A little background on HTML 5

If you spend much time on the internet, especially around website design & development communities, you’ve probably heard of HTML 5. But what is it?

HTML 5 is the fifth version of Hypertext Markup Language – the language behind every website on the internet. HTML 4 as an official standard was published back in May 2000, and as you may know, 12 years is a very long time when it comes to anything related to the internet and technology.

While large portions of the HTML 5 specification are supported in modern web browsers – such as Safari, Firefox, and Chrome – it is not yet “the standard” and there are still aspects of it that are under development.

So what’s so special about HTML 5?

Well, think of this: YouTube debuted in 2005 – that’s five years after HTML 4 came out. When HTML 4 was being developed, video on the web wasn’t on their minds. The web has evolved immensely over the past 12 years, and it’s time we had a language that could support these features natively.

What is meant by that? Let’s look at our video example:

Since there was no standard for putting video on the web with HTML 4, different companies came up with their own strategies, meaning that today there are a number of different ways to accomplish that goal. And none of them are terribly friendly (which is why most of the videos you’ll see are hosted on sites like YouTube and Vimeo, because doing it yourself is just no fun).

“Okay,” you’re thinking, “but I don’t have any videos.”

Well that was just an example. There is a fair amount of technical improvement in HTML 5 that won’t impact most people, but here are a couple that you might find interesting:

  • Form field types. Have you ever gone to enter your email address and accidentally left off the ‘.com’ or typed in your website instead? Well, improvements to those form fields in HTML 5 will make it easier for those kinds of mistakes to be caught by the form during processing and allowing the sender to correct the error.
  • Semantic markup. This probably doesn’t sound interesting, but it means that areas of your website will be more easily recognized (and possibly ranked) by search engines for what they are, such as headers, footers, asides, figures (describing an image), audio and video.

“But it’s still under development, why should I care about HTML 5?”

Although the entire ‘spec’ isn’t complete, there are pieces that are pretty well complete and unlikely to change. That means it’s safe to use these stable chunks of HTML 5. But why should you consider it? For developers out there, it means a lot leaner code, and for the end user, less code means faster loading (and faster loading means search engines will reward you)!

Most of these fancy new features will degrade gracefully on browsers (Looking at you, Internet Explorer.) that don’t support HTML 5, and there are techniques to give these old browsers a boost where needed.

As an end-user, what’s the best way to benefit from the new features of HTML 5?

Use a modern web browser that supports these new HTML 5 standards. We recommend Google Chrome – it’s very clean, and has frequent, automatic, silent updates.  This means  you know you are running the latest and greatest version with almost zero effort. It is available for both Mac and Windows.

Mozilla Firefox is another extremely popular browser, and has also started supporting frequent automatic updates, making it a great choice for Mac and Windows users.

Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 & 10 both support (to varying degrees) HTML 5, but, as the bundled/default browser for Mac and Windows respectively, tend to see less frequent updates.

To upgrade to a new web browser, check out:

Recommended Reading on HTML 5