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Over the past few years, you may have heard the term HTML5 every once in a while. Whether you know anything about web development or not, the concept can be somewhat nebulous and confusing. Obviously, it’s the next step in the line of HTML, but what exactly does it do? Why is there so much excitement around it? And why does it matter for you?
HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is the most important element of the World Wide Web. It’s the language used to describe what a webpage should look like. However, HTML on its own is pretty boring because it can only deliver static pages; in order to meet the growing demand for more impressive web features, HTML has been coupled with plugins like CSS, Flash, Java, Silverlight, etc.
It has become something of a bloated mess and different browsers implement those features in their own ways. HTML5 is meant to solve HTML’s big problems for a cleaner and more efficient web.
HTML: An Overview
HTML as we know it today is called HTML4 and it was first published way back in 1997. Yes, that means we’ve been running on HTML4 for over 15 years now which is an eternity in tech time. Around 2000, a parallel markup language called XHTML started development and that’s been in use as well over the years, mostly due to the stricter standards that it imposes. In general, though, the two are pretty similar.
The problem with HTML4 is its limited functionality. It must be extended through plugins, like Flash, to provide more than simple text and images. Many video players, for example, were created and maintained on the Flash platform and embedded into HTML pages. Many web apps were developed using Java and embedded as well.
With all of these plugins, it becomes hard to maintain proper standards. Ideally, every browser should display every page on the web in the same way in order to deliver the same experience to every user. To display the same results on multiple browsers, web developers typically need to implement quick fixes and hacks in various portions of their site to accommodate different rendering processes. This gets cumbersome after a while.
On a more practical note, web pages that require plugins like Flash and Java end up using much more CPU and RAM. Ever wondered why your browser uses so much of your computer’s resources? A lot of it can be attributed to these HTML extensions. This is one reason why Apple has disabled Flash support on their mobile devices (to save on battery life).
What Exactly Is HTML5?
HTML4 has worked well, but it obviously has a number of flaws. The team behind HTML5 has a certain high-level plan for the next step in HTML, which means that HTML5 must be built on the following principles:
- Less dependence on plugins for functionality.
- Scripting should be replaced with markup whenever possible.
- Device independence (i.e., available on all devices and providing the same end experience).
- Public development process so people can see what’s going on.
More specifically, HTML5 adds a whole bunch of new markup tags:
- <header> and <footer> tags to help you isolate the tops and bottoms of content blocks. Can be used more than once on a single page.
- <article> tag which identifies a specific, singular piece of content, e.g., a blog post or a user comment.
- <nav> tag to specify which sections should be considered navigational blocks.
- <section> tag that lets you define a generic section of content; similar to the currently existing <div> tag.
- <audio> and <video> tags to mark the inclusion of audio or video content.
- <canvas> tag that lets you draw graphics using a separate scripting language.
- <embed> tag to embed external content or applications into the page.
HTML5 also deprecates some tags: <acronym>, <applet>, <font>, <frame>, <frameset>, <noframes>, and a handful of others.
The full standards specification for HTML5 is planned to be completed by 2014, but HTML5 has made lots of progress already and it can be used to implement site features even today. The full standards specification for HTML5.1 is planned to be completed by 2016.
Why HTML5 Matters For You
As a web user, you will benefit from HTML5 because it fixes the most glaring problems in HTML4. Web sites will have better web standards, which will result in more efficient content and improved performance. As HTML5 is adopted across the board, web pages should start to load faster, less bandwidth should be used, and battery life on mobile devices ought to last longer.
Plus, you won’t have to keep so many plugins like Flash and Java updated. I hate it when I constantly have to update so many addons and plugins across multiple browsers. And what happens when one of them is the wrong version? Sites stop working and frustration ensues. All of that should be dealt away with when HTML5 becomes the main standard.
If you’re just a regular web user and you have no intentions of coding or maintaining your own web site, then you don’t have to do anything to enjoy HTML5’s awesome features. All major browsers today support HTML5 to a large degree and you’ve probably been taking advantage of it already without knowing. Just keep your browser updated and you’ll be good to go.
And if you’re a web developer, HTML5 will make everything simpler and easier for you. If all goes well, you won’t have to deal with edge cases in web design since all browsers will need to adhere to the same standards.
HTML5 is the future of web browsing and it will surely revolutionize the way we surf the Internet. Even under the limited nature of HTML4, developers have created some mind-boggling web sites, so it’ll be interesting to see what sort of neat advancements they’ll make with the functionality of HTML5.
Hopefully now you can see HTML5 in a clearer light and see why it’s been hyped up as much as it has. You can further your learning on these ten websites too that show you what HTML5 is all about. You should also check out our HTML5 tutorial to learn more. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer you.