Normative References to Moving Targets are Dangerous

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The work of W3C is sometimes a bit opaque. It is not obvious to people outside of the Working Group. You often only read the end result, a Working Draft, even sometimes the specification.

Yesterday in the WebApps (Web Applications) Working Groups, a discussion has started about a normative reference from XMLHttpRequest to HTML 5. XMLHttpRequest is the technology used in AJAX applications on the Web. XMLHttpRequest is more mature and in the final stages for going to last call and hopefully in a few months a W3C Recommendation. HTML 5 is still in high development and not stable at all. There is still work to do on it. Two options were proposed:

  • Should the normative requirement in XMLHttpRequest be a reference to the specific prose in HTML 5?
  • Should the normative requirement in XMLHttpRequest be included in the prose of XMLHttpRequest?

There is no formal Process requirement on this, because it is highly dependent on the type of the technology and its level of maturity. The W3C Process Document is here to help and be flexible to many use cases, and not be a hurdle. There is an internal W3C Technical Report publication processes. When a document is moving to Proposed Recommendation, it has to satisfy all exit criterias of Candidate Recommendation. In this document, we can read

Evidence that dependencies with other groups met (or not)

  • Does this specification have any normative references to W3C specifications that are not yet Proposed Recommendations? Note: In general, documents do not advance to Recommendation with normative references to W3C specifications that are not yet Recommendations.
  • Is there evidence that additional dependencies related to implementation have been satisfied?

What does it simply mean? Normative references to moving targets are dangerous.

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