HTML5 Is A Finished W3C Standard
Written by Ian Elliot   
Wednesday, 29 October 2014

If you are a web developer you will probably want to remember where you were on the day (October 28th, 2014) that HTML 5 became a standard. But my best guess is that you will just yawn and get on with the real task of working in an ever-evolving environment. 

There once was a time when you couldn't move for headlines about HTML 5. It was to be the solution. To what exactly was never particularly clear.

HTML 5, an improved markup language, was somehow supposed to make it possible to do things that we currently couldn't do without the help of complete programming environments supplied as unreliable plugins - things like Flash. Of course, being just a markup language HTML 5 would need some help in all of this. But somehow the others involved - both CSS and JavaScript - managed not to get the publicity limelight like HTML 5 did.


Of course, you know the story but just in case you don't, after all HTML 5 has been a long time in the making, this is what happened in a nutshell.

W3C was determined that the way of the future was XML. So they spent time producing XHTML which had/has a strict syntax unlike HTML. If you didn't remember to close a tag then the whole page failed to render. It was a product of a pure syntax approach to getting something better - but it broke existing HTML pages and hence wasn't popular, except with a few enthusiasts. 

Even though it wasn't popular W3C pressed on. Then a new breakaway group Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) was formed to create a successor to HTML 4 that people would actually use. This is when HTML 5 was born. It would do new things but it would also try not to break the old.

As the WHATWG HTML 5 effort gained lots of public interest and XHTML started to look like a dead end, the W3C joined in and the two bodies worked together. 




This would have been a happy ending if they had actually seen eye-to-eye on the matter of how standards for the web should be produced. We all know that what really matters is not the standards, but how the standards are implemented. You can go and look at a W3C standard as much as you want, but what really matters is what is implemented in each of the "big browsers". You really need to look up what you can use in lists like "can I use" and then you have to make the decision based on the answer to questions like "is this supported enough?" and "how many users will I lose if I use it?"

In other words, the real world of web dev is pragmatic and not strictly to standard. 

So now we have the final complete spec - the recommendation. This will progress through some bureaucratic stages and then emerge as the published standard some time before the end of the year. The W3C promises HTML 5.1 some time before the end of 2016. 

The only problem is that WHATWG split from W3C and has a very different view of the standards world. It believes in a living HTML 5 standard that is never finished and continues to evolve - forever or until they think that changing it to HTML 6 would produced some good vibes. The HTML 5 standard that has been produced by W3C is essentially a snapshot of the WHATWG specification at a particular point in time. As time ticks on what the WHATWG refers to as HTML 5 and the W3C standard will diverge, sometimes quite rapidly. 

The W3C is allowed to make use of the WHATWG evolving standard, but the WHATWG committee seems to be getting increasingly annoyed that the W3C is simply republishing its work. However, the alternative of a complete split between the two standards is much worse than a little plagiarism. 



We have to wait and see what the big browsers do - although that seems fairly obvious. While they, especially IE, will be making big claims about being the most standards compliant, they will all add bits and pieces that they need to support for their particular purposes. Firefox will evolve the things that Firefox OS needs, Chrome will evolve to support Chrome OS. Microsoft will,... did I mention that they are very strong on standards. 

The coming web dev world isn't going to be so different from the previous web dev world even if there is a finished HTML 5 standard. We are going to have to just see what works.

More Information

HTML5 is a W3C Recommendation

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The One Addition That Would Make HTML5 Great

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 29 October 2014 )