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Although HTML5 has been well known among web developers for years, it became the topic of mainstream media around April 2010[10][11][12][13] after Apple Incs then-CEO Steve Jobs issued a public letter titled "Thoughts on Flash" where he concludes that "[Adobe] Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content" and that "new open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win".[14] This sparked a debate in web development circles where some suggested that while HTML5 provides enhanced functionality, developers must consider the varying browser support of the different parts of the standard as well as other functionality differences between HTML5 and Flash.[15] In early November 2011, Adobe announced that it will discontinue development of Flash for mobile devices and reorient its efforts in developing tools utilizing HTML5.[16]

The Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software presented a position paper at a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) workshop in June 2004,[17] focusing on developing technologies that are backwards compatible with existing browsers,[18] including an initial draft specification of Web Forms 2.0. The workshop concluded with a vote, 8 for, 14 against, for continuing work on HTML.[19] Later that month, work based upon that position paper moved to the newly formed Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), and a second draft, Web Applications 1.0, was also announced.[20] The two specifications were later merged to form HTML5.[21] The HTML5 specification was adopted as the starting point of the work of the new HTML working group of the W3C in 2007.

WHATWG published the First Public Working Draft of the specification on 22 January 2008.[22] Parts of HTML5 have been implemented in browsers despite the whole specification not yet having reached final Recommendation status.

On 14 February 2011, the W3C extended the charter of its HTML Working Group with clear milestones for HTML5. In May 2011, the working group advanced HTML5 to "Last Call", an invitation to communities inside and outside W3C to confirm the technical soundness of the specification. The W3C is developing a comprehensive test suite to achieve broad interoperability for the full specification by 2014, which is now the target date for Recommendation.[23] In January 2011, the WHATWG renamed its "HTML5" living standard to "HTML". The W3C nevertheless continues its project to release HTML5.[24]

In July 2012, WHATWG and W3C decided on a degree of separation. W3C will continue the HTML5 specification work, focusing on a single definitive standard, which is considered as a "snapshot" by WHATWG. The WHATWG organization will continue its work with HTML5 as a "Living Standard". The concept of a living standard is that it is never complete and is always being updated and improved. New features can be added but functionality will not be removed.[25]

In December 2012, W3C designated HTML5 as a Candidate Recommendation.[26] The criterion for advancement to W3C Recommendation is "two 100% complete and fully interoperable implementations".[27][28]

In September 2012, the W3C proposed a plan[29] to release a stable HTML5 Recommendation by the end of 2014 and an HTML 5.1 specification Recommendation by the end of 2016.

The W3C proposed a greater reliance on modularity as a key part of the plan to make faster progress, meaning identifying specific features, either proposed or already existing in the spec, and advancing them as separate specifications. Some technologies that were originally defined in HTML5 itself are now defined in separate specifications:

Some specifications that were initially developed standalone have been adapted as HTML5 extensions or features by reference: SVG, MathML, WAI-ARIA.

In addition to specifying markup, HTML5 specifies scripting application programming interfaces (APIs) that can be used with JavaScript.[36] Existing document object model (DOM) interfaces are extended and de facto features documented. There are also new APIs, such as:

Not all of the above technologies are included in the W3C HTML5 specification, though they are in the WHATWG HTML specification.[42] Some related technologies, which are not part of either the W3C HTML5 or the WHATWG HTML specification, are as follows. The W3C publishes specifications for these separately:

XHTML5 is the XML serialization of HTML5. XML documents must be served with an XML Internet media type such as application/xhtml+xml or application/xml.[51] XHTML5 requires XMLs strict, well-formed syntax. The choice between HTML5 and XHTML5 boils down to the choice of a MIME/content type: the media type one chooses determines what type of document should be used.[52] In XHTML5, the HTML5 doctype html is optional and may simply be omitted.[53] HTML that has been written to conform to both the HTML and XHTML specifications—and which will therefore produce the same DOM tree whether parsed as HTML or XML—is termed "polyglot markup".