W3C Specification

A Closer Look at W3C Technical Reports and Publications:

Standard Frustration

Web Design & Web Application Development

In the context of Web Design and Web Development standards, there is one prevailing source of confusion; one primary element responsible for blowing the minds of beginners, and without prejudice for seasoned professionals, that their disagreement upon its proper interpretation should perpetuate the elusive quality of its very definition. Depending upon the media context (e.g. html, xml, rss, microformats, etc.), it may be as tangible to grasp in the palm an idea yet to fully manifest amongst a group of intellectuals engaged in brainstorming– this element (which, I admit, I’m terribly beating ’round the bush to cite) has already been guessed by some readers, and by anyone less patient with my ruse, I must do right now to disclose that it is a document (or body of documents, and drafts) authored by the globally recognized authority on web media; the entity known as the World Wide Web Consortium (aka. the W3C).

The W3C publication is that element which– often referenced, perhaps less-often truly studied– has been (and likely, will continue to be) the source of misunderstanding, error, difficulty, frustration, and other problems: from a simple disagreement between two users in discussion over the CSS display property, inline-block, to errors in judgement by a professional web author resulting in a grossly distorted rendering of his or her design. Misinterpretation of the guidelines set forth by a published Recommendation (that is, an “official Recommendation”; the publically available document, or draft, designed to establish industry-wide conformance; a set of guidelines, recognized by industry leaders as the Standard by which new products must comply; a working draft, though never to be cited as a Standard Recommendation, may be regarded in general as the most eligible candidate for a standard, forthcoming), or likewise, a proper interpretation continuing to another extreme which may surface as a bug in the latest release of your favourite web browser software– should that software render a miscalculation of the Standard, or as suggested at the start of this article– the prevailing element of confusion of the WWW.

Elemental Dynamic Noise

The W3C Recommendation is that element. It is generally referenced by the community at large when the phrase Web Standards is tossed about, but it is more accurate to differentiate: only the various media listed under the W3C Technical Reports and Publications should be termed a “Web Standard” ; only those communication media, some of which are far from practical use by the general public, and yet unknown to you or I, but for which there exists a W3C Standard Recommendation should be referenced as a Web Standard.

It is that standard element– the W3C Technical Recommendation which, has either caused frustration for the html author wishing to “author valid html markup in compliance with web standards”, as he or she has followed the W3C Recommendation from the start of a project– or, for as many existing documents which became a part of so many revised web sites, the source-code would be painstakingly rewritten so that any formerly invalid markup would eventually comply (i.e. would pass the W3C SGML parser for markup validation).

The rhetoric used here does take for granted that the reader is aware of the following: though there are many W3C publications, to properly follow the Standard, only one Standard should be followed by a web author for any given project, or instance of a web document, hence the use of the singular, element here, which I’ve attempted to analogize with the concept of a singular standard.

This is the Standard of Excellence

Let the reader make no mistake about the validity of the W3C, its contributions, and the Technical Recommendations; that, whether Web Standards have been the source of confusion or not– it is nevertheless proper to follow those standards, if the technology is to grow and maintain its current role as prosperous element of civilization.

For those who have been familiar with the W3C Recommendations, I suspect that they might agree: it is not enough simply to be known as a W3C publication for such a document to achieve global acceptance, but only those documents which have been passed through various levels of revision, ultimately to become the Standard, which will carry the highly regarded, unique label of Recommendation (e.g. the HTML 4.01 Specification became a Recommendation in 1999)

So Many Specs. So Little Time.

The web development community tends to pass around questions like “…are they ever going to approve ____ ?…”, while others rejoice when a software vendor announces support for one of the pending Specification while its still in draft, or the candidate recommendation state, such as the recent milestone upgrade released by Mozilla, in Firefox 3, and not surprisingly, a little earlier by Opera Software ASA, when we saw Opera 9.2 debut html page rendering support for CSS3. Though it is not yet an official Standard Recommendation (in fact, even CSS 2.1 has yet to achieve that level of support), it’s exciting to witness the potential being breathed into our primary web medium, HTML and CSS, by software engineering genius of companies like Opera and Mozilla: when the text-shadow property sprang to life in Opera 9.2, or the rgba(red, green, blue, alpha); colorspace support so elegantly rendered by Gecko 1.9 in Firefox 3. One might say it seems we have far to go before CSS3 is a reality, in W3C Specification terms, and yet these properties are already showing up in stylesheets across the web, not just being used by font fanatics and typography enthusiasts, but those of us who are more driven by the purpose of staying up-to-date in daily practice, not to mention those who just enjoy playing with the newest toys.

How long till we see a browser which will claim to support HTML 5, giving web developers the opportunity to code for that forthcoming standard? In this marginal epoch, such little time having passed from the release of a Working Draft, for you or I to make predictions concerning the status of the HTML 5 Standard would hardly be quite reasonable. Instead of trying to see beyond our scope, perhaps a more sensible direction to focus energy in the meantime will require a turnabout, toward a retrospective insight: the reader is advised to review the index of W3C Technical Reports and Publications, Configurable Views (note the various criteria made optional for sorting the TR Index).

Think for Yourself. Question Authority.

What is there to gain by looking at a rather unexciting list of Specification documents? Furthermore, what is the motivation for the W3C to offer various ways of sorting the several documents, otherwise known as the TR, or Technical Recommendations– the ubiquitous W3C Standards— the same standard benchmark referenced in HTML Validation softwar

e, the pass/ fail test fussed over by so many Web Standards conscious developers, as they test their own work for valid XML / SGML markup (i.e. semantically well-formed code for the world wide web)? (Note: these are, of course, the very specs by which the term Web Standards is able to exist)

Consider the status of a document as it passes through various, structured versions; official updates, as authored, reviewed, and edited by contributing members of the World Wide Web Consortium, where Recommendations are the Standard, and a Working Draft is the first recognized version of a forthcoming Standard:

  • Recommendations
  • Proposed Recommendations
  • Proposed Edited Recommendations
  • Candidate Recommendations
  • Working Drafts

In observation of these various levels, because of its wide use, and that I author this text consider the status of the CSS 2.0 Recommendation, and that of CSS 2.1 which appended some minor changes which basically enhance the existing specification.

If the reader would like to have a better understanding of W3C Specification time-lines, I urge you to review the W3C Technical Reports, and find the answers to the following questions. Good luck!

  • When did the CSS 2.0 spec become an official W3C Recommendation?
  • When was CSS 2.1 passed on from its status as a Working Draft to become a Candidate Recommendation?
  • What is the current status of the CSS 2.1 Specification?

W3C Technical Reports and Publications, the Index. Available at http://www.w3.org/TR/ . Last Accessed: 2008-08-17

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