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December 2014The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

(X)HTML 5

This new version of HTML finally became the current standard version of HTML on 28th October 2014. This is the first new version of HTML since HTML 4 which became the standard on 24th December 1999 and that was only a minor change to the HTML 4 standard released in 1997. HTML has been relatively stable (at least in so far as the standard is concerned) for over 15 years. This followed a couple of years of dramatic changes in HTML with HTML 2.0 the 1995 standard and HTML 3.2 the 1996 standard.

Perhaps one of the reasons why HTML remained basically the same for so long as HTML 4 was that browsers took a long time to catch up with the changes that version of HTML made. Even now the vast majority of web pages use HTML 3.2 tags and have yet to complete transitioning to HTML 4. HTML 5 therefore took an entirely different direction by looking at the proprietary tags that browsers had already introduced and suggesting others for browsers to try out and then waiting several years for browsers to support these new tags - so as to see which worked and which didn't - so that browsers already support much of HTML 5 even though it has only just become the standard.

The environment into which HTML 5 has been introduced is much different from the days when the earlier standards were first introduced. Computers today and even smart phones are far more powerful than the computers that were around when HTML 4 became the standard. There is now a lot more multimedia on the web and so the introduction of new tags such as <video> and <audio> specifically to support multimedia directly in the browser without needing a special plugin makes perfect sense.

For a number of years the idea of the HTML defining the semantic meaning of the content of the web page has been followed by those trying to apply best practice to their coding (which also makes maintaining the site far easier). To aide in this semantics additional tags to define the most commonly required parts of web pages have also been introduced so as to reduce the reliance on having to use so many divs in web pages.

Forms are now far more important parts of web pages than they were in the early days and HTML 5 introduces many of the form field types that were missing in earlier versions of HTML such as the combo box, date pickers, colour pickers and other form field types that make entry easier such as sliders.

With so many web pages still using HTML 3.2 it proved impossible for HTML 5 to comply with the deprecated status of tags and attributes that HTML 4 flagged for removal from the standard. Too many web pages would break if HTML 5 were to completely remove them (even though they'd been flagged for removal for over 15 years). Instead those tags and attributes continue to be counted as obsolete (as they have been since 1997) but without any indication that there is an intention that they be removed in the next version. This means that some of those pages written using HTML 3.2 can now be considered to be using HTML 5 with obsolete tags. While a couple of tags had their meanings changed between HTML 4 and HTML 5 (to better match what people were actually using them for) there is very little that was in HTML 4 that has been marked as obsolete in HTML 5 and so almost all HTML 4 web pages are also HTML 5 (but without using any of the new tags). It was possible to comply with the deprecated directive for some tags though and the following tags really were deprecated in HTML 4 and therefore no longer exist - acronym, applet, basefont, big, center, dir, font, frame, frameset, isindex, noframes, strike, tt. Most of these have to do with appearance and so were replaced long ago with CSS.

Future changes to HTML are expected to come more quickly with HTML 5.1 already in development and expected to become the standard in 2016 and work on HTML 5.2 about to start.

XHTML 1.0 was introduced as a proposed alternative to HTML back in 1997. One of the reasons for the long gap in the HTML standards is that the standards body saw XHTML as the future and worked on the development of an enhanced version of XHTML - version 1.1 - that finally became the XHTML standard in 2010. A further development of XHTML that effectively started over with defining tags was under development for a number of years before finally being dropped to be replaced by XHTML 5 which is basically the same as HTML 5 but abiding by the XML rules.

The reason for the lack of adoption of XHTML has been the lack of browser support. This is going to change in the future as the latest versions of all popular browsers now support XHTML and it is only that IE8 is still used by too many people to ignore that prevents its use.

The thing to note most about (X)HTML 5 is that it defines those tags and attributes that browsers are required to support. It gives some indication of which tags should be avoided for new web pages by flagging some of the unnecessary tags as obsolete but there are still a number of situations where unnecessary tags (eg. iframe) are still not so marked. While it is expected that anyone ought to be able to create a web page we can expect these duplications of tags that serve the same purpose (even including those marked as obsolete) to continue.

With further new versions of HTML expected in the near future it will be interesting to see just which direction HTML goes in next.
 

On Site

Given that the XHTML 1.0 reference that I first put on the site way back in 2000 is no longer the current version, I have been adding new pages this month that rewrite those references to cover XHTML 5. The original pages have been left in place so as to make it easier to see what the differences are. The last few pages of this reference will be published soon.
 

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