Debugging Safari/Chrome on your iPhone/iPad/iOS device

In the world of modern web development, Web 2.0 (or is it 3.0?), with HTML5, CSS3, ES6, and frameworks and libraries up the wazoo, our web apps and sites always work seamlessly and flawlessly across all the browsers and devices… hahaha, I know…

The reality is, web development, as great and modern as it is, can have little caveats and nuances across the different browsers: Chrome, Safari, FireFox, Edge, and the Mac/Windows/Linux/iOS/Android versions of each. Thankfully, the big contenders like Netscape (those were the days) and Internet Explorer have finally been deprecated and are no longer expected to be supported in the wild. Even with the great modern web, we still have issues once in a while.

In my recent efforts in troubleshooting one small “nuance” between Chrome on Mac and Chrome and Safari on iOS (yes, all three were acting differently), I needed to debug my browser on my iPad and/or iPhone. I won’t get into what the issue is here, instead, I’ll get into how we can debug the browsers on our iOS devices. I’ve searched for many options, some worked, some didn’t, so below is what worked for me.

My devices

All steps below are all running on my:

  • MacBook Pro 13-inch 2018 running macOS Monterey 12.2.1
  • iPad Air (4th) v15.3.1
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max iOS v15.3.1

What are we debugging

Before we get started in debugging, we should cover what we’re debugging. In the following debugging methods, we can debug anything our browser can get to: netflix.com, google.com, or our public website. With CI/CD in place, I can make code changes and get them into my dev environment in under 5 minutes, and that suffices at times. I can then hit the site directly on my iPhone and debug as needed.

Sometimes, if I’m really diving into a granular issue and don’t want to wait, I like to use ngrok. Ngrok spins up a gateway from a public address to your local dev machine. This allows me to troubleshoot realtime on my mobile browser while writing the code on my laptop. It’s pretty slick and has saved me a lot of time. I can even share the ngrok address with my colleagues and they can access it on my local machine too! Another option would be to set up DNS for your iPhone to navigate to your laptop while on the same wifi network, and that’s not worth the effort in my book.

Debugging in Chrome on iOS

This is great quick way to check out your console messages without using your Mac.

How:

  • In Chrome on your iPad or iPhone, go to chrome://inspect and then press Start Logging.
  • Now go do your thing in another tab, keeping this tab open.
  • Come back anytime to see any and all console outputs!

See, no laptop/desktop needed, just do it on the mobile device.

This is as far as we can get with Chrome on iPhone/iPad. From my limited understanding, Chrome for iOS uses a WKWebView which gets difficult to actually attach to and debug. If the JavaScript console output isn’t enough, try Safari…

Debugging in Safari on iOS

This is a great method of debugging your iOS devices as it gives you the closest thing to actually debugging on your computer. With this method you can use the dev tools on your Mac to connect to your iOS Safari browser. It’s pretty sweet.

How.

  • On your Mac, open Safari, then go to Safari > Preferences.
  • Click Advanced and click Show Develop menu in menu bar at the bottom of the window. Close the window.
  • On your iPad or iPhone, go to Settings > Safari > Advanced.
  • Press the toggle for Web Inspector.

For this next part, I recommend using a USB cable to attach your iOS device to your Mac. You might get away with doing this over Wifi, as I have in the past, but it’s not reliable, and as I’m writing this today, over the Wifi isn’t working.

  • Connect your device to your Mac using a USB cable, or try the following over Wifi.
  • On your Mac, in Safari, click the Develop menu.
  • Near the top of the menu you should see your iPad or iPhone listed.
  • Hover over your device in the menu and you’ll see Safari with each tab listed below. Click the one you want to debug.
  • The Web Inspector should then appear, now debug it: Elements, Console, Sources, Network, all of it should work!

Good enough for now

Between these two techniques, I’ve been able to troubleshoot my issues quite successfully. Generally, iOS Safari and Chrome act relatively the same, so debugging in Safari helps me clear my Chrome issue. And if it doesn’t I can always throw in more console.logs and see what Chrome is actually doing. Ideally, we should be able to debug the code directly on Chrome, like we can do with Safari, but at this time it’s just not possible.

One other option, for a cost: inspect.dev

There’s a product called inspect.dev that boasts it can debug Safari, Webviews, and Chrome from macOS, Windows, and Linux. Learn more at https://inspect.dev/why. I have not tried them out, I don’t want to pay for something that should be free for developers (hence this blog post).

Let me know if you know other ways to debug your mobile browsers! Leave a comment below or let’s connect on Twitter.

‘Til next time, happy debugging!

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