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Archive for the ‘WHATWG’ Category

Spelling HTML5

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

What’s the right way to spell “HTML5”? The short answer is: “HTML5” (without a space).

People in the WHATWG community have commonly referred to HTML5 as “HTML5” for quite a while. However, when the W3C HTML WG voted on adopting “Web Applications 1.0” the question about the title said “HTML 5”. Thus, the W3C HTML WG voted to adopt “HTML 5” as the title, but it wasn’t a vote for or against the space but about “HTML” and “5” in contrast to e.g. “Web Applications 1.0”. Anyway, as a result, the spec was retitled literally “HTML 5”.

This lead to inconsistency. Sometimes people kept writing “HTML5” and sometimes “HTML 5” (even on This kind of inconsistency is bad for branding. The Super Friends pointed this issue out as the first thing they pointed out.

Now both the WHATWG Draft Standard and W3C Editor’s Draft spell it “HTML5”.

Posted in WHATWG | 29 Comments »

Response to “Notes on HTML 5”

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

The W3C Technical Architecture Group (TAG) is in the process of reviewing HTML 5. Noah Mendelsohn recently posted his initial, personal, not-speaking-on-behalf-of-TAG notes on HTML 5. Here are my initial, personal, not-speaking-on-behalf-of-WHATWG responses.

Limitations of the XML serialization

This may be old news, but I was surprised to see that document.write() is not supported when parsing the XML serialization. This seems to put the nail in the coffin of XML as a serialization format for colloquial HTML. I understand that there are a variety of issues in making a sensible definition of how this would work, but my intuition is that it could be done reasonably cleanly (albeit not with most off-the-shelf XML parsers).

Many, many things helped drive the nail in the coffin of XML as a serialization format for colloquial HTML. This was probably one of them. Others that come to mind:

Other applicable specifications

"Authors must not use elements, attributes, and attribute values for purposes other than their appropriate intended semantic purpose. Authors must not use elements, attributes, and attribute values that are not permitted by this specification or other applicable specifications." This is one of the most important sentences in the entire specification, but it's somewhat vague. If "other applicable specifications" means: any specification that anyone claims is applicable to HTML 5 extension, then we can extend the langauge with most any element without breaking conformance; if "applicable specifications" is a smaller (or empty) set, then this may be saying that HTML 5 has limited (or zero) extensibility.

The phrase "or other application specifications" is indeed quite important, and quite intentional. It explicitly allows something that previous HTML specifications only implicitly allowed, or disallowed-but-everyone-ignored-that-part: future specifications which extend the vocabulary of previous specifications. Ian Hickson uses RDFa as an example: "If an RDFa specification said that text/html could have arbitrary xmlns:* attributes, then the HTML5 specification would (by virtue of the above-quoted sentence) defer to it and thus it would be allowed. ... Of course, if a community doesn't acknowledge the authority of such a spec, and they _do_ acknowledge the authority of the HTML5 spec, then it would be (for them) as if that spec didn't exist. Similarly, there might be a community that only acknowledges the HTML4 spec and doesn't consider HTML5 to be relevant, in which case for them, HTML5 isn't relevant. This is how specs work."

In response to a question about how validators could possible work with such flexible constraints, Ian Hickson writes, "The same way validators work now. The validator implementors decide which specs they think are relevant to their users. The W3C CSS validator, for instance, can be configured to check against CSS2.1 rules or against SVG rules about CSS. It can't be configured to check against CSS2.1 + the :-moz-any-link extension, because the CSS validator implementors have decided that CSS2.1 and SVG are relevant, but not the Mozilla CSS extensions. ... The W3C HTML validator, similarly, supports checking a document against XHTML 1.1, or XHTML + RDFa, or XHTML + SVG, but doesn't support checking it against XHTML + DOCBOOK. So its implementors have decided that RDFa, SVG, and XHTML are relevant, but DOCBOOK is not."

People who think that such lack of constraints can only lead to madness go strangely silent when it is pointed out that they have already violated such constraints, and the world failed to end as a result.

URL terminology

The HTML 5 draft uses the term URL, not URI.

I was under the impression that HTML 5 uses the term "URL" because that's what everyone else in the world uses (outside a few standards wonks who know the difference between URLs, URIs, IRIs, XRIs, LEIRIs, and so on). A few minutes of research supported my impression. Quoth Ian Hickson: "'URL' is what everyone outside the standards world calls them. The few people who understand what on earth IRI, URN, URI, and URL are supposed to mean and how to distinguish them have demonstrated that they are able to understand such complicated terminology and can deal with the reuse of the term 'URL'. Others, who think 'URL' mean exactly what the HTML5 spec defines it as, have not demonstrated an ability to understand these subtleties and are better off with us using the term they're familiar with. The real solution is for the URI and IRI specs to be merged, for the URI spec to change its definitions to match what 'URL' is defined as in HTML5 (e.g. finally defining error handling as part of the core spec), and for everyone to stop using terms other than 'URL'."

It should be noted that not everyone agrees with this. For example, Roy Fielding (who obviously understands the subtle differences between URLs and other things) recently stated: "Use of the term URL in a manner that directly contradicts an Internet standard is negligent and childish. HTML5 can rot until that is fixed." Maciej Stachowiak, recently appointed co-chair of the W3C HTML Working Group, recently stated: "We need to get the references in order first, because whether HTML5 references Web Address, or IRIbis, or something else, makes a difference to what we'll think about the naming issue. We need to decide as a Working Group if it's acceptable to use the term URL in a different way than RFC3986 (while making the difference clear). If it's unacceptable, then we need to propose an alternate term."

As the old saying goes, "There are only two hard problems in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things." I personally don't care about the matter either way, but there is obviously a wide spectrum of opinion.


It's unclear whether the factoring to reference WebAddr and/or IRI-bis will be retained.

"WebAddr" refers to Web Addresses, a now-defunct proposal to split out the definition of "URL" that HTML 5 uses (which intentionally differs from the "official" definition in order to handle existing web content). The work on the "Web Addresses" specification has now been rolled into IRI-bis; "bis" means "next," so "IRI-bis" means "the next version of the IRI specification." According to Ian Hickson, so important definitions were lost in the process of splitting out "Web Addresses" from HTML 5 and subsequently merging "Web Addresses" into IRI-bis. There is also some feedback about newlines within URLs.

Work on IRI-bis is ongoing. As it relates to HTML 5, it is tracked as HTML ISSUE-56.

Content sniffing

HTML 5 calls for user agents to ignore normative Content-type in certain cases.

HTML 5 calls for user agents to ignore normative Content-Type in certain cases because this is required to handle existing web content. Based on [PDF] the research of Adam Barth and others into the content sniffing rules of a certain closed-source market-dominating browser, progress has been made towards reducing the amount of content sniffing on the public web. (Counterpoint: two steps forward, one step back.)

Personally, I have long been opposed to content sniffing, but if sniffing is going to occur, I would vastly prefer documented algorithms to undocumented ones. The "hope" behind documenting the sniffing rules now is that the web community can "freeze" the rules now and forever, i.e. not add any more complexity to an already complex world. I am personally skeptical, since HTML 5 also introduces (or at least promotes-to-their-own-elements) two new media families, audio and video, for which undocumented or underdocumented sniffing may already occur within proprietary browser plug-ins. And with @font-face support shipping or on the verge of shipping in multiple browsers, there may be new sniffing rules introduced there as well. I hope my concerns are unfounded.

Still, having sniffing rules documented in HTML 5 may -- someday soon -- reduce the complexity of a shipping product. And how often does that happen?

Willful violations

HTML 5 acknowledges in several places that it is in "willful violation" of other specifications from the W3C and IETF.

As stated in §1.5.2 Compliance with other specifications, "This specification interacts with and relies on a wide variety of other specifications. In certain circumstances, unfortunately, the desire to be compatible with legacy content has led to this specification violating the requirements of these other specifications. Whenever this has occurred, the transgressions have been noted as 'willful violations'."

This is the complete list of "willful violations" in the August 25th W3C Editor's Draft of HTML 5. (The WHATWG draft changes almost daily, whenever a change is checked in.)

  1. §2.5.1 Terminology: "The term "URL" in this specification is used in a manner distinct from the precise technical meaning it is given in RFC 3986. Readers familiar with that RFC will find it easier to read this specification if they pretend the term "URL" as used herein is really called something else altogether. This is a willful violation of RFC 3986."
  2. §2.7 Character Encodings: "The requirement to treat certain encodings as other encodings according to the table above is a willful violation of the W3C Character Model specification, motivated by a desire for compatibility with legacy content." Related bugs: Bug 7444, bug 7453, bug 7215, bug 7381. There was a recent discussion about character encoding, starting with Addison Phillips' feedback on behalf of the I18N working group, with several followups. Some salient quotes: Maciej (Apple, Safari): "Browsers for Latin-script locales pretty much universally use Windows-1252 as the default of last resort. This is necessary to be compatible with legacy content on the existing Web." Mark Davis (Google): "At Google, the encoding label is taken only as a weak signal (a small factor in the heuristic detection). It is completely overwhelmed by the byte content analysis. (There are too many unlabeled pages *and mislabeled pages* for the label to be used as is.)" Henri Sivoven (Mozilla contributor), in response to a question about what constitutes a "legacy environment" for the purposes of character encoding detection: "The Web is a legacy environment." (Ian Hickson echoes this sentiment.)
  3. §2.7 Character Encodings: "The requirement to default UTF-16 to LE rather than BE is a willful violation of RFC 2781, motivated by a desire for compatibility with legacy content."
  4. §3.4 Interactions with XPath and XSLT: "These requirements are a willful violation of the XPath 1.0 specification, motivated by desire to have implementations be compatible with legacy content while still supporting the changes that this specification introduces to HTML regarding which namespace is used for HTML elements."
  5. §3.4 Interactions with XPath and XSLT: "If the transformation program outputs an element in no namespace, the processor must, prior to constructing the corresponding DOM element node, change the namespace of the element to the HTML namespace, ASCII-lowercase the element's local name, and ASCII-lowercase the names of any non-namespaced attributes on the element. This requirement is a willful violation of the XSLT 1.0 specification, required because this specification changes the namespaces and case-sensitivity rules of HTML in a manner that would otherwise be incompatible with DOM-based XSLT transformations. (Processors that serialize the output are unaffected.)" There is a long discussion of these two violations in the comments of bug 7059.
  6. § Form submission algorithm: "Step 9: If action is the empty string, let action be the document's address. This step is a willful violation of RFC 3986, which would require base URL processing here. This violation is motivated by a desire for compatibility with legacy content."
  7. §6.5.3 Script processing model: "If the script's global object is a Window object, then in JavaScript, the this keyword in the global scope must return the Window object's WindowProxy object. This is a willful violation of the JavaScript specification current at the time of writing (ECMAScript edition 3). The JavaScript specification requires that the this keyword in the global scope return the global object, but this is not compatible with the security design prevalent in implementations as specified herein."
  8. §12.3.4 Other elements, attributes, and APIs: Regarding document.all, "These requirements are a willful violation of the JavaScript specification current at the time of writing (ECMAScript edition 3). The JavaScript specification requires that the ToBoolean() operator convert all objects to the true value, and does not have provisions for objects acting as if they were undefined for the purposes of certain operators. This violation is motivated by a desire for compatibility with two classes of legacy content: one that uses the presence of document.all as a way to detect legacy user agents, and one that only supports those legacy user agents and uses the document.all object without testing for its presence first."

As you can probably guess from these quotes, the HTML 5 community has decided that compatibility with existing web content trumps all other concerns. Other than the use of the term "URL," all of the "willful violations" are instances where other specifications do not adequately describe existing web content. I personally do not understand most of the issues listed here, so I have no opinion on whether the alleged benefit of violating existing standards is worth the alleged cost.


In-band global version identifiers, if new implementations handle them reasonably, may be useful for (a) authoring applications that want to track versions used for authoring (b) informative error handling when applications encounter constructs that are apparently 'in error'.

The idea of version identifiers has been hashed and rehashed throughout the 5+ year process of defining HTML 5. Most notably, Microsoft proposed a version identifer shortly after the W3C HTML Working Group reformed around HTML 5. Their proposal generated much discussion, but was not ultimately adopted. Several months later, Microsoft shipped Internet Explorer 8 with a "feature" called X-UA-Compatible, which serves as a kind of IE-specific version identifier. I am personally not a fan of this approach, in part because [PNG] it adds a lot of complexity for web developers who want to figure out why the still-dominant browser doesn't render their content according to standards.

Versioning in HTML 5 is tracked as HTML ISSUE-4.

Posted in WHATWG | 17 Comments »

Microdata (part 1)

Friday, July 31st, 2009

One of the features we've added in HTML5 is a way to include machine-readable annotations that people can scrape in a simple and well-defined way. This means that if a site wants to make the information available, you don't have to rely on brittle screen-scraping to get the information out.

This is easiest to understand with an example.

Suppose that you had an issue tracking database like Bugzilla, and that you wanted other tools to be able to pull information about issues in that database.

Today, Bugzilla exposes an XML file for each bug, but this means maintaining two parallel formats for the bug page. Instead of providing such a separate interface, you can use microdata, the new attributes in HTML5. That way, even as your issue tracker changes its interface from version to version, the underlying data can still be reliably readable from the same HTML page.

Imagine the markup today looks like this:

 <h1>Issue 12941: Too many pies in the pie factory</h1>

To annotate this with microdata, we just mint some names, and then label each field with those names. The names are in "reverse-DNS" form; if the bug system was at "", then the names would be "net.example.bug", "net.example.number", and so on. Thus we get:

<body item="net.example.bug">
 <h1>Issue <span itemprop="net.example.number">12941</span>:
  <span itemprop="net.example.title">Too many pies in the pie factory</span></h1>
  <dd itemprop="net.example.reporter"></dd>
  <dd itemprop="net.example.priority">AAA</dd>

The item="net.example.bug" attribute says "here is a bug". The various itemprop attributes provide name/value pairs for the bug. The snippet above would result in the following tree of data:

  net.example.number = "12941"
  net.example.title = "Too many pies in the pie factory"
  net.example.reporter = ""
  net.example.priority = "AAA"

Now it doesn't matter if the page is dramatically changed, the same data can still be made unambiguously available:

 <h1>Example.Net Bugs Database</h1>
 <section item="net.example.bug">
  <h1 itemprop="net.example.title">Too many pies in the pie factory</span></h1>
  <p>#<span itemprop="net.example.number">12941</span>; reported
  by <span itemprop="net.example.reporter"></span>.</p>
  <p>PRIORITY: <strong itemprop="net.example.priority">AAA</strong>.</p>

This concludes this brief introduction to microdata! Some future blog posts will introduce a few aspects of microdata that I didn't discuss here:

Posted in WHATWG | 19 Comments »

Help us review HTML5!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Are you interested in reviewing HTML5 for errors?

  1. Jump in! All feedback is welcome, from anyone.
  2. Open the specification: either the one-page version, or the multipage version or the PDF copy (A4, Letter)
  3. Start reading! See below for ideas of what to look for.

If you find a problem, either send an e-mail to the WHATWG list (, subscription required), file a bug (registration required), send an e-mail to the list (no subscription required), or send an e-mail directly to

If everything goes according to plan, all issues will get a response from the editor before October. You can track how many issues remain to be responded to on our graph.

What to look for

The plan is to see whether we can shake down the spec and get rid of all the minor problems that have so far been overlooked. Typos, confusion, cross-reference errors, as well as mistakes in examples, errors in the definitions, and major errors like security bugs or contradictions.

Anyone who helps find problems in the spec — however minor — will get their name in the acknowledgements section.

You don't really need any experience to find the simplest class of problems: things that are confusing! If you don't understand something, then that's a problem. Not all the introduction sections and examples are yet written, but if there is a section with an introduction section that isn't clear, then you've found an issue: let us know!

Something else that would now be good to search for is typos, spelling errors, grammar errors, and the like. Don't hesitate to send e-mails even for minor typos, all feedback even on such small issues is very welcome.

If you have a specific need as a Web designer, then try to see if the need is met. If it isn't, and you haven't discussed this need before, then send an e-mail to the list. (So for example, if you want HTML to support date picker widgets, you'd look in the spec to see if it was covered. As it turns out, that one is!)

If you have some specific expertise that lets you review a particular part of the spec for correctness, then that's another thing to look for. For example if you know about graphics, then reviewing the 2D Canvas API section would be a good use of your resources. If you know about scripting, then looking at the "Web browsers" section would be a good use of your time.

Staying in touch

You are encouraged to join our IRC channel #whatwg on Freenode to stay in touch with what other people are doing, but this is by no means required. You are also encouraged to post in the Discussion section on the wiki page for this review project, or in the blog comments below, to let people know what you are reviewing. You can get news updates by following @WHATWG on Twitter.

Posted in WHATWG | 17 Comments »

This week in HTML 5 – Episode 16

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Welcome back to "This Week in HTML 5," where I'll try to summarize the major activity in the ongoing standards process in the WHATWG and W3C HTML Working Group.

The big news this week is r2529, which makes so many changes that I had to ask Ian to explain it to me. This is what he said:

Someone asked for onbeforeunload, so I started fixing it. Then I found that there was some rot in the drywall. So I took down the drywall. Then I found a rat infestation. So I killed all the rats. Then I found that the reason for the rot was a slow leak in the plumbing. So I tried fixing the plumbing, but it turned out the whole building used lead pipes. So I had to redo all the plumbing. But then I found that the town's water system wasn't quite compatible with modern plumbing techniques, and I had to dig up the entire town. And that's basically it.

"Amusing, in a quiet way," said Eeyore, "but not really helpful."

Basically, the way that scripts are defined has changed dramatically. Not in an terribly incompatible way, just a clearer definition that paves the way for better specification of certain properties of script (and noscript). Let's start with the new definition of a script:

A script has:

A script execution environment

The characteristics of the script execution environment depend on the language, and are not defined by this specification.

In JavaScript, the script execution environment consists of the interpreter, the stack of execution contexts, the global code and function code and the Function objects resulting, and so forth.

A list of code entry-points

Each code entry-point represents a block of executable code that the script exposes to other scripts and to the user agent.

Each Function object in a JavaScript script execution environment has a corresponding code entry-point, for instance.

The main program code of the script, if any, is the initial code entry-point. Typically, the code corresponding to this entry-point is executed immediately after the script is parsed.

In JavaScript, this corresponds to the execution context of the global code.

A relationship with the script's global object

An object that provides the APIs that the code can use.

This is typically a Window object. In JavaScript, this corresponds to the global object.

When a script's global object is an empty object, it can't do anything that interacts with the environment.

A relationship with the script's browsing context

A browsing context that is assigned responsibility for actions taken by the script.

When a script creates and navigates a new top-level browsing context, the opener attribute of the new browsing context's Window object will be set to the script's browsing context's Window object.

A character encoding

A character encoding, set when the script is created, used to encode URLs. If the character encoding is set from another source, e.g. a document's character encoding, then the script's character encoding must follow the source, so that if the source's changes, so does the script's.

A base URL

A URL, set when the script is created, used to resolve relative URLs. If the base URL is set from another source, e.g. a document base URL, then the script's base URL must follow the source, so that if the source's changes, so does the script's.

Membership in a script group

A group of one or more scripts that are loaded in the same context, which are always disabled as a group. Scripts in a script group all have the same global object and browsing context.

A script group can be frozen. When a script group is frozen, any code defined in that script group will throw an exception when invoked. A frozen script group can be unfrozen, allowing scripts in that script group to run normally again.

The most interesting part of this new definition is the script group, a new concept which now governs all scripts. When a Document is created, it gets a fresh script group, which contains all the scripts that are defined (or are later created somehow) in the document. When the user navigates away from the document, the entire script group is frozen, and browsers should not execute those scripts anymore. This sounds like an obvious statement if you think of documents as individual browser windows (or tabs), but consider the case of a document with multiple frames, or one with an embedded iframe. Suppose that the user clicks some link within the iframe that only navigates to a new URL within the iframe (i.e. the parent document stays the same). The parent document may have some reference to functions defined in the old iframe. Should it still be able to call these functions? IE says no; other browsers say yes. HTML 5 now says no, because when the iframe navigates to a new URL, the old iframes script group is frozen -- even if there are active references to those scripts (say, from the parent document), browsers shouldn't allow the page to execute them.

The main benefit of this new concept of script groups is that it removes a number of complications faced by the non-IE browsers. For example, it prevents the problem of scripts suddenly discovering that their global object is no longer the object that they think of as the Window object. Script groups are also frozen when calling Freezing script groups also defines the point at which timers and other callbacks are reset, which is something that previous versions of HTML had never defined.

And after all of this ripping up and redefining, HTML 5 now defines the onbeforeunload event, which is already supported by major browsers.

Other interesting tidbits this week:

Tune in next week for another exciting episode of "This Week in HTML 5."

Posted in Weekly Review, WHATWG | 2 Comments »