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To Frame or Not To Frame: That Is The Question

by Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns

Published November, 1999. Updated March, 2006. Copyright © 2001-2016, Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns. All rights reserved. Published at with permission.

Please note that although this tutorial was written November 1999, most of the information is still valid. Also, most modern Web browsers now support frames, although accessibility issues remain problematic.

The question of whether or not to use frames within a Web site's design can be a hot topic of debate. Many people don't like framed Web sites because they “get stuck in someone's frames,” they can't bookmark a particular page within a framed Web site, the search engines don't list their Web sites, and some browsers can't read framed Web sites at all. Clearly these are legitimate problems.

This article's intent is to help clarify some of the advantages and disadvantages of using frames and provide resources for further information.

Web Site Architecture

A Web site needs to be designed with many factors in mind. A Web site should not be designed using frames simply because the designer, client, or Web site owner likes frames.

The design decision, including whether or not to use frames, needs to be based on a variety of reasons, including:

I do NOT feel that design or graphics ideas for the overall look of a Web site overrides any or all the above.

As a Web site designer specializing in Web site architecture, design and graphics, one might think that the look of the Web site would be foremost in my mind and take priority; however, that is not the case.

Although the overall look is an important ingredient, other elements are also critical to the success of a Web site, as described below.


Content needs to be the first consideration and remain the most important consideration.

Content is generally the main reason that visitors access your Web site and also will return, whether the content is text, products, services, or a combination.


Web sites most often need to be designed with the widest possible accessibility:


Visual Impact:

It is recommended to design the look and feel of the Web site with the above in mind.

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Advantages of Frames

There are instances in which framed Web sites are truly a great approach.

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Disadvantages of Frames

Final comments:

While I am not totally opposed to using frames within a Web site design, there are major elements to consider with the technology in its current state (as of 1999), including target market and accessibility. Most often, but not always, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.

Editor note March 2006: In the ten + years that I've been in the Web design business, I haven't found a need to use frames for a public Web site, and in fact, I don't recommend using frames because of the problems and challenges noted above. I've used them a couple of times for clients insistent upon their use for a public Web site, but framed and no-frames versions of the sites were created. Another instance was for a private Intranet in a controlled environment for which the client insisted upon their use despite my recommendations otherwise. In each of these cases, a frames approach was not at all necessary.

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1Search Engines And Frames, Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Watch.

2Reference: Browser Chart, Webmonkey, The Developer's Resource.

3Frames, Techniques for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. W3C Note, May 5, 1999. (W3C's official guidelines)


5Unlawful Linking and Framing, by Tanya E. Rose. (no longer online)

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