To the ordinary user, the World Wide Web has come a long way in less than two decades: from those early, brightly colored Geocities websites, to simple sites such as Google, to highly interactive sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Ten years ago, most websites were based on text; images were a luxury, videos were unheard of. Now, you can play multimedia content right on your browser. We have indeed come a long way. Perhaps that’s why it’s so surprising to discover that the technology behind everything we’ve seen on the Web so far has more or less remained the same.
HTML, the language used by programmers and webmasters to create websites, has largely remained unchanged for more than a decade now. In fact, it was only in 2010 that mainstream media started dropping HTML5 into the news, and the Worldwide Web Consortium only accepted the proposed standard in 2011.
As a result, HTML5 is still largely under development, even if various Web browsers and websites are already using a number of its features. In fact, major browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer are including more and more HTML5 features in each new version they release. There has been a lot of talk about its benefits and features, but how much of this buzz is actually the truth? Here we’ll take a look at HTML5 and what it has to offer. (For some background reading, check out Moving From Flash to HTML5.)
HTML: The Present Scenario
HTML5 is commonly presented as an enhancement of the current markup languages being used: HTML4 and XHTML 1.1. Indeed, HTML5 came to being because its co-creators, the W3C and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group, wanted to have a single markup language for Web pages to lessen errors in Web documents and that can be written as either HTML or XHTML.
HTML4 is the HTML standard currently used. It works on basic HTML by extending its functionality with scripts, style sheets, embedded objects and other similar enhancements.
XHTML is basically HTML4 combined with XML, an extensible markup language that simplifies HTML without sacrificing its power and flexibility.
The Benefits of HTML 5
HTML5 was conceived as something more than just a combination of what worked with HTML4 and XHTML.
The W3C and the WHATWG set out with the following goals for HTML5:
- Reduce the need for plug-ins, such as Flash
- More syntactical elements to replace scripts
- Device independent
For now, the most touted features and benefits that are associated with HTML5 are:
- 2-D drawing made possible by the <canvas> element
- Video and audio playback without the need for external plug-ins
- Local storage support
- Content-specific elements such as <footer>, <header> and <section>
- Form controls such as email, URL, search, date and calendar
HTML5 and Security
HTML5 clearly holds some awesome possibility for Web users, such as being able to watch a video without downloading and installing a plug-in, drag-and-drop interactivity, being able to create documents and write emails – even without an Internet connection. And of course, interoperability.
But with all the changes and all the features, does it mean that we are finally rid of security problems when it comes to Web browsers and websites? Does it mean the end of malware, viruses and other malicious programs getting into your computer via infected Web pages?
Sadly, the answer is no.
Near the close of 2011, the European Network and Information Security Agency reported that they had identified 51 security issues surrounding HTML5 and its related APIs. The future standard actually opened the door for new vulnerabilities and threats that had not been seen before.
For example, HTML5 and its APIs actually expose the browser’s programming to developers, which could mean vulnerabilities with cross-origin resource sharing, click-jacking, privacy, geolocation and Web sockets.
But as Mike Schema wrote on Mashable in April 2011, the most serious vulnerabilities and threats do not come from HTML5 per se, but from the developers who rush into using HTML5 for their apps. Another weak link is the different implementations used by different browsers.
HTML5: Where It Can Lead the World Wide Web
HTML5 is far from perfect, which is understandable because it has not yet been rolled out and made official. In the meantime, there are a lot of talented programmers who are devoting their time, skills, knowledge and efforts to making it better and more secure.
Plus, there are sure to be countermeasures that crop up as soon as a vulnerability is discovered and exploited.
And despite its current flaws, HTML5 is not called the future of Web development for nothing. It is seen as a game changer. Once the bugs are worked out, we’ll be left with a much more secure standard that is very powerful yet self-sufficient. This means users will no longer be required to download plug-ins and other software just to view a Web page. Browsers will be stealthier, websites will be richer and more interactive, and applications will be both platform-free and easier to develop. In the end, HTML5 will provide a better and more secure online experience than what we have now.
The HTML of the Future
It is also worth mentioning that HTML5 is the perfect fit for the future. Today, people are accessing the World Wide Web not only on their home PCs, but also on their laptops, smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices and over many different platforms. HTML5 is the only solution for smooth operation over multiple platforms without having to do extra work. This change will help developers focus more on functionality rather than the creation of similar products for different platforms.
So just imagine a future without the need for multiple versions. HTML5 makes it possible for you to access your apps no matter what device you use. This might also mean the death of Kindle and other e-book readers. Because HTML5 can easily render magazines, newspapers and yes, books, properly, it’ll make it easier for e-books to be read on a number of devices, including smartphones.
HTML5 can also pave the way for better in-browser games, including an application that allows users to draw on Web pages. 3-D could also become a reality with the WebGL platform.
But what really sets HTML5 apart from its predecessors is that it provides a way to use your applications offline. You can use your computer to store your data, a capability that was not possible before, or at least was very limited before.
The Next Iteration of the Web
In conclusion, HTML 5 is a great leap forward as far as Web development and programming are concerned. It offers a whole new world of features that change how players in the field approach the development of sites and applications. There are some hurdles to overcome in terms of security, but those are likely to pale in comparison to the new opportunities HTML5 confers. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out, but change is coming to the Web.