HTML5 is here, and the Web will never be the same.
You’ve no doubt heard that before, or something like it. I’d
guess that when you did, you got excited, rolled your eyes, or mouthed the word
“why?” and furrowed your brow a bit. Perhaps your reaction was a mix of all
I wouldn’t blame you for any of these. HTML5 is exciting, and it
does have the potential to change the Web as we know it, but it also gets blown
out of proportion. What’s more, its true meaning can be elusive. I’ve
experienced each of those reactions myself while building applications with
HTML5. It’s a broad topic, so it’s difficult to wrap your head around HTML5,
much less know where to begin with this exciting new set of technologies.
You might have discovered by now that HTML5 means different
things to different people. To some, it just means new tags like <header>
and <footer> and a handful of new attributes available in markup. To
others, it means everything that’s new and interesting on the Web, including
technologies implemented in just a single browser or other specifications not
officially part of HTML5. To be sure, understanding the real meaning of HTML5
is often the first roadblock many of us face.
And, honestly, there’s some justification for the number of
varying definitions. HTML5 is huge! Formally defined by an international
standards body known as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), HTML5 consists of
more than 100 specifications that relate to the next generation of Web
technologies. By putting all 100-plus of these specifications under the moniker
HTML5, you could argue that the W3C oversimplified things. And while it’s hard
to take something as broad as HTML5 and define it in an unambiguous way, I
believe that the W3C was trying to address the scope of what’s changing on the
Web by introducing HTML5 as a unifying concept for that change.
In fact, HTML5 is an umbrella term describing a set of HTML, CSS
generation of Web sites and applications. What’s notable in that definition is
most of new Web development features. Simply put, HTML5 = HTML + CSS +
And that’s it. HTML5 is about changes to HTML, CSS and
terms describe the breadth and scope of HTML5. Still think that’s a bit
simplistic? It may be, but as you’ll soon see, a comprehensive definition of
HTML5 doesn’t matter as much as the technologies you choose as worthy of your
time and effort to adopt.
With a definition in hand, let’s spend a few moments talking
about where Microsoft fits into the HTML5 space.
and Internet Explorer
As I mentioned, the set of specifications that make up HTML5 are
stewarded by the W3C. The W3C consists of staff, organizations and individuals
invested in helping to drive and define the future of the Web. The WC3 is a
consensus-based organization, and typically operates by forming committees
(called working groups) to divide up chunks of work on related specifications.
Specifications can be proposed by any member, and all specifications owned by
the W3C—more specifications than those that fall under the HTML5 umbrella—move
through a five-stage process from first draft to official recommendation.
Microsoft is a member of the W3C and plays a very active role in
the specification process for many HTML5 standards and working groups. Just
like all of the major browser vendors, Microsoft is heavily invested in HTML5
and is working with the W3C and other vendors to ensure that developers can
count on HTML5 technologies being reliably implemented in an interoperable way
on all major browsers.
In the context of Microsoft the browser vendor, the approach is
- Deliver the best site-ready HTML5 today via Internet Explorer 9.
- Expose upcoming features to developers via Internet Explorer
- Invest in interoperability through tests submitted to the W3C.
- Prototype unstable standards via HTML5 labs.
“Site-Ready HTML5” is the term Microsoft uses to describe HTML5
technologies that you can use today because they have broad support across all
major browsers. Technologies like the new HTML tags, Canvas, Scalable Vector
Graphics, Audio and Video, Geolocation, Web Storage and many new CSS3 modules
all fall into this space, and they’re implemented in Internet Explorer 9, as
well as the other mainstream browsers. We’ll spend a fair amount of time in
this series discussing these technologies, as well as how you can adopt them
Beyond what’s available at present, Microsoft is using public
Platform Previews to inform developers of what’s coming in the next version of
the browser, as well as to gather feedback. For Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft
released Platform Previews every six to eight weeks, each time announcing new
HTML5 enhancements, features and performance improvements for developers to try
out and evaluate. Internet Explorer 9 was released in March and as of early
July, Microsoft has released two Platform Previews for Internet Explorer 10,
signaling that Microsoft is continuing a regular release cadence for Internet
Explorer previews. As a developer, you’ll want to take advantage of the latest
previews to learn, test and influence how the browsers evolve. You can download
the latest Internet Explorer Platform Preview at IETestDrive.com.
To ensure that HTML5 works consistently across all browsers,
Microsoft has invested heavily in interoperability, creating and submitting the
single largest suite of test cases related to HTML5 to the W3C. For the first
time, this suite of test cases will be used by the W3C as the authoritative
source of HTML5 “readiness” in each browser. The end result for you and me as
developers is that we can adopt and implement HTML5 technologies once, and
trust that they’ll work consistently across all browsers. For more information
on Microsoft’s work around interoperability, go to bit.ly/dxB12S.
While some HTML5 technologies already exist in Internet Explorer
9, and others are being announced for Internet Explorer 10 via Internet
Explorer Platform Previews, some popular and newsworthy specifications need a
bit more work by the W3C and the browser vendors before they’ll be ready to implement
in our applications. One such example is Web Sockets, an exciting specification
that lets developers open bidirectional communication channels with back-end
servers, thus enabling a level of “real-time” connectivity not previously
available in Web applications. As a developer, you can no doubt imagine
countless uses for Web Sockets in the applications you’re building right now.
But the Web Sockets specification is still changing at a rapid pace, with key
aspects still in flux and being discussed within the W3C. Given that situation,
it would be difficult to provide this feature consistently and reliably across
all browsers today.
For unstable or evolving specifications like Web Sockets (which
we’ll cover in depth in a future article), Microsoft created HTML5 Labs, a site
for developers to experiment with draft implementations of these technologies.
The site provides prototypes you can download and try locally, as well as
hosted demos for some specs. The goal is to give you a place to try these specs
out for yourself, and for you to give both Microsoft and the W3C feedback on
these specs as they stabilize and near implementation in browsers. For more
information on HTML5 Labs, go to html5labs.com.
and Microsoft Developer Tools
Beyond Microsoft’s involvement with the W3C and the HTML5
technologies supported in the browser, there’s another dimension to Microsoft’s
approach to HTML5 that’s important for developers: its approach to HTML5
In early 2011, Microsoft updated two of its development tools
with service packs: Visual Studio 2010 and Expression Web 4. The service packs
for both of these tools provided an HTML5 document type for validation, as well
as IntelliSense for new HTML5 tags and attributes. If you’re using Visual
Studio 2010 SP1, you can enable the HTML5 Schema by clicking Tools | Options |
Text Editor | HTML | Validation, and then selecting the HTML5 option in the
Target drop-down list, as shown in Figure 1. You can also set HTML5 as
the default schema from the HTML Source Editing Toolbar in any HTML file, as
shown in Figure 2.
Figure 1 Enabling the HTML5 Schema via the Options Dialog
Figure 2 Setting the HTML5 Schema on the HTML Source Editing Toolbar
Once your default schema is set, you’ll gain IntelliSense
support in Visual Studio for the 28 new semantic tags in HTML, as well as new
tag-specific and global attributes, as show in Figure 3.
Figure 3 HTML5 IntelliSense in Visual Studio 2010 SP1
Microsoft further updated its HTML5 support with its release of
the Web Standards Update for Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 SP1 in June 2011.
This extension, which works with all editions of Visual Studio 2010, adds
IntelliSense for new browser capabilities like Geolocation and DOM Storage, and
provides comprehensive CSS3 IntelliSense and validation. You can download this
extension, which will be regularly updated to provide enhanced tooling for
HTML5 development, from bit.ly/m7OB13.
For Expression Web 4 SP1, setting the HTML5 schema under Tools |
Page Options offers the same IntelliSense, and the tool also provides CSS3
IntelliSense for several draft CSS3 modules like border-radius, box-shadow,
transform and the like.
If you’re using WebMatrix (see web.ms/WebMatrix), you may have noticed that all new .html, .cshtml or .vbhtml
documents you create contain default markup similar to what’s shown in Figure
4. As I’ll discuss in the next article in this series, this is a basic,
valid HTML5 document. Most notably, the doctype and meta charset tags have lost
a lot of cruft. Using this simple doctype triggers HTML5 mode across all modern
browsers, and WebMatrix makes it easier for you by providing an HTML5 document
1. <!DOCTYPE html>
2. <html lang="en">
4. <meta charset="utf-8" />
Figure 4 A Default HTML Document in WebMatrix
If that’s not enough new HTML5 tooling for you—all since January
2011, by the way—ASP.NET MVC recently got in on the fun with the ASP.NET MVC 3
Tools Update announced at MIX11 in April. Along with a number of other great
new tooling features, the ASP.NET MVC 3 Tools Update provides the option to use
the HTML5 doctype for new projects—and ships Modernizr 1.7 in the Scripts
eases HTML5 development; I’ll discuss it in depth in a future article.
The takeaway here is that even though HTML5 is just emerging in
our browsers, official tool support is quickly being added, and Microsoft is
even adding support for libraries (like Modernizr) from the community. You can
target HTML5 with some help from Microsoft tools today, and expect that that
HTML5 support will continue to grow and improve over time.
HTML5 in Your Applications
By now, you should realize that HTML5 isn’t a single entity that
you can adopt or migrate to in one fell swoop. Adopting HTML5, rather than
being a wholesale choice, is about making a technology-by-technology evaluation
and determining which technologies are right for your application. For each
HTML5 technology you evaluate, look at (at least) the following factors when
deciding whether that technology is ready for you to adopt:
- How widely implemented across all major browsers is the
- How would you adopt this technology and “polyfill” support for
browsers that don’t support a given feature?
The first factor is the most important, and when combined with
an understanding of the browsers commonly used by visitors to your site, should
give you a clear picture of which subset of the 100-plus specifications is
worth evaluating further. That subset should consist of a set of stable
specifications you can reliably adopt today for your users.
However, even with that stable set of HTML5 technologies, you
shouldn’t ignore your users who haven’t moved to a newer browser. If you’re
heavily involved in the day-to-day development for your site, you no doubt have
some rough idea of the percentages of users visiting your site with a given
browser. For most of us, it would be easy to look at the percentage of users
visiting with an older browser and come to the conclusion that adopting any
HTML5 technologies would negatively impact those users. Luckily there’s
“polyfilling” to save us from waiting until some foggy date in the future to
Paul Irish (a developer on the jQuery and Modernizr projects)
defines a polyfill as “… a shim that mimics a future API, providing fallback
functionality to older browsers.” A polyfill is like spackle for your Web
sites; it’s a way to determine if a given HTML5 feature is available to the
user currently browsing your site, and to provide either a shim that “fills in”
that support or a course of graceful degradation that enables your site to
still function fully.
The most popular library associated with polyfilling is
basic polyfills for semantic markup, feature detection for major HTML5
technologies and support for conditional CSS based on supported features. As
noted, Modernizr will be the subject of an upcoming article; it will also
feature prominently (along with many other polyfilling libraries) throughout
this series. To learn more, download Modernizr at modernizr.com.
When it comes to choosing which technologies to adopt, your
final list may be a combination of widely supported specifications and other
specifications for which you’ll have to polyfill support for certain browsers.
Only you will know the exact makeup of that list based on your current needs
In the coming months, I’ll discuss several notable
specifications, from Geolocation and Forms and Canvas, to Web Workers, Web
Sockets and IndexedDB. Some of these are widely supported and “site-ready,” and
some, like Web Sockets, are too groundbreaking to ignore, regardless of where
they stand today. With each specification, I’ll discuss current and known
future support, some basics about how you can implement the specification’s
features on your sites, and how to polyfill support for browsers that don’t
support a given feature.
If you want to dig more into HTML5 today, I suggest you pick up
a couple of books on the subject. In particular, I recommend “Introducing
HTML5” (New Riders, 2010) by Bruce Lawson and Remy Sharp and “HTML5 Up and
Running” (O’Reilly Media, 2010) by Mark Pilgrim. Also, be sure to visit W3C.org for
up-to-date information on all specifications, as well as BeautyoftheWeb.com and IETestDrive.com to download Internet Explorer 9 and the Internet Explorer 10
Platform Preview, respectively, and learn more about the great HTML5
experiences Microsoft is delivering through the browser.
Above all else, start adopting HTML5 today. The Web won’t ever
be the same, really, and you can be part of the catalyst by building the next
great Web applications using HTML5.