HTML5 Spec Hits Last Call Status

Late yesterday the W3C’s HTML Working Group announced that the HTML5 specification has reached Last Call status.

Last Call is the point at which W3C thinks the group’s work has reached a point of reasonable stability. Last Call is also essentially a call for all communities to confirm the technical soundness of the specification, after which the group will shift focus to gathering implementation experience and building a comprehensive test suite.

Microsoft staffers, along with many other individuals and 194 participants from 54 organizations - including Adobe, Google, Mozilla, Apple and Opera Software - all participate in the Working Group developing the specification for HTML5, the next version of the platform-neutral HyperText Markup Language standard used worldwide for rendering Web pages.

HTML5 is the first new revision since HTML 4.01 was released in 1999, and will include built-in video and audio, a "canvas" element for two-dimensional graphics, new structural labels such as "article" to smooth programming, and a codified process to consistently interpret the hodgepodge styles of real-world Web pages, even when improperly coded.

In a press statement the W3C called for broad review of HTML5 and five related specifications published by the W3C HTML Working Group, which constitute the foundation of W3C's Open Web Platform. The W3C also reconfirmed that, as previously announced, these specifications are on track to become stable standards in 2014.

While feedback is expected on how the current draft specification implements the HTML5 features, W3C expects that the specification is largely feature complete and that any additional features will be limited to those necessary to resolve issues raised during the Last Call period, which will be open for the next 10 weeks until August 3. After that, feedback will be taken only from implementers and through trials of the test suite.

Tim Berners-Lee, the W3C Director, invited additional comment. "We invite new voices to let us know whether the specification addresses their needs. This process for resolving dependencies with other groups inside and outside W3C is a central part of our mission of ensuring the Web is available to all. W3C staff will provide the HTML Working Group Chairs the support they need to move forward, and to ensure that the specification meets W3C's commitments in areas including accessibility, internationalization, security, and privacy," he said.

The Last Call milestone is all the more important given the difficult decision made by the W3C several years ago to undertake a collaboration with a wider group of invited experts to bring the HTML5 innovations into a formal Recommendation. This collaboration has had many challenges, but reaching last call shows that it is working.

The W3C HTML Working Group also set an ambitious timeline almost a year ago, and this announcement of Last Call meets that timeline.

Getting to this point has required compromise and good will from all participants, and we are very pleased to see the degree of consensus across several sub-communities that came to agreement.

However, this does not mean that the HTML5 specs are “done,” just that the Working Group has found solutions that reached some level of consensus for the open issues. It is now time for a wider audience of stakeholders to review these documents and give their feedback.

Rigorous testing of the specification against implementations in browsers and other products will help drive disciplined and technical discussions of issues that come up during the Last Call period.

As Philippe Le Hégaret, the W3C manager responsible for HTML5, notes: “reaching agreements in this large a community is a tremendous achievement. There remain some important issues, but I am confident that the broader community will help us resolve them."

Looking ahead, we are extremely hopeful that the final HTML5 Recommendation can be completed by 2014 as per the current timeline. But, to be clear, developers can already use HTML5 now and the W3C is encouraging them to do so.

Because HTML5 anchors the Open Web Platform, the W3C has also started work on a comprehensive test suite to ensure the high levels of interoperability that diverse industries demand. Microsoft has already donated test cases to the current test suite. While it's the most comprehensive test suite of HTML5 so far, it is far from complete. But the test suite is an important step as it identifies differences in implementation and encourages implementers to fix deviations from the specification.

The W3C has invited test suite contributions from the community and, earlier this year, dedicated new staff to drive development of an HTML5 test suite. Its first task is to expand the existing test framework by mid-2011, which will encourage browser vendors and the community to create test cases.

Microsoft is pleased that this Last Call milestone has been reached. We regard it as a great step forward and look forward to continuing to work with the hundreds of other members of the HTML Working Group to advance the specification.


Paul Cotton

Co-Chair: HTML Working Group