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[whatwg] Using the HTML5 DOCTYPE as a new quirksmode switch

From: WHATWG <whatwg@robertdot.org>
Date: Sat, 10 Mar 2007 14:51:30 -0800
Message-ID: <F6F1A6A9-7801-4156-A21E-F9284CAB23CF@robertdot.org>

On Mar 10, 2007, at 8:38 AM, Mihai Sucan wrote:

> There's no way to advertise the document as HTML 5, and it's  
> certainly not the purpose of the specification to do so.


This is a problem.  It is especially a problem now that the W3C is  
working on their version of HTML 5.  When I asked Ian Hickson how  
WHATWG would handle divergence in the W3C spec [1], he said he  
"intended to make every effort to keep the two in sync." [2]  While I  
appreciate his effort and I fully believe that he will do his best,  
we are dealing with a body (i.e. the W3C) who have a history of  
stubbornness and unwillingness to work with important members of the  
community. [3]  The future is still undecided, but I don't think it  
is a good idea to operate under the assumption that the W3C will copy  
and paste the entire WHATWG HTML 5 spec.

Even if DTDs are non-normative and antiquated in the HTML 5 spec, it  
at least provides some method for authors to indicate their  
intentions.  If my intention was to write a document conforming to  
HTML 3.2, I can use the HTML 3.2 DTD to tell anyone in the future  
that I was using a certain set of elements.  If browsers pay no  
attention to DTDs, as WHATWG has said time and again, browsers must  
be rendering "the latest and greatest" markup.  If in 50 years, the  
"i" element has been out of use for 40 years, and browsers stop  
rendering that element and validators throw errors on that element,  
the document still conforms to the DTD.  It's not the author's fault  
that the document doesn't perform the way it intended.  Ideally, the  
browser should care about DTDs.

The WHATWG HTML 5 spec provides no way to specify what version / fork  
of HTML the author intended to use.  Even if browsers don't pay  
attention, I think it is a shame that there is no way to specify (if  
for nothing else, to future-proof documents).  I blogged about this  
in more detail. [4]

It seems the WHATWG is staunchly against DTDs, even if it has an  
appropriate use (e.g. emails in this thread talking about XML  
entities).  I've mulled over this awhile.  Since DTDs aren't  
normative in browsers, perhaps a "link" element with a  
"rel=specification" and an "href=http://www.whatwg.org/specs/web-apps/ 
current-work/" (for example) would be a new way to say, "this is the  
specification I used to create this document."  It is easier to  
remember than the DOCTYPE DTDs on pervious versions of HTML, and it  
is much more human-readable than DTDs.  It addresses my concerns, and  
doesn't use DTDs.

Now, I don't know if it can be used as a quirksmode switch.  The  
DOCTYPE seems like an ideal place to run the switch.  The problem  
will be if the W3C (or some other as yet unformed working group that  
decides to fork HTML) doesn't implement a DTD-less DOCTYPE.  If the  
switch is the WHATWG HTML5 DOCTYPE, documents authored under W3C HTML  
5 spec will not render in super-standard mode.  Browsers will have to  
have multiple super-standards modes switches depending on what  
version of HTML5 the author uses.

IE asking a working group to provide some new way to specify  
standards mode doesn't make sense.  That is an implementation problem  
that they need to figure out.  It isn't our job to write their  
software.  WHATWG doesn't need to bloat the spec for them.  The IE  
team needs to be creative and find a solution to their problem.

We're already using headers to swap between HTML and XHTML (since we  
still call both .html files).  Headers are for telling user agents  
how to deal with content.  It seems like sending a header "X- 
STANDARDS-MODE: HTML5;" (or "WHATWG-HTML5" if W3C's HTML 5 is  
significantly different) or setting an http-equiv meta tag to tell IE  
to use their super-standards mode is cleaner and more desirable as it  
doesn't bloat the spec, and should be more than enough for them.  If  
their standards mode for HTML5 has flaws and they need a NEW switch,  
it can be changed to "X-STANDARDS-MODE: HTML6;" or whatever the  
latest version of HTML is.  This can be set across an entire server  
in a few seconds via config files if needed, or set on a single  
folder via .htaccess files.  If headers are used, that also doesn't  
bloat the file if is is saved on someone's HDD.


[1] http://blog.whatwg.org/w3c-restarts-html-effort#comment-2020
[2] http://blog.whatwg.org/w3c-restarts-html-effort#comment-2022
[3] http://meyerweb.com/eric/thoughts/2006/08/14/angry-indeed/
[4] http://robertdot.org/2007/03/08/html-5-whatwg-versus-w3c.html
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