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A look back at HTML5

Looking at HTML5

As the standard markup language used to create web pages and applications, HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is a fundamental building block of the World Wide Web. Together with CSS and JavaScript, HTML code is interpreted by web browsers to render pages. Individual HTML elements are defined by tags within angle brackets (< and >) to determine the content and layout.

The latest iteration of HTML is HTML5, which introduced a new generation of features and standards for web creators. But HTML5 has been running wild for a good few years now, so how exactly has it shaken things up?

HTML history lesson

When did HTML5 come out? It’s not really a question of when HTML5 was released, since it’s more of a collection of evolutionary features than a single, revolutionary package. This means that HTML5 has been around in some form since as far back as 2008, even though its official specification wasn’t finalised until 2014.

Unlike previous HTML versions, HTML5 has been developed by two separate groups: the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG). To understand the advancements of HTML5, we need a brief overview of the HTML timeline:

  • 1991–1999: HTML is created by web legend Tim Berners-Lee in 1991, and HTML versions 1–4 are developed throughout the 1990s by W3C. In these early days of widespread internet use, HTML efficiently displays the vast majority of web content, since at this time it largely consists of static, non-interactive sites.
  • 2000: W3C recommends XHTML 1.0 – an XML-based markup language that mirrors/extends HTML. Previous versions of HTML are now showing their age, struggling to handle the latest generation of multimedia, interactive sites. To get the best results, developers are resorting to third-party plugins.
  • 2004: Development of HTML is closed by W3C when it decides to instead focus on XHTML. WHATWG is formed to develop HTML further, with the aim of reflecting the modern dynamic web, while keeping backwards compatibility with existing HTML code.
  • 2004–2006: WHATWG gains support from major web browser developers. In 2006, W3C also announces its support for the project.
  • 2008: The first public draft of HTML5 is released by WHATWG.
  • 2012: W3C and WHATWG decide to separate development of HTML5. W3C would work on a definitive standard of HTML5, while WHATWG would pursue development of a ‘living standard’ – a continual evolution with ongoing improvements.
  • 2014: W3C releases its official HTML5 recommendation.

What's new in HTML5?

HTML5 offers a host of new features including special elements for semantic labelling such as <section>, <nav>, <article>, <aside>, <header>, <footer> and <main> – these define the type of content associated with each element. This makes structuring content more efficient and helps search engines crawl the website, meaning a well-structured HTML5 site has better chances of ranking highly in search results.

Adding multimedia elements is also simplified with <audio> and <video> tags, and a wide selection of new application program interfaces (APIs) lets developers easily integrate a huge range of functionality into HTML5 sites. One of the big advantages of HTML5 is that it doesn’t rely on proprietary third-party plugins to create complex and powerful web projects.

Did HTML5 kill Flash?

It’s often said that ‘HTML5 replaced Flash’ but did it really? HTML5 is sometimes compared to Adobe Flash, but the truth is it’s not a direct equivalent. For multimedia content on par with Flash, HTML5 needs to work closely with CSS and JavaScript. That said, HTML5 is an alternative to Adobe’s platform in this context, and has had a huge take-up amongst web developers when it comes to online multimedia.

How to use HTML5

If you’re already familiar with older HTML versions, HTML5 isn’t hard to learn at all. HTML5 is fully backwards-compatible, meaning all your old code should work with the new features. Getting started is as simple as changing the doctype on the first line of each HTML page. You probably don’t need to worry about your site breaking, since obsolete elements should still render in HTML5 – but now you have access to a whole new range of elements.

What HTML5 can do

So who uses HTML5? As the latest web standard, HTML5 is in widespread use. From huge corporate sites to student web projects, if you’re on a modern, well-designed website, chances are it takes advantage of HTML5 features.

Ever since its first public draft in 2008, web developers and designers have been finding ways to innovate with HTML5. From mixing flat elements with animation and 3D effects, to dynamically pulling content from various sources, HTML5 has enabled creations that would’ve been hard to imagine just a few years ago. Creative Bloq has put together 23 amazing HTML examples to really show off what HTML5 can do.

If you’re building websites with HTML5, you’ll find the perfect environment at Fasthosts. Whether you go for Cluster web hosting, a dedicated server or our CloudNX platform, we give you everything you need to create cutting-edge online projects.

Neal Thoms's picture

Neal Thoms

Author As a content creator for Fasthosts, Neal’s main focus is cloud technology and how it’s transforming everything we do online. He’s worked in the web hosting industry for over five years.