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Web devs gasp: HTML5 takes big step toward standardization

HTML 5.1, Canvas 2D specs also announced

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The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) has moved ahead with plans to develop the next two versions of the HTML web markup language, having released new draft specifications of HTML5, HTML 5.1, and related standards.

On Monday, the web standards body published the first "candidate recommendation" of HTML5, bringing the standard to a level that indicates its features are mostly locked and that future significant changes are unlikely.

"As of today, businesses know what they can rely on for HTML5 in the coming years, and what their customers will demand," W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe said in a statement. "Likewise, developers will know what skills to cultivate to reach smart phones, cars, televisions, ebooks, digital signs, and devices not yet known."

The move is the latest step in what has been a notoriously lengthy process. The last version of the web markup language, HTML 4.01, became a formal standard way back in 1999.

For a while, many experts thought that XHTML – a reformulation of HTML based on XML – would be the HTML 4 standard's natural successor. But when work on XHTML 2.0 stalled in 2004, an industry consortium calling itself the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) began drafting a new spec that it dubbed HTML5.

WHATWG's work was adopted by the W3C HTML Working Group in 2007, and the current HTML5 specification combines the work of both organizations, although each takes a somewhat different approach.

The W3C's focus is on establishing a firm, formal HTML5 standard, a process it does not expect to complete until 2014 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, WHATWG continues to develop its own, more supple version of the HTML spec, sans version number, as what it calls a "living standard." As The Reg goes to press, the WHATWG document was also last updated on Monday.

This friendly "coopetition" seems to have had positive effect on the W3C, which has instituted a number of changes in recent months in the interest of meeting its self-imposed deadlines for HTML5.

In September, recognizing that its formal standardization process might be just a touch too glacial, the W3C announced that it would defer some features of its proposed HTML5 spec until a later version, which would be known as HTML 5.1.

The group published the first draft of the HTML 5.1 spec on Monday, simultaneous with the release of the latest HTML5 draft. This initial document is essentially the same thing as the earlier HTML5 spec, with the unstable features that were excluded from the current HTML5 draft left in. As before, features that fail to stabilize as HTML 5.1 matures will be deferred to a later version or removed.

In addition, the W3C published a new version of the related Canvas 2D specification, a set of interfaces for rendering arbitrary bitmapped graphics within the browser window. Although technically only a "working draft" – the first phase of the W3C standardization process – the group says the Canvas 2D document represents "the complete definition" of the standard.

And so the process of standardizing HTML and its related technologies lumbers on. The next step for HTML5 within the W3C will be to advance it to "proposed recommendation" status, which would leave it just one step away from becoming a final standard.

According to the current draft of the spec, we should expect that to happen no sooner than September 1, 2014. ®

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