The History and the Future of HTML

The web, since its invention by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in 1989 and its subsequent development by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has evolved dramatically. This evolution has seen various, often divergent approaches to web standards. 1997 saw the W3C recommendation of HTML 3.2 that introduced many HTML elements to decorate web pages to control how web pages are presented. 1999 saw the recommendation of HTML 4, which unlike HTML 3.2 separated presentational information of a HTML document into cascading style sheets (CSS) while semantic markups in HTML are enriched. Although this approach was welcomed by many enthusiasts and pushed the Web to have better markup, the following 5 years saw an ideological schism develop between the semantic Web enthusiasts and web designers as the W3C tried to further separate presentations from semantic contents by standards such as XHTML 1.0 and XHTML 2.0 and the designers kept focusing on the look of websites and the backward compatibility. Browser developers also distanced themselves from the W3C when XHTML 2.0 had almost no backward compatibility with previous specifications and were not in sync with new evolving technologies like ajax (a way in which web pages communicate with web servers asynchronously) that were changing the way users interacted with the Web. However, developments over the past 6 years leading up to HTML 5 bring new hope for web standards.

Founded in 2004 by Apple, the Mozilla foundation, and Opera Software, WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) aims to standardize the next generation of HTML to evolve the Web. WHATWG’s HTML 5 specifies previously neglected implementation details, such as how HTML parsing error is handled, to maintain high backward compatibility. It also adds features that fit the modern usage of the Web such as video streaming and blogging. For example, the video element allows web browsers to play videos without plugins. WHATWG also helped standardizing Web Storage and Web Database, now being working drafts in W3C, both of which allow the web pages to store information locally so that web applications such as calendar and mail clients can function without internet connection. WHATWG also standardizes the Web Worker, JavaScript instances that run independently and asynchronously of web pages. It allows web pages opened on multiple windows or tabs to communicate and to run on background without user interactions. Because of its conservative and practical approach, WHATWG gained much support from the industry, and on July 2nd, 2009, W3C announced to abandon XHTML 2.0 and concentrate its effort on HTML 5. Web browsers such as Firefox 3.5, Google Chrome 4, Internet Explorer 8, and Safari 4 already implement the new features introduced in HTML 5. Today, browser implementers, web developers, WHATWG, and W3C are all cooperating to refine the Web with HTML 5, and the dawn of HTML 5 is near as we expect HTML 5 to become a W3C candidate recommendation in 2012 and a W3C recommendation in 2022.

See for further information. This article is written for TBP, Berkeley chapter. Special thanks to Kaushik Iyer, who helped me revising the article.