Flash test

What does it do?

Test whether Flash is used, and how safely it is used by the website. Flash is not compatible with all browsers and should be used carefully if at all.

Example results

Example results of Flash test in Sitebeam

Why is it important?

Flash is frequently used on modern websites, to add animation, video or interactivity. Unfortunately it is also often abused. This test checks that Flash is used responsibly, and doesn’t lead to problems such as:

  • Incompatibility with many mobile devices, particularly iPhones, iPods and iPads
  • Poor or no accessibility
  • Difficulty ranking on search engines
  • Bad usability for users without the required version of Flash

How is it measured?

Sitebeam looks on every page for any sign of Flash. It checks whether or not these pages are exclusively Flash, or contain some non-Flash elements (such as links to other internal pages). It checks for the use of Flash detection scripts, which ensure that if the user doesn’t have the required version of Flash that this is explained to them.

The score is based on how well Flash is used, if at all. Omitting Flash detection, or links away from the Flash page will incur various penalties.

Technical explanation

The final score is a weighted mix of individual page scores:

Page type Score (0-10) Explanation
No Flash 10 No Flash is used on the page, perfect score
Safe Flash 9.6 Flash is used with detection and other non-Flash content and links. The Flash should not interfere with users who can’t view Flash.
Need Flash 2.5 Flash is used without detection, but there is non-Flash content present on the page, including at least one internal link to another page. These pages will typically have sections missing or broken when viewed without Flash.
Only Flash 0 Flash is used without detection and there is no content or link to other content within the site, meaning the page is completely inaccessible to users without Flash.

The relative Importance is used to weigh each page’s relative score, so more Important pages have a greater impact on the final score.

Potential problems

If you have issues with the Flash detection, or disagree with the rationale, you can exclude this test.

Some argue that the penalty for a Flash-only website is too strong. This penalty is based on our own experience of websites and represents our best recommendation at this time. All websites should offer some alternative (i.e. non-Flash) content which is readable to search engines and users without Flash. Bear in mind users with iOS devices (iPhones, iPods and iPads) cannot view Flash and users with disabilities in particular find Flash sites particularly difficult, if not impossible to use.

It is possible for a site to employ custom code for the detection of non-Flash users, which Sitebeam may not recognise. If you believe this to be the case, and confirm the website works for users without Flash installed, please contact us.

It is possible for Sitebeam to claim Flash is being used when it doesn’t appear on a webpage, particularly if Javascript is used which could embed a Flash file, some of the time. See How is Flash detected.

How is Flash detected?

The Flash detection looks for the presence of SWF files within a page, included in any of the following ways:

  • Inside an <embed> tag
  • Inside an <object> tag
  • A viable SWF filename inside a Javascript string

For example, this Javascript fragment would qualify as using Flash:

filename = "/flash/example.swf"

But this would not:

object.swf = "example";

Commented out Javascript is not included. However it is not possible to know what Javascript would be executed by the page in a browser, and as a result it is possible that a site refers to a Flash file but never actually uses it.

To eliminate the vast majority of false positives from ambiguous Javascript, each potential Flash file is checked to see whether it exists. The file must exist for a page to be flagged as using Flash.

How to improve this score

If the website is Flash only, you should add some non-Flash pages which cover the key information held in your Flash website (e.g. contact details, what you do). This is crucial for search engines and accessibility. You may find many users prefer to use this less flashy, but more functional website if given the choice. We strongly discourage Flash-only websites for most purposes.

A website should not require the user to download Flash to use the website. Flash is widely installed, and the majority of users who do not have Flash are unable or unwilling to install it, so insisting upon this only loses those visitors, including:

  1. iOS users (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch)
  2. Most mobile device users (very few smartphones currently support Flash)
  3. People who have Flash/advert blocking software installed
  4. Users who’s IT department prohibits Flash for security

The correct approach is to use Flash detection silently, to display Flash content where possible, but otherwise substitute it for a non-Flash equivalent. Typically most Flash can be replaced by a static image, as it serves only to animate a clickable item; you may ultimately prefer simply to forgo Flash entirely.

How to use this test effectively

Ensure that Flash is being used appropriately on the website. If you have a low score for this test, consider the How to improve this score section.

Further reading


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