough which will remove this option of "Desktop site". Now if a particular site is made separately for mobile and desktop (which should not be done in practice) due to any technical limitations, then this option should be present.

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I think some people have over-analysed this question. The answer in my view is always 'no' and there are 2 simple reasons for this:

  1. If it's a repsonsive website then there's effectively no such thing as a 'desktop version' which negates the question. The responsive layout should work in a way where elements are rendered appropriately to the device but it's still a single website and does not have different versions.

  2. If you have separate desktop and mobile websites (e.g. on 2 different sub-domains) then these have obviously been created for a reason. The reason being that a mobile device may be more limited in it's capabilities, screen size, interaction method - than a desktop device. Effecitvely it's been built because it's not possible to reliably and easily use the desktop version on mobile.

So the answer in both cases is 'no'. Desktop and mobile devices are very different and unless you've got a fairly minimal or basic site the chances are it won't work as well on Any Given Device(TM).

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Yes,

You can use a Bluetooth keyboard with most mobile, and some smart phones allows the display to be sent to a TV or monitor. So you don't know if a smart phone is being used with a small touch screen.

Also mobile versions of sites often have bugs in them..... (For example the mobile version of gmail stopped working on my smart phone for a few weeks.)

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One more reason: The user might not actually be using a mobile device currently, but might just have been following a link posted by someone using the mobile site.

(Of course, this only applies if your site actually has different URLs for mobile and "desktop".)

protected by Benny Skogberg Jun 8 '16 at 10:35

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