Offline Web Applications

W3C Working Group Note 30 May 2008

This Version:
Latest Version:
Anne van Kesteren (Opera Software ASA) <annevk@opera.com>
Ian Hickson, Google, Inc.


HTML 5 contains several features that address the challenge of building Web applications that work while offline. This document highlights these features (SQL, offline application caching APIs as well as online/offline events, status, and the localStorage API) from HTML 5 and provides brief tutorials on how these features might be used to create Web applications that work offline. [HTML5]

Status of This Document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. Other documents may supersede this document. A list of current W3C publications and the latest revision of this technical report can be found in the W3C technical reports index at http://www.w3.org/TR/.

Offline Web Applications is a Working Group Note produced by the HTML Working Group, part of the HTML Activity. Comments are welcome on the public-html-comments@w3.org mailing list which is publicly archived.

Publication as a Working Group Note does not imply endorsement by the W3C Membership. This is a draft document and may be updated, replaced or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to cite this document as other than work in progress.

This document was produced by a group operating under the 5 February 2004 W3C Patent Policy. The group does not expect this document to become a W3C Recommendation. W3C maintains a public list of any patent disclosures made in connection with the deliverables of the group; that page also includes instructions for disclosing a patent. An individual who has actual knowledge of a patent which the individual believes contains Essential Claim(s) must disclose the information in accordance with section 6 of the W3C Patent Policy.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Users of typical online Web applications are only able to use the applications while they have a connection to the Internet. When they go offline, they can no longer check their e-mail, browse their calendar appointments, or prepare presentations with their online tools. Meanwhile, native applications provide those features: e-mail clients cache folders locally, calendars store their events locally, presentation packages store their data files locally.

In addition, while offline, users are dependent on their HTTP cache to obtain the application at all, since they cannot contact the server to get the latest copy.

The HTML 5 specification provides two solutions to this: a SQL-based database API for storing data locally, and an offline application HTTP cache for ensuring applications are available even when the user is not connected to their network.

2. SQL

The client-side SQL database in HTML 5 enables structured data storage. This can be used to store e-mails locally for an e-mail application or for a cart in an online shopping site. The API to interact with this database is asynchronous which ensures that the user interface doesn't lock up. Because database interaction can occur in multiple browser windows at the same time the API supports transactions.

To create a database object you use the openDatabase() method on the Window object. It takes four arguments: a database name, a database version, a display name, and an estimated size, in bytes, of the data to be stored in the database. For instance:

var db = openDatabase("notes", "", "The Example Notes App!", 1048576);

Now on this database we can use the transaction() method. The transaction method takes one to three arguments: a transaction callback, an error callback, and a success callback. The transaction callback gets passed a SQL transaction object on which you can use the executeSQL() method. This method takes from one to four arguments: a SQL statement, arguments, a SQL statement callback, and a SQL statement error callback. The SQL statement callback gets passed the transaction object and a SQL statement result object which gives access to the rows, last inserted ID, et cetera.

To complete the infrastructure for the notes application we'd add the following code:

function renderNote(row) {
  // renders the note somewhere
function reportError(source, message) {
  // report error

function renderNotes() {
  db.transaction(function(tx) {
    tx.executeSql('CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS Notes(title TEXT, body TEXT)', 
    tx.executeSql(‘SELECT * FROM Notes’, [], function(tx, rs) {
      for(var i = 0; i < rs.rows.length; i++) {

function insertNote(title, text) {
  db.transaction(function(tx) {
    tx.executeSql('INSERT INTO Notes VALUES(?, ?)', [ title, text ],
      function(tx, rs) {
        // …
      function(tx, error) {
        reportError('sql', error.message);

3. Offline Application Caching APIs

The mechanism for ensuring Web applications are available even when the user is not connected to their network is the manifest attribute on the html element.

The attribute takes a URI to a manifest, which specifies which files are to be cached. The manifest has a text/cache-manifest MIME type. A typical file looks like this:



This file specifies several files to cache, and then specifies that server.cgi should never be cached, so that any attempt to access that file will bypass the cache.

The manifest can then be linked to by declaring it in the (HTML) application, like this:

<html manifest="cache-manifest">

The server.cgi file would be white-listed (put in the NETWORK: section) so that it can be contacted to get updates from the server, as in:

<event-source src="server.cgi">

(The event-source element is a new feature in HTML 5 that allows servers to continuously stream updates to a Web page.)

The application cache mechanism also supports a way to opportunistically cache (from the server) a group of files matching a common prefix, with the ability to have a fallback page for rendering those pages when offline. It also provides a way for scripts to add and remove entries from the cache dynamically, and a way for applications to atomically update their cache to new files, optionally presenting custom UI during the update.

In addition to those APIs HTML 5 also defines an onLine attribute on the Navigator object so you can determine whether you are currently online:

var online = navigator.onLine;

Changes to this attribute are indicated through the online and offline events that are both dispatched on the Window object.

For simple synchronous storage access HTML 5 introduces the localStorage attribute on the Window object:

localStorage["status"] = "Idling.";


[HTML5] (work in progress)
HTML 5, I. Hickson, editor. WHATWG, 2008.
Web Forms 2.0, I. Hickson, editor. WHATWG, October 2006.
HTML 5, I. Hickson, D. Hyatt, editors. W3C, 2008.
Web Forms 2.0, I. Hickson, editor. W3C, October 2006.


The editors would like to thank Chris Wilson, Dion Almaer, James Graham, Julian Reschke, Henri Sivonen, Patrick D. F. Ion, and Philip Taylor for their contributions to this document. Also thanks to Dan Connolly for talking us into writing it during the first HTML WG meeting (in Boston).