Discussing, implementing & improving HTML5

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

I don’t think I’ll be going out on a limb if I predict that the hot topic of 2009 will be HTML5, the proposed update to the markup language which acts as the foundation to everything we (web monkeys) do.

This week saw the publication of a few articles on the subject written by respected members of our industry. While a lot has been written already about the potential of the new language, these are notable for their more practical approach.

In the A List Apart article Semantics In HTML 5, Microformats doyen John Allsopp takes a look at the limitations of the language and suggests a way to improve it; to summarise, he proposes that instead of introducing a multitude of new elements, we should consider introducing new attributes.

For example, he advocates the use of <div structure=“header” /> over <header />. This, he says, has the advantage of being both backwards- and forwards-compatible, as well as providing much-needed extensibility.

Eric Meyer writes about his experience using HTML 5 for the recent redesign of An Event Apart, which seems to be pretty well summarised as “it doesn’t work yet”. Really, all he did was write HTML 4.01 with an HTML 5‑compatible doctype (see later). Browser support just isn’t in place for much more yet.

Jeremy Keith also used HTML 5 for the markup of the new UX London site, and writes about his findings in The Rise of HTML5. His conclusions are more or less the same as Meyer’s, although he provides more practical detail.

The important message to take away from these articles is not the (perceived) failings of HTML 5 and browser support for it — after all, it’s still a relatively immature proposal — but that actual implementations are being undertaken and reported on. This kind of reporting — part feedback, part discussion, part evangelism — is vital to the development of the language and the future of the semantic web.

The W3C and WHATWG, the browser makers, and us, the authors, have equal responsibility to make sure that HTML 5 works for everyone. After all, who knows how long we’ll be using it for?

That compatible doctype I mentioned earlier, by the way, is:


It triggers standards mode in (afaIk) every modern browser, so you can start using it straight away — although the W3 Validator will throw an error.

3 comments on
“Discussing, implementing & improving HTML5”

  1. Hi Peter

    it is possible to use some HTML 5 now — see my blog post HTML 5 elements test in which I reference my HTML 5 test page that shows you can use some of the new structures, even in IE 6!

  2. Hi Bruce,

    I did mention just over a year ago that most browsers will accept the new HTML 5 structural elements (You Can Start Using HTML 5 Right Now!), but thanks for the more complete update.

    However, I would be leery of relying on Javascript to make a page display correctly.

  3. Here’s my practical: http://camendesign.com
    HTML5, no divs, no ids, no classes.

    HTML5 can be used right now, if people are only interested. Whilst it won’t apply to all sites, in many situations (like a personal blog) IE support isn’t necessary. Would you seriously hold back from using HTML5 on an iPhone web app so that you had IE6 support???

    I stopped making excuses for users and moved on. Write HTML5, use a JS hack for IE users, or even better, tell them to simply get a better browser; Chrome, Opera, Safari, FF, whatever.