20 March 2010

Detecting handset type in WAP websites

Mobile Phone
The supposedly standard method of retrieving a handset's capability is through UAPROF (see UAPROF on Wikipedia). Very simply put a mobile phone should send through identifying information when it retrieves a website. However, UAPROF is entirely voluntary and there are several problems associated with relying on it.

Along comes WURFL, which touts itself as a free option to consider when looking to identify the capabilities of your visitors browsers. There are of course paid options to help you identify mobile phones visiting your site (such as device atlas), but why pay for a service when you can get it free?

At first glance WURFL looked very promising. It has an active project on Sourceforge and a set of API's for PHP, JAVA, and others.

One immediate problem I encountered was that the current release revision (1.1.r2) of the WURFL API is buggy. Well that's not fair for me to say actually- the API works perfectly, it's just the example code that doesn't work

A quick look at their source code revealed that the release version forgets to include a reference to a class library. Fixing that allowed the demo code to run, and generate the next series of errors.

I then realized that there is a marked lack of documentation. They do have a user forum that has the ominously unfriendly warning "Don't post if you don't know what you are doing. *YOU MAY BE BANNED INSTANTLY!!!!!* If your question reveals that you lack basic web programming skills, you will be banned instantly". To further emphasise the point they place this in bold and require administrator approval of your account before you can post a question.

Given the lack of documentation and unfriendly user forums I would have liked their example code to work.

I decided to rather use an older version of the code and downloaded version 1.1r1. I had my application up and running in about 30 minutes using this code.

So the short story is:
1) Download the latest WURFL and patch files (here)
2) Download the older copy of the new WURFL API (here)

Remember to point your main file setting in wurfl-config.php to the zip of the WURFL XML. This reminder will make more sense to you once you unpack the files from 1 and 2.

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