Why Are Frames Bad?

9 comments | Posted: 17 November 05 in Tutorials, by Matt Heerema

I was recently asked why exactly one should not use framesets for websites. A frames-based page is something I have always sort of recognized as being bad, but have never really had to verbalize or support objectively before, until now. The answer: Frames aren’t inherently bad. However, when you use a frameset as a way of managing a website, that is bad. I came up with five primary reasons.

1. Frames break the fundamental concept model of the web!

2. Using frames for an entire site is an improper use of a frameset page.

3. Search engines have difficulty indexing framesets.

4. Screen reader technologies do not handle frames based pages very well.

5. Framesets unnecessarily complicate site maintenance.

6. Why do frames-based sites exist?


Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Boyink

    Kinda funny, but don’t some uses of AJAX also break the “page” model of the web?

  2. 2 Nathan Smith

    Good point Mike. It’s for that reason that I don’t like Live Search as the only way to dig through a site’s contents. There’s no way to bookmark the results.

  3. 3 Boyink

    Ya know…thinking about it…

    I’ve never seen any usability testing around frames and this notion of the page model – to confirm that it’s actually confusing for people. Seems like other software – Outlook for example – uses what are essentially framesets. Can’t see why people wouldn’t be able to use them in a browser.

    Not that I’m a fan of framesets – it’s just that first argument always seemed like a stretch.

  4. 4 Peter Crackenberg

    I can’t seem to find the article offhand, but there are some schemes for getting around some of this. The main techniques they used were GET variables and using JavaScript to look through the URL to access them.

    I guess the major question is that if you’re making a major system using AJAX, for example Gmail, is it a big deal to not be able to bookmark pages or go back?

  5. 5 Yannick


    Very good points. Some of them I have never really thought about, but I am glad your article brought them to light. I have always tried to stay away from frames because I used to find it confusing and sometimes had trouble ensuring that I linked to the proper frame. (Yeah I was a slow learner like that.)

    My question now is, are frames still needed? I have seen very few sites make use of it. Are there any more examples of when it would be the ideal thing to use on a website?

  6. 6 Jørgen Arnor Gårdsø Lom

    Well, good thing this article is republished, as it’s still an important one, even though not as important as it once was…

    PostScript; ‘Godbit’ means a small piece of something good in Norwegian, esp. in refrence to food. F.x. candy…

  7. 7 Nathan Smith

    Cool, thanks for pointing that out. I had wondered what all these other Google search results were in reference to! I’m just glad that it means something good! I’ve added it to the Purpose + Vision page, as a little aside, and credited the translation to you.

  8. 8 Matt Heerema

    Yannick – I cannot think of a good example of when frames would be the best thing to use on a Web page. With the advent of CSS support and now with certain AJAX functionality, I don’t see a need to use them at all.

    However, it appears that Bloglines (bloglines.com) is making good use of them, though I can’t say it’s the best method for what they’re doing.

  9. 9 Nathan Logan

    Great article, and I agree wholeheartedly. In my mind, the bookmarking difficulty alone makes frames obsolete.

    I do find it interesting, however, that Quirksmode (a very well-respected JavaScript programming site) makes use of frames (although I recall hearing something about him soon redesigning his site and releasing it sans-frames).

    And great dialog above RE: similar problems with AJAX. I’d love to see that concept explored a bit more (in another article, perhaps?).


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