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What is HTML5? Everything You Need to Know

by YOSS Community Writer, on July 19, 2019 at 10:31 AM

Before HTML burst on the scene in 1993, the primary interfaces to the internet were newsgroups and anonymous FTP sites. The coolest thing around was  Kermit, a now-abandoned file transfer service created in 1981 at Columbia University. But with HTML, it was possible to see content displayed the way it was in a book or a magazine. It was a revolution.


We've come a long way since then. The first version of HTML didn't even include bold or italic text. There were no numbered lists or tables, either. But over time, these functions and much more were added to the HTML standard.

History of HTML5

HTML4 was released in 1997 when most web pages were static and formatted using tables. However, the online environment was rapidly changing.

By 1999, the term Web 2.0 was coined by  Darcy DiNucci  to indicate websites that were dynamic and interactive. By 2005, YouTube was founded. Yet HTML was still at version 4.01 and developers were forced to turn to browser plugins like Flash to support any advanced work.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the primary standards organization for the web founded in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee, had abandoned HTML development in favor of XHTML, an XML-based HTML specification. But XHTML didn't directly address the concerns of browser creators.

In 2004,  Mozilla and Opera  called for many extensions to the HTML standard. More fundamental, however, they criticized the XML error model and called for better error handling. They also called for better mobile support.

This was the basis for what eventually became HTML5. The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), which was founded in 2004 by leading members of the industry as a result of W3C's abandonment of HTML, started work on the new standard.

On  Jan. 22, 2008, the W3C released the first HTML5 (draft) specification edited by standards expert Ian Hickson of Google and software developer David Hyatt, then of Apple. However, the official HTML5 specification by the W3C and the WHATWG wasn’t finished until  Oct. 28, 2014.

What's New in HTML5

HTML5 has made coding easier than XHTML by relaxing much of its XML-based rigidity. For example, HTML5 is case-insensitive. Also, attributes don't have to be inside quotation marks. Of course, many of the old requirements are good conventions, which is why most coders continue to follow them.


The biggest changes in HTML5 are the markup additions.

Semantic Tags

It is relatively easy to create web pages for humans. Today, however, we also need to think about computers, especially the search engines that send traffic to our sites.

The first push toward semantic markup was with the em and strong tags. The idea was to provide meaning rather than typographic information. HTML5 is the first standard that explicitly states that em is superior to i and strong is superior to b.

HTML5 also expands on this, providing the following new tags:

  • header
  • footer
  • main
  • article
  • aside
  • nav
  • section.

Of course, most humans won’t see these tags. But search engines know that the important information will be inside the main, article and aside tags.

HTML5 also introduced four microdata attributes: itemscope, itemtype, itemprop and itemref. These allow the coder to relate different pieces of data so that search engines and other computer systems can better understand the content.

Multimedia Tags

Without a doubt, the coolest additions in HTML5 are the multimedia tags.

The video and audio tags allow webpages to natively playback existing video and audio files. This gives the page creator more control than when using an iframe, which embeds another website's content into the current page. If you wish to do this directly, however, you can utilize the embed tag.

There are two tags used along with video and audio: source and track.

The canvas tag allows coders to draw directly on the webpage by using JavaScript or another scripting language. The svg tag allows Scalable Vector Graphics to be rendered directly from the page code.

Form Elements

To a large extent, HTML5 was developed to make web application development easier. The main new tag is the datalist, which allows dropdown lists inside forms. More important, however, is the expansion of form elements. In particular, the input tag has been expanded to include the following types:

  • Color
  • Email
  • Date
  • Number
  • Range.

In addition, there are more than a dozen new input tag attributes such as autofocus, which gives the input the focus rather than requiring JavaScript coding.

Drag And Drop

Another cool addition to HTML5 is the inclusion of native drag and drop. In the past, this required libraries like jQuery. Now it can be done with some new attributes and plain old JavaScript.

Other Additions To HTML5

HTML5 introduced tags to make the creation of interactive pages easier. For example, you can easily hide non-essential information with the details tag. Similarly, the menu and menuitem tags make the creation of menus easier.

HTML5 introduced the Application Cache, too. With it, developers can pre-load resources so that apps can run without the internet.

Many global attributes were added to or expanded in HTML5. For example, the access key attribute assigns a shortcut to an HTML element. Before HTML5, this was limited to a, area, button, input, label, legend and text area. Now it applies to all tags.

Which Tags Did HTML5 Remove?

HTML5 has also removed a number of tags from the standard. Most are simply replaced by CSS:

  • Basefont
  • Big
  • Center
  • Font
  • Strike
  • Tt

Others like applet were simply replaced with other tags (eg, object).

Most important, however, is that frames are now gone from HTML5. There is no direct way to replace them, but they’re very rarely used in this age of dynamic web applications.


According to W3Techs’ 2019 data, HTML5 is used on 78% of all websites. That's an increase of roughly 7 percentage points from a year before.

If you or your developers are not using HTML5, you should be. What's more, you probably don't need to hold off using its more advanced features. As powerful as it is, HTML5 is today's technology.

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Topics:Future of Work