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HTML5 Fork

Revised 2014/09/09

A small glass of beer WHATWG was part of the W3C effort to move the HTML standards along. Now they are in competition to deliver the latest standard.

What is this fork all about? There is a fundamental difference about what the process should be. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the organization that has been responsible for defining and maintaining standards for web technologies since the beginning of the internet. Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) is a group of individuals brought together by technically knowledgeable eople from Apple, Mozilla, and Opera. The two groups have different specs, so each has authority over its own spec. These specs can and have diverged on some topics.

W3C created most of the standards web developers rely on. The Internet would be a labyrinth of competing interests without the efforts of the W3C.

WHATWG was created and became a spinoff because they considered XHTML to be the wrong way to go. They are probably right about that, but their approach is chaotic, and with W3C now committed to HTML5 their arguments may be moot.

W3C tries to find consensus. WHATWG is driven by influence and power.

The W3C follows a proven method for specification development, that gave us CSS standards, HTML standards, the DOM specification, the event model definition, etc. The specifications have not always been perfect, but they gave enough stability to allow developers to find reliable cross-browser, cross-version approaches.

Quote from the WHATWG FAQ:

"The WHATWG specifications are described as Living Standards. This means that they are standards that are continuously updated as they receive feedback, either from Web designers, browser vendors, tool vendors, or indeed any other interested party. It also means that new features get added to them over time, at a rate intended to keep the specifications a little ahead of the implementations but not so far ahead that the implementations give up."

Doesn't that approach let manufacturers define what the standards will be. If two manufacturers disagree are we back to the '90s? We already have the -moz, -webkit mess that makes CSS fuzzy. How long before we see <-moz-newtag> and <-webkit-newtag> and custom DOMs the way we did with Netscape 4 and IE4 defining there own "standards"? Maybe we should get rid of markup and just generate the object model with jquery.That would be fun.

WHATWG says:

"Instead of ignoring what the browsers do, we fix the spec to match what the browsers do. Instead of leaving the specification ambiguous, we fix the the specification to define how things work."


Are we going back to writing different versions of code for different browsers. Where does correct behavior get defined when browsers do things differently.

WHATWG has been clear that they do not care about version. They say they are working on HTML, not any given version. So there is only one HTML5 spec; right? Well no that is a W3C specification and WHATWG does not even consider validation very important. The overall philosophy seems to be do what you want and we will change the spec to match what you are doing. So it looks like there are to be as many versions of the standards as there are browser versions.

Can W3C and WHATWG get back together, to avoid chaos for developers?

This is what WHATWG says:

"The WHATWG originally committed to remaining consistent with the W3C spec unless the W3C working group showed a lapse in judgement. When that (in Hixie's opinion) occurred, there was little choice left but to let the specs diverge.

The plan to get the specs to converge again, such as it is, is to just do a better job with the WHATWG spec, such that it becomes the logical and obvious choice for anyone wanting to figure out which spec they should use."

So basically WHATWG seems to be saying they are not prepared to accept anything but their arbitrary unorganized approach and there are going to be two competing standards. So the manufacturers that support WHATWG will get whatever they want, and developers again get put in the middle of a competition. At least that is how I read it.

What does this WHATWG approach look like in practice? One of the questions that Keeps getting asked on Q/A sites and help forums is "what is the correct way to use <article> and <section>? Are sections semantically part of articles or do articles go in sections?"

This is how WHATWG describes the semantic relationship in their FAQ:

"Sections can contain Articles, and vice versa. e.g. you can have a section that is news, a section that is editorials, a section that is sports, each with many articles, and each of those can have subsections, and each section can have comments, which are marked up using <article>, and each comment could be big enough that it has separate <section>s, and so on."

HUH??? What the hell does that even mean? Just create some tag soup? Forget about accessibility? Semantics are overrated, and web pages are art, not engineering? Looks like nested lists on steroids which should give us some CSS nonsense like:
section article section ul li article section {color:magenta;}
and it is almost certain that some moron will do a template based on that kind of junk to sell to even bigger morons who won't know how to do simple changes to it.

So welcome to the world of the WHATWG standard where compliance is easy because you can just do anything and it is standard because validation is irrelevant and browser marketing trumps rules. comment box Just do what you like, and let the guy who has to maintain it figure out how to add the next feature to the tag soup.

Hopefully professional developers will understand that continuing to validate to W3C standards is the only way to keep the browser manufacturers on the straight and narrow, and W3C will stick to its guns and continue to use proven methods to produce standards that benefit all stakeholders instead of an elite group of WHATWG insiders.


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