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Help Test HTML5 Parsing in Gecko

by Henri Sivonen in Browsers, Processing Model, Syntax

The HTML5 parsing algorithm is meant to demystify HTML parsing and make it uniform across implementations in a backwards-compatible way. The algorithm has had “in the lab” testing, but so far it hasn’t been tested inside a browser by a large number of people. You can help change that now!

A while ago, an implementation of the HTML5 parsing algorithm landed on mozilla-central preffed off. Anyone who is testing Firefox nightly builds can now opt to turn on the HTML5 parser and test it.

How to Participate?

First, this isn’t release-quality software. Testing the HTML5 parser carries all the same risks as testing a nightly build in general, and then some. It may crash, it may corrupt your Firefox profile, etc. If you aren’t comfortable with taking the risks associated with running nighly builds, you shouldn’t participate.

If you are still comfortable with testing, download a trunk nightly build, run it, navigate to about:config and flip the preference named html5.enable to true. This makes Gecko use the HTML5 parser when loading pages into the content area and when setting innerHTML. The HTML5 parser is not used for HTML embedded in feeds, Netscape bookmark import, View Source, etc., yet.

The html5.enable preference doesn’t require a restart to take effect. It takes effect the next time you load a page.

What to Test?

The main thing is getting the HTML5 parser exposed to a wide range of real Web content that people browse. This may turn up crashes or compatibility problems.

So the way to help is to use nightly builds with the HTML5 parser for browsing as usual. If you see no difference, things are going well! If you see a page misbehaving—or, worse, crashing—with the HTML5 parser turned on but not with it turned off, please report the problem.

Reporting Bugs

Please file bugs in the “Core” product under “HTML: Parser” component with “[HTML5] ” at the start of the summary.

Known Problems

First and foremost, please refer to the list of known bugs.

However, I’d like to highlight a particular issue: Support for comments ending with --!> is in the spec, but the patch hasn’t landed, yet. Support for similar endings of pseudo-comment escapes within script element content is not in the spec yet. The practical effect is that the rest of the page may end up being swallowed up inside a comment or a script element.

Another issue is that the new parser doesn’t yet inhibit document.write() in places where it shouldn’t be allowed per spec but where the old parser allowed it.

Is There Anything New?

So what’s fun if success is that you notice no change? There are important technical things under the hood—like TCP packet boundaries not affecting the parse result and there never being unnotified nodes in the tree when the event loop spins—but you aren’t supposed to notice.

However, there is a major new visible feature, too. With the HTML5 parser, you can use SVG and MathML in text/html pages. This means that you can:

And yes, you can even put SVG inside MathML <annotation-xml> or MathML inside <foreignObject>. The mixing you’ve seen in XML is now supported in HTML, too.

If you aren’t concerned with taking the steps to make things degrade nicely in browsers that don’t support SVG and MathML in HTML, you can simply copy and paste XML output from your favorite SVG or MathML editor into your HTML source as long as the editor doesn’t use namespace prefixes for elements and uses the prefix xlink for XLink attributes.

If you don’t use the XML empty element syntax and you put you SVG text nodes in CDATA sections, the page will degrade gracefully in older HTML browser so that the image simply disappears but the rest of the page is intact. You can even put a fallback bitmap as <img> inside <desc>. Unfortunately, there isn’t a similar technique for MathML, though if you want to develop one, I suggest experimenting with the <annotation> as your <desc>-like container.

There are known issues with matching camelCase names with Selectors or getElementByTagName, though.

8 Responses to “Help Test HTML5 Parsing in Gecko”

  1. Hello,

    I have very little knowledge of Gecko internals, but i was wondering: is this HTML 5 parser developed in order to replace the legacy HTML parser in Gecko? Is it somewhat planned for Firefox 4 or maybe Firefox

    The advantages of this new parser look promising. I guess it would be a better technical foundation for further improvements. At the same time, this could mean a pretty harsh transition for a future version of Firefox, if say Firefox 4 “breaks” (arguably badly coded) websites that used to work in previous versions.

    Sorry if this is discussed elsewhere.

  2. Florent V, yes, this will eventually replace the existing parser in future Firefox builds. I don’t know whether it will make it into Firefox 4, though. There’s a chance it might, depending on Mozilla’s roadmap.

  3. Hm…it’s not working for me. I’m running the 20090708 Shiretoko nightly on Linux. There wasn’t an html5.enable property in my about:config, so I created it as a boolean value and set it to true.

    Is there anything else I need to do to get this to work?

  4. Henri,

    Maybe you could add to your post that people can create a new profile specifically for testing Firefox nightlies.

  5. Florent V., if enabling the HTML5 parser breaks websites that used to work, then it’s either a bug in Firefox (if it doesn’t follow the spec) or in the HTML5 spec itself. And, I assume, either way it will be fixed.