HTML5 and the battle for consistent online experiences

You’ve got HTML5 to thank for online content looking the same on every device you own.

Sunday, 23 April, 2023

When using the internet, we rarely stop and think about the logistics involved in presenting content on our screens.

We take for granted the fact that a website will look and operate identically wherever and however it’s accessed – through a smart TV, via a laptop, on a phone or tablet.

In reality, it takes years of development and coordination to deliver a consistent online experience across today’s plethora of web-enabled devices.

It also necessitates a universal standard in terms of how the various aspects of webpages and online content are coded, distributed and presented.

Specifically, it needs the fifth iteration of HyperText Markup Language…

The social network

As we explained a few years ago in our beginner’s guide to understanding HTML, this programming language was always intended for use over networks.

However, early HTML iterations couldn’t have foreseen the meteoric growth in internet usage, or the myriad forms of content we’d ultimately view and interact with.

The internet was created in the late 1980s, when concepts like streaming media platforms and online gaming simply didn’t exist.

Subsequent versions of HTML were developed in parallel with the internet’s evolution, as the number of devices capable of connecting to it increased exponentially.

Once upon a time, you ‘went online’ using a desktop computer and a dial-up modem. That was pretty much the only way to view websites – which made them easy to standardise.

Today, there are fold-out smartphone screens. There are web-enabled TVs with proprietary web browsers. There are gaming PCs with ultra-widescreen monitors and endless tablets and smartphones.

Each device has its own screen resolution, operating system, picture quality and RAM storage, meaning each would interpret webpage data differently without clear instructions.

A work in progress

It took four years to develop a public working draft of HTML5, and a further three years to confirm its stability in real-world testing.

Three more years passed before it became officially recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium, better known as W3C.

This collaborative approach from hardware manufacturers, software developers and tech-related businesses means each new version of HTML5 has been extremely stable and reliable.

The latest version of HTML5 is known rather grandly as the Living Standard, and its governance has now been handed over to a W3C ‘rival’ called WHATWG.

The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group describe Living Standard as ‘a kitchen sink full of technologies for the web’.

Updated on an almost daily basis, it stipulates everything from how web pages load to their rendering, covering technical aspects such as microdata and APIs relating to session history.

Of course, this won’t concern the average internet user, who simply wants to be able to view data quickly and consistently on whichever device they happen to be using.

Thanks to HTML5, they can…

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!