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What Is HTML5?

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Read Time: 12 mins
What You'll Be Creating

Credit: Topic Simple - What is HTML5? They do cool animated videos.

Introduction to HTML5

Welcome to Envato Tuts+! This tutorial provides an introductory overview of HTML5. If you've not heard much about it or just want to understand its relevance, you've come to the right place.

HTML5 is the latest standard for browsers to display and interact with web pages. Approved in 2014, it's the first update to HTML in 14 years. In this day and age, that's a lifetime between updates.

The purpose of HTML5 is primarily to make it easier for web developers and browser creators to follow consensus-based standards that make compliance more efficient and empowering. It's also designed to provide better, faster, more consistent user experiences for desktop and mobile visitors.

Here are a few key improvements in HTML5:

  • There's a simpler, more straightforward element structure to pages, which makes them easier to build, adjust, and debug—and to build automated services that help you find important resources on the web.
  • It provides standard elements for commonplace media objects which previously required annoying plugins for audio, video, etc. These plugins needed to be regularly updated, i.e. repeated downloads to manage security.
  • There's native integration with interfaces to leverage modern web and mobile needs. One of my favorite examples of this is geolocation, which allows you to determine the GPS coordinates of a web visitor through their browser. This feature was previously restricted to GPS-equipped phone apps. 

For example, below is an HTML5 geolocation example from Building Your Startup With PHP: Geolocation and Google Places (Tuts+):

What is HTML5 Geolocation ExampleWhat is HTML5 Geolocation ExampleWhat is HTML5 Geolocation Example

Who Does HTML5 Matter To?

Are You Just a Web User or a YouTube Fan?

HTML5 will improve speed, ease of use and consistency across the web. Yes, your YouTube experience will gradually become consistently wonderful. There will be fewer browser and plugin updates, fewer security threats, and more elegant, more readable, faster websites.

Are You a Web Developer?

HTML5 makes your life incredibly easier and greatly expands what's possible. It also means you'll be able to build stuff and rely more on the browser builders to assure consistency. This means a lot less conditional layout code.

Do You Want to Build a Web Browser?

On one hand, you'll have a great roadmap in the HTML5 specification detailing how and what you should build. On the other hand, there's more to do and get right. It won't be as easy to differentiate your browser vs. the big girl browser manufacturers.

Want to Learn More?

Just a quick reminder before we dive in! I do try to participate in the discussions below. If you have a question or topic suggestion for a future tutorial, please post a comment below or contact me on Twitter @reifman.

The Background of HTML5

Where Does HTML5 Come From?

HTML5 is the latest in over 20 years of browser programming standards since the launch of the web in 1991.

History of HTML

HTML first emerged as a standard in 1993, and here's the timeline of HTML versions accepted by standards committees:

  • HTML 2.0: 1995
  • HTML 4.0: 1997
  • HTML 4.01: 2000
  • HTML 5: 2014

The Goals of HTML5

According to Wikipedia, HTML5 is intended to consolidate earlier versions and differentiated document types such as XHTML 1 and DOM Level 2 HTML:

[HTML5] extends, improves and rationalizes the markup available for documents, and introduces markup and ...(APIs) for complex web applications...HTML5 is also a potential candidate for cross-platform mobile applications. Many features have been designed with low-powered devices such as smartphones and tablets taken in to consideration.

Here's a summary of how MakeUseOf explained HTML5's goals:

  • Eliminate plugins such as Flash for common features that everyone needs. Build native support for things like audio, video, etc. 
  • Reduce the need for JavaScript and extra code with new native elements.
  • Provide consistency across browsers and devices.
  • Do all of this as transparently as possible.
What is HTML5 Plugin Past for Video ElementWhat is HTML5 Plugin Past for Video ElementWhat is HTML5 Plugin Past for Video Element

Image credit: Topic Simple

What New Features Does HTML5 Offer?

A lot, it turns out! HTML5 provides such an impressive list of new capabilities that the major browsers are still not fully compliant even 18 months after its acceptance:

What is HTML5 Browser compatiblityWhat is HTML5 Browser compatiblityWhat is HTML5 Browser compatiblity

Image credit: PHPFlow

There's also this interactive visual rainbow at HTML5Readiness. Hover over different arcs and you'll see which features are supported by which browsers:

What is HTML5 Compatibility RainbowWhat is HTML5 Compatibility RainbowWhat is HTML5 Compatibility Rainbow

It's fun, but other charts at other sites may be more functionally intuitive to use.

HTML5 Adoption Rates

In 2011, Wikipedia reported about one third of the top 100 Web sites supported some HTML5. By August 2013, about 153 of the Fortune 500 websites did.

Here's a visualization of the vastness of HTML5's capabilities:

What is HTML5 Feature OverviewWhat is HTML5 Feature OverviewWhat is HTML5 Feature Overview

Image credit: Wikipedia

The New Elements of HTML5

The most basic new elements of HTML5 make it easier to lay out web pages and to debug your code or others'. It also makes it easier for automated services to scan the web and understand the importance of different page components.

For page layout and key features, there are now specific elements such as:

  • <header> and <footer> 
  • <nav> for all the kinds of menus
  • <aside> for sidebars or nearby related content
  • <article> where content goes such as a blog post
  • <section> similar to <div> but more content-oriented
  • <audio> and <video> tags to have native browsers manage playback of each. No more plugins and security updates for this
  • <canvas> specifically for letting you draw graphics on using a separate scripting language
  • <embed> to place external content or applications into the page

Here's a nice visual outline of these by Smashing Magazine:

What is HTML5 New ElementsWhat is HTML5 New ElementsWhat is HTML5 New Elements

Here are some of the more advanced features of HTML5, including API integration, making coding in JavaScript for sophisticated actions easier and more consistent across browsers:

HTML5 and The Future of the Web offers another guide to these features. Here's one of their takeaways—they very much appreciate the application cache:

Google Gears gave us offline data storage and Flash introduced us to the power of application cache (Pandora uses it to save your log in information). With HTML5, these capabilities are now available to use right in the language and can easily be expanded with JavaScript.

Need to see which features are supported in which browsers? HTML5Test has a useful interactive assessment for features and browser support:

What is HTML5 Feature Compatibility Browser MatrixWhat is HTML5 Feature Compatibility Browser MatrixWhat is HTML5 Feature Compatibility Browser Matrix

There are so many new features that it's impossible to catalog all of them here. Do check the resource links at the bottom of this tutorial for deeper resources that I recommend.

A Few HTML5 Examples in Action

Let's take a look at a few cool examples of HTML5 in action.

A Boilerplate HTML5 Page

The simplicity of HTML5 is clear in its new page layouts. The more content-oriented elements make page code easier to comprehend and debug. Here's a simple example I built with the HTML5-Reset project:

Notice there's a simpler doctype tag, link tags and script tags. The HTML5Shiv script provides legacy support for versions of Internet Explorer before 9.x. 

If you want to see some other approaches, check out the HTML5 Boilerplate, a broader open-source default HTML5 page.

The Video Element and Players

Here's a video example from W3Schools showing source code on the left and the resulting player on the right:

What is HTML5 Video ExampleWhat is HTML5 Video ExampleWhat is HTML5 Video Example

There's no plugin required and no updates.


HTML5 has a wide variety of enhancements to forms and input elements to make web programming easier and the user experience much better. For example, input elements now support a variety of built-in validations. Here's a validation for numbers within a specific range:

What is HTML5 Input Element ExampleWhat is HTML5 Input Element ExampleWhat is HTML5 Input Element Example

Here are a couple of excellent tutorials for going a step deeper on forms at HTML5 Doctor:

For example, here's a demonstration of the range element shown in a Chrome browser:

What is HTML5 Range element exampleWhat is HTML5 Range element exampleWhat is HTML5 Range element example

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) 

In HTML5, you can more easily animate elements with JavaScript and HTML5. Here's a simple animated clock which is scalable (change the zoom):

What is HTML5 SVG Animated Clock DemoWhat is HTML5 SVG Animated Clock DemoWhat is HTML5 SVG Animated Clock Demo

Here's an example of the code for the demo above integrating JavaScript:

What's Next?

I hope you've enjoyed this overview of the emergence and benefit of HTML5. If you'd like to explore HTML5 further, there are two more resources I'd like to suggest:

  • HTML5 Introduction: An excellent introduction to HTML5 advancements for developers who want a quick walk-through of all the new elements.
  • HTML5 Demos and Examples: Perfect for showing you an organized menu of a variety of HTML5 demos, showing you what's possible.

Here's an example of the browsable demos at HTML5 Demos (not all of them worked for me):

What is HTML5 Demo site at HTML5TestcomWhat is HTML5 Demo site at HTML5TestcomWhat is HTML5 Demo site at HTML5Testcom

If you're a WordPress site manager like many Envato Tuts+ readers, you may want to assess future themes for their compliance with HTML5. Standards-driven development with consistent browser support makes web development much easier for so many of us and will reduce the number of bugs our customers run into while increasingly providing better user experiences. 

Overall, I've been quite impressed with HTML5. And it appears it will continue to evolve faster than every 14 years.

Additionally, if you're looking for other utilities to help you grow your HTML5 skills, don't forget to see what we have available in Envato Market.

I'd love to hear more of your feedback about HTML5 and suggestions for future topics you'd like to learn more about. Please feel free to post your questions and comments below. You can also contact me on Twitter @reifman directly. To see other tutorials I've written, browse my Envato Tuts+ instructor page.

Related Links

Because there are so many useful resources for HTML5, I've included an extra helping of some of those I find most useful:

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