Vanilla Speed

Me: I wonder how to make this cool new HTML5 feature interact with Javascript properly.


Stack Overflow Answer #1: Use this great jQuery function!

Stack Overflow Answer #2: Underscore.js is better, us it! You only need 1/2 a character of code.

Smacks desk in frustration.

I’m working on a major overhaul of an existing website that focuses on speed and a great mobile experience that has never used Javascript libraries, (it was originally written in 2007 before they were a thing), and we’re not changing that. For this website a library is a bunch of extra code to download, execute, and take up memory, which adds extra function calls between the code I write and the things that happen in the browser – more CPU cycles, more battery drain, more waiting, and no benefit to our users and customers.

If we were using jQuery I wouldn’t have spent some time looking up the differences in event creation between browsers, and I might not have spent the morning figuring out why a datalist wasn’t appearing properly in Firefox, or maybe I would have had to do that bit of debugging anyway. One thing that doesn’t help me move the project along at all is other people’s over-reliance on Javascript libraries that is so prevalent. In 2007 when I had a problem I could Google it, or post to a forum, and find an answer, (assuming it had been done before), today I experience the sequence of events at the top of this post several times every day. This is why the trio of blog posts last week, (Marco Arment’s post about PPK’s post about John Gruber’s take on Facebook Instant), have really resonated with me. PPK is right, we need to stop relying on libraries, whether it’s jQuery, underscore, or whatever. There are times when a library is the right tool, but with modern Javascript APIs, HTML5, and CSS3, and good browser support for all but the absolute bleeding-edge.

To use a Javascript library is to externalize the cost of development onto your customers and users.

Despite my frustration with the “use some library” responses on Stack Overflow questions using plain vanilla JavaScript has turned out to be an enjoyable learning experience. I’ve been able to make everything work, (so far), with way less code than was needed in 2007. Of course, if your browser can’t handle the project’s Javascript requirements the JS is not loaded at all and you get the plain HTML experience, which isn’t so bad either.

For more on choosing not to burden your users and customers with unneeded slowness, see the ALA article Choosing Vanilla Javascript, which is 15 months old now, and things have just gotten better since it was published!

Getting Started with HTML5

I’m working on a project now were we’ve decided to go with as pure HTML5 as posible, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Things work more or less how they should, and Internet Explorer is even playing along, with a little help. Getting started was a bit of a trick, though, as it can be hard to find information on how HTML5 works without diving into specification documents, which is never fun, or easy, (if you don’t want to read the story, skip straight to the resources).

I hadn’t been following the development of HTML5 with more than a passing interest. I figured that when it was ready, then I would start using it. I also understood that there were different parts that may reach completion at different times, and was keeping my eye open for some sort of “completion” signal. 2009’s 24 Ways was that signal for me. There were several articles on using HTML5 features along with their CSS3 counterparts, and enough evidence that browser support is there to start my investigation.

Here’s the deal: Basic HTML5 support is pretty good in webkit-based browsers, alright, (read usable), in Gecko, and kind of lacking in Internet Explorer. However, if you can rely on Javascript being present, (which I can in my project), there’s an HTML5 Shiv Javascript by Remy Sharp that makes it so that you can style HTML5 in Internet Explorer. Add it using a conditional comment and you’re good to go.

So, we have useable cross-browser support, but where do we turn to learn about which tags are in, which are out, the correct doctype and mime-type, and all that? We could read the specification, (and we will have to read a bit, at least), but it would be nice if there was an introduction to HTML5 somewhere. It turns out that Robert Nyman has written an Introduction to HTML5. It’s detailed enough to get you started, but not so detailed that you get lost, (like the spec), and if you’re looking to be convinced of the value of HTML5, check out HTML5: Tool of Satan, or Yule of Santa?, Have a Field Day with HTML5 Forms, and Breaking out the Edges of the Browser from 24 Ways 2009.

Once you dive a little deeper you’ll find that there are elements of HTML5 that you need more in-depth information for, so it’s time to turn to the spec. However, there are 2 groups, (W3C and WHATWG), working on HTML5, and therefore 2 spec documents, (fun!). Fortunately, the two groups have the same editor, so they’re more or less working on the same thing. I find the WHATWG HTML5 document easier to read, but if you prefer the W3C version, go nuts.

Finally, the whole content-type debate that’s been going on for what seems like centuries is still a mess. In HTML5 you’re supposed to include a Document Type Definition and there should be no namespaces on the HTML element if you’re serving as text/html, and you’re supposed to serve in application/xhtml+xml if you want to use namespaces, or force XML validation, or anything like that. The problem is that Internet Explorer really doesn’t like application/xhtml+xml, (it shows the raw XML document), so if you need a namespace for some reason, (for example, you want to use Facebook Connect on the site), you can’t serve valid markup.

So, that’s it. HTML5 has arrived, or at least parts of it. If you can rely on Javascript being present, or rely on IE users not using your web app, you can go ahead and start using it. Here’s a quick recap of the resources: