Dan Croak: HTML5

What is HTML5?

HTML5 is the latest version of the HTML web standard. HTML code underlies just about every website on the internet. Use your browser’s “View Source” feature to see the HTML source code of this website.

Example HTML5 code looks like this:

<!doctype html>
<html>
<head>
<meta charset="UTF-8">
<link rel="stylesheet" href="/css/screen.css">
</head>
<body>
<header>
<h1>Greenhorn Connect</h1>
<nav>
<ul>
<li><a href="/events">Events</a></li>
<li><a href="/jobs">Jobs</a></li>
<li><a href="/students">Students</a></li>
</ul>
</nav>
</header>
<article>
<header>What is HTML5?</header>
<a href="http://twitter.com/croaky" rel="author">Dan Croak</a>
<time pubdate>November 4th 2010</time>
<p>HTML5 is the latest version of the HTML web standard.</p>
</article>
<footer>
<p>Boston's entrepreneur hub.</p>
</footer>
<script src="/js/jquery.js"></script>
</body>
</html>

Web Standards

A key reason that HTML is widely known is that it is considered a “web standard” amongst other titans like CSS and Javascript, sometimes called the “Trinity of Web Standards”, for whom each has a specific, separate purpose:

  • HTML is for semantically describing content
  • CSS is for visually styling that content
  • Javascript is for adding behavior to the content

Standards are a funny thing. They grow from a wild process involving standards bodies like W3C and WHATWG, companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft, non-profits like the Mozilla Foundation, and web practitioners.

HTML5 is currently in the “Working Draft” stage of this process, which means that super-smart people like Ian Hickson have published and now maintain the standard as it gets poked and prodded by browser makers and web developers and designers.

Ready to use today

While “working draft” might make HTML5 sound like it’s half-baked, note that the final stage of this process is called a “recommendation”. I like to think the terms reflect an explicit acknowledgement that the web is an ever-changing medium where people are innovating rapidly. In an environment like that, “standards” need to evolve rapidly, too.

The reality of the matter is that HTML5 is ready for primetime today. Modern browsers like Chrome 6+, Safari 5+, Firefox 3+, IE 9+, and Opera 10+ all support HTML5 in some fashion, with more coverage of the spec included in every point release.

There are over 10,000 browser brands, versions, and configurations. In modern web development, websites can not and should not look the same across browsers.

Instead, many developers have embraced the concept of “progressive enhancement”, in which content is king. Browsers graded B or C by Yahoo and jQuery Mobile can still render HTML, and therefore users can access content, but with little or no style. A-graded browsers can take advantage of more modern features.

What else would I use?

Flash or Silverlight. Maybe some Java applets. Older versions of HTML.

Maybe you’ve heard of HTML5 because of the Apple/Adobe spat this spring. Steve Jobs’s thoughts on Flash explain why Apple does not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods, and iPads. (Recently, the new Macbook Airs were also released without Flash pre-installed.) His arguments include:

  • Flash is proprietary. HTML5, CSS, and Javascript are web standards.
  • Video is increasingly available in H.264 format, which is accessible via HTML5.
  • Apple has data (probably collected via their stores) showing Flash is the number one reason Macs crash.
  • Flash is a resource hog, sucking up CPU and battery life.
  • Flash does not support touch.

Meanwhile, Microsoft recently announced that their new strategy for Silverlight is as development platform for Windows Phone only, while saying:

HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything

They’re betting on HTML5, and the IE9 team is doing great implementing the HTML5 spec.

The Wicked Cool Stuff

So, HTML5 is here to stay, and rapidly gaining mindshare. The only thing left to do is try out these demos of some of the cooler features of HTML5, and GET EXCITED!

Dan Croak is a web developer at thoughtbot. He makes apps for Boston web startups. Email him at dcroak[at]thoughtbot[dot]com.

photo credit: http://media.smashingmagazine.com/cdn_smash/wp-content/uploads/images/html5/html5_structure.png

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