Working together for standards The Web Standards Project


Opting-in to standards support

By Aaron Gustafson | January 22nd, 2008 | Filed in Authoring Tools, Browsers, CSS, DOM, HTML/XHTML, Microsoft, Microsoft TF, WaSP Announcement

In this week’s issue of A List Apart, I was (finally) able to reveal Microsoft’s new strategy for forward-compatibility, a strategy that was developed hand-in-hand with several of us here at WaSP.

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When IE7 came out, sites broke. Folks throughout the web community posited many reasons why, but none mentioned the fact that all standards-enabled rendering engines are triggered by an assumption we affectionately call the “DOCTYPE switch.” I’ll truck out a dusty old cliché here: “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.”

So what does that have to do with the DOCTYPE switch? Well, the DOCTYPE switch assumes that if you are using a valid DOCTYPE for a “modern” language (e.g. HTML 4), you know what you’re doing and want the browser to render in standards mode.

That assumption could have worked out all right, had it not been for authoring tool makers who—with the best intentions and under pressure from us (the web standards community and WaSP, in particular)—decided to include valid DOCTYPEs in new documents by default, thereby crippling the DOCTYPE switch because it wasn’t an explicit opt-in. Now add to that the fact that IE6 had the lion’s share of the browser market for so long—thereby becoming the primary browser in which many developers tested their work—and you have a recipe for disaster: developers assumed (there’s that word again) the layout they were getting in IE6 was accurate, not realizing they had been opted-in to accept rendering engine upgrades as the browser evolved (all of which was reinforced by the 5 years of stasis in terms of IE6′s rendering).

So along comes IE7 with it’s tuned-up rendering engine and, well, it caused sites to broke.

Not wanting to see that happen again, Microsoft approached us (WaSP) to help them find a better way of enabling standards support through an explicit opt-in. You can read more about the thought process we went through in my article on A List Apart. The issue also features a commentary piece by WaSP alum Eric Meyer (who was not involved in the development of the solution, but was asked for feedback on our work) that takes you on the mental journey he took in reaction to our recommendation. The series for ALA—on what we are calling “browser version targeting”—will wrap in two weeks with a piece by Peter Paul Koch—who, like me, was involved in the development of this technique—that will cover application of the browser targeting mechanism in IE8 and beyond.

This buzz has been translated into Polish.

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#1 On January 22nd, 2008 11:39 am