Browser vendors win war with W3C over HTML and DOM standards


An industry group made up the four major browser vendors, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla, have won a tug-of-war with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body for the World Wide Web, effectively proving that without their support, the W3C’s ability to regulate web standards is nonexistent.

Known as the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), this group was formed in 2004 as a response to the W3C’s slow pace of developing a more modern HTML standard, and the W3C’s plans to move HTML towards a variant known as XHTML, with an XML-like structure, which browser vendors at the time did not agree with.

WHATWG, which at the time consisted of members from Apple, Mozilla, and Opera, considered that the W3C’s leadership, which also included many non-browser-related entities, did not have the web development community’s best interests at heart.

They rebelled and developed what would later become the HTML 5 standard, which the W3C later formally approved as the next major iteration of the HTML web standard after browser vendors put their support behind it.

2018 fallout

The two organizations collaborated across the years, but most of the work relating to web standards was always done first at the WHATWG before it was proposed as an official standard at the W3C.

In many cases, proposed standards would often ship in Chrome or Mozilla even before they were finalized and formally approved by the W3C, showing that most of the time, browser vendors considered getting W3C approval as only a formality, which had little impact on the standards they decided among themselves at the WHATWG.

The two organizations had an official fallout in April 2018, when all WHATWG members — Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla — vehemently and unequivocally opposed the W3C’s plans for approving version 4.1 of the DOM standard.

Despite the W3C having hundreds of other members, the DOM v4.1 standard did not move forward and was not implemented in today’s web browsers. Ever since then, the two organizations have been working on divergent standards.

WHATWG now controls HTML and DOM

But in a press release today, the W3C and WHATWG announced that they’ve finally put their differences aside, and signed a new Memorandum of Understanding.

Per this new agreement, the W3C is officially giving up publishing future HTML and DOM standards in favor of the WHATWG, effectively giving full control back to browser vendors.

Instead, the W3C and its hundreds of members will draft “recommendations” for future web standards containing the features they need. WHATWG will then decide what makes it into their products.

The official version of the HTML standard will become the HTML Living Standard currently maintained by the WHATWG. The same for the DOM Living Standard.

Today’s announcement is a huge change in the web standards landscape because it effectively means that browser vendors will be solely responsible for the most important web standards today, and not the W3C and the hundreds of its members.

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