Yes, Virginia, there IS a W3C HTML5 standard – as of now, that is

You asked for it! You begged for it! Then you gave up! And now it's HERE!

After nearly 10 years of development, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has promoted the HTML5 specification to Recommendation status, its highest level of maturation, effectively making the markup language a formal web standard.

"For application developers and industry, HTML5 represents a set of features that people will be able to rely on for years to come," the W3C said in a press release on Tuesday. "HTML5 is now supported on a wide variety of devices, lowering the cost of creating rich applications to reach users everywhere."

HTML5 is the successor to both HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.1, which became W3C Recommendations in 1999 and 2001, respectively.

The spec began life in 2004 as the work of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), an independent consortium composed of browser vendors that were concerned that the W3C's slow development pace and its focus on XHTML 2.0 at the time were not in the best interests of the broader web industry.

Specifically, WHATWG was concerned that XHTML 2.0 wasn't going to serve the needs of web applications, which were increasingly becoming the focus of web developers and browser makers alike.

Founding members of WHATWG included Apple, the Mozilla Foundation, and Opera. The editors of the current version of the W3C HTML5 spec include employees of Google and Microsoft, in addition to independent consultants. But really, HTML5 has been the work of many hands over the years, including input from more than 60 companies.

Drafting the final standard has been an arduous process, too. Since March 2007, there have been more than 45,000 email exchanges between members of the HTML5 working group, and the group's bug lists record more than 4,000 errors and ambiguities that needed to be resolved.

The road to Recommendation status has been so long, in fact, that WHATWG split off from the W3C standardization effort in 2012 to develop its own "living standard" that it calls simply HTML (sans version number).

What the W3C is calling HTML5 is described as a "snapshot" of the work that WHATWG and the W3C HTML working group have done up to a given point in time, while the WHATWG document is being constantly modified as contributors continue to refine the spec and add new features.

"The plan to get the specs to converge again, such as it is, is to just do a better job with the WHATWG spec, such that it becomes the logical and obvious choice for anyone wanting to figure out which spec they should use," explains the WHATWG FAQ.

Whether browser vendors now choose to implement the strict W3C Recommendation version of HTML5 or keep tracking the WHATWG document remains to be seen, and we could see some schism there. Microsoft, for one, has been crowing about how well Internet Explorer conforms to web standards lately, but while two editors of the W3C HTML spec are Microsoft employees, Redmond has not directly participated in the WHATWG effort.

For its part, the W3C promises to soldier on. By publishing an HTML5 Recommendation now, the group has met its goal of delivering the final spec by the fourth quarter of 2014. For its next trick, it has said, it plans to deliver an HTML 5.1 Recommendation in the fourth quarter of 2016. ®

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