March 3, 2010

What HTML5 Means for Your Web Site


Hostway Team

By Melissa J. Luther

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the basic language of the Web. This language is constantly evolving, and HTML5 (note there is no space in HTML5) is the newest major revision. It drops some elements from version 4 and introduces new ones to take advantage of how modern Web developers work in Web 2.0.

Development of HTML5 began in 2004 but may not be completed until 2022 or later, according to the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG). This does not mean HTML5 will be unavailable for use until then. On the contrary, as various elements are standardized, browsers will be updated to support them, and developers will start experimenting with them.

New Features

Some of the new features, already supported by several browsers, include:

  • Structural elements to define different parts of a page: For example, article, footer and header (not the page header, but headers for sections and articles)
  • Offline data storage
  • Cross-document messaging

The last two are potentially useful but for now are interesting mostly to JavaScript developers. The elements creating the most buzz right now are the <canvas> element for native graphic rendering, and the <video> and <audio> tags, which allow you to embed multimedia files as easily as the <img> tag lets you embed images.


The really exciting news surrounding <video> is that browsers will eventually be able to read the file without using a plug-in. To view Web video today you must install a piece of software, usually Flash, that runs in your browser but is not actually a part of it. These plug-ins have improved in recent years, but are still prone to crashing and using excess CPU resources.

Browsers supporting HTML5 will come with video decoding software prepackaged, greatly improving stability, although browser vendors have yet to agree on a standard decoding software. For now, you can embed video using the <video> tag now, but browsers will still need a plug-in to read the file.


The <canvas> element first appeared in Apple’s Mac OS X WebKit, and WHATWG eventually added it to the HTML5 specifications. This tag defines a region on a Web page where you can place dynamically generated graphics using scripting, such as JavaScript. It simplifies creation of everything from graphs to animations.

HTML5 and The Mobile Web

HTML5 is seen as critical to mobile development, as many device makers limit the apps, like Flash or Java, that can run on their devices. HTML5 does not require these plug-ins, and the WebKit-based browsers on many smartphones already support much of HTML5. So mobile technology is well positioned to deliver a richer interactive Web experience with HTML5.

Development on HTML5 has a long way to go, but designers and developers should be experimenting now. The average business owner doesn’t need to worry about it yet, but if you are redesigning your site, consider defining your doctype according to HTML5 standard and using those structure elements already supported to make future enhancements easier to implement.

About the Author

Melissa J. Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions LLC, helps small businesses create and maintain a strong online presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized Web site as the center of an online presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking, and social media as appropriate.

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