Friday, May 27, 2011

HTML5 Goes to Last Call (of First Step)

HTML5 logo If you follow the ongoing developments of HTML5, by which I mean the W3C specification and not the regular JavaScript and CSS sites-of-cool-gee-whiz bandied about across the web (Apple.com (Not Really) Updated to HTML5, Google Doodle: Bouncy Balls Aren't HTML5, Google, Arcade Fire Confused on HTML5), then you probably know that it has gone to Last Call as of two days ago. I think, however, that we all need a little context for what this means.

The version of HTML5 I am referencing here is the W3C version, not the WHATWG version. WHATWG has already stated that it will not be releasing discrete versions of HTML, owing partly to the modular nature of the specification. The W3C, however, is still keeping versions and sending the core HTML5 specification and related specifications to last call. Both organizations have been providing updates as they have them (W3C and WHATWG Provide HTML5 Updates), not counting the public mailing lists.

To clarify further, there are six specifications heading into last call, one of them is HTML5. The specifications are:

And just to keep things interesting, the W3C published three other documents at the same time, which are related to the six specifications mentioned above:

What's important to note here is that last call in this context does not mean that the HTML5 specification will be ready at 4:15am (in Buffalo, bars are open to about 4am, so last call is at about 4am). This is simply the last part of the first step of a four step process. The four steps:

  1. Working Draft (WD): This is the first time a proposed specification is shown to the public and open for comment.
  2. Candidate Recommendation (CR): Significant features are mostly locked and feedback is requested in how to implement the standard.
  3. Proposed Recommendation (PR): The specification has been submitted to the W3C Advisory Council for approval. Changes at this point are rare.
  4. W3C Recommendation (REC): The specification is final and endorsed by the W3C. This is what the general public considers a final standard.

To recap, we are approaching the end of the Working Draft step. This meets the timeline that the W3C laid out in the HTML Working Group Charter and a press release from mid-February (ok, Valentine's Day) of this year. The schedule that working group has been pushing all along puts the final release of HTML5 in the second quarter of 2014. The dates as laid out in the charter, as they correspond to each step in the process

  1. Working Draft (WD): Last call: 2nd Quarter 2011
  2. Candidate Recommendation (CR): 2nd Quarter 2012
  3. Proposed Recommendation (PR): 1st Quarter 2014
  4. W3C Recommendation (REC): 2nd Quarter 2014

If the HTML working group keeps making its deadlines, we are still three years out from a final standard (or set of standards, really). Given how complex these all are and how much debate is happening among them, it shouldn't be a surprise that it can take this long. For example, these two posts helped re-open the issue of alt attributes in HTML5: Image alt Attributes Not Always Required in HTML5, More on Image alt Requirement in HTML5.

If we're practical about all this, and I'd like to think we are, we are in the midst of a new set of browser skirmishes that have resulted in greater and greater support for many of the features to be included in HTML5 and its related specifications. Even if the semantic meaning of all the new elements can't be harnessed in CSS or even in search engine parsing, some of the more advanced features can be used in some of the more advanced browsers. These are all contributing to testing the specifications, something necessary for a specification to keep moving forward (indeed, test suites are a necessary part of the natural flow).

If you are interested in contributing to the specification, you have until August 3, 2011 to get your feedback to the working group. If you want more detail on what you can do or what is expected, go read the FAQ for HTML5 Last Call.

Now I'd like to put a little context in place here. Nearly a year ago I wrote about how CSS 2.1 was not yet a final specification (CSS 2.1 Still Not Final). CSS 2.1 was in the second step as a Candidate Recommendation. the CSS 2.0 specification was finalized in May 1998, but it's taken over 12 years to move the 2.1 revision along. That has not, however, stopped its real-world implementation by developers. It also helps that CSS 2.1 is just building on CSS 2, so it's not quite a fair analogue.

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