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HTML5 Labs–A Website for Prototyping New Web Technologies

by Abel Avram on Dec 22, 2010 |

Microsoft has decided not to include emerging web technologies still under development in IE9, providing instead HTML5 Labs, a website for testing prototype technologies such as IndexedDB and WebSockets.

Christopher Blizzard, an open source evangelist working for Mozilla, announced that the emerging implementation of WebSockets will be disabled in Firefox 4 Beta 8 due to some protocol-level security issue that could completely compromise communication between the browser and the Internet. Adam Barth explained how such an exploit can take place. Firefox 4 Beta 7 carries the implementation of WebSockets draft version 76, and Blizzard mentioned Firefox will continue incorporating the technology when the security flaw is fixed.

This problem with WebSockets is not unique and it is likely to happen with emerging standards that are changing until they reach a more solid form. But this can confuse and dissatisfy developers who, while having an idea that the standard is subject to changes, have the tendency to consider that the respective implementation can be used in production since it is present in the official version of a product, in this case a browser. To avoid such problems Microsoft has decided to include in IE9 only those web technologies that are stable enough to be present in a site-ready product, and it has created HTML5 Labs for prototyping emerging web technologies still under development. This way Microsoft will not keep their work on new standards completely hidden from the outside world, and will let interested developers to see what Microsoft is working on, what it has got so far, being able to provide feedback and influence the development of the browser. Dean Hachamovitch, General Manager for IE, explained the reason for creating a prototyping website:

In the IE9 product, developers can expect site-ready HTML5 so they can take advantage of the best of HTML5 that is ready and can still experiment with emerging HTML5 with HTML5 Labs. By keeping these separate, developers get what they need without the negative consequences of co-mingling very different things in the same browser.

Hachamovitch considers that it is important to offer a stable product and also a way for developers to experiment with technologies being built:

The question is how to balance the implementation of these under construction technologies (in order to resolve under construction issues) with the needs of developers (who don’t like re-writing their code over and over to get new capabilities) and the needs of consumers (who expect sites and browsers to just work). Today, iPhone and iPad 4.2 support WebSockets. Firefox and Opera have recently disabled their implementations because of (among other things) the security and compatibility concerns.

For now, HTML5 Labs contains IndexedDB and WebSockets. IndexedDB is a draft web spec of an API for a database of records holding simple values and hierarchical objects, practically a key-value store. IndexedDB is meant to provide local browser storage accessed from JavaScript. The other prototype is WebSockets, a protocol for duplex communication between browsers and servers. This protocol is meant to supply what HTTP has been missing as a true communication channel and to be done with surrogates such as long polling (Comet) or AJAX.

To use a prototype, a developer needs to manually download and install it by registering a DLL or running an MSI. The WebSockets prototype comes with a simple chat demo that works well in IE9 Beta and Chrome, including chatting between different tabs/windows.

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falling behind? by Vladimir Kelman

It sounds like IE is continue to fall behind Chrome and Firefox...

Re: falling behind? by Spooky Sleeper

Why do I need silverlight installed for socked demo???

Well Put. In a Nutshell by Mike Gale

Thanks for this article. When I saw the announcement yesterday I thought that the point only developers can see the flaky stuff needed emphasis. You've done that well.

Now I wonder if this will have a side effect. Ultimately make it easier for a developer to extend IE?

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