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Note: MikeSmith created this page. The following people have added or edited content on it: HenriSivonen, ...

This page records a particular 10-year chunk of the history of milestones in the development of the HTML language (in the two forms of the language understood by most current browsers); the 10-year chunk recorded here is from the publication of the HTML4 recommendation on through to the publication of the first W3C Working Draft of the HTML5 specification. It also records a variety of related milestones of significance, including events in the evolution of Web applications and the underlying browser technologies that support them, as well as events related to important uses of those technologies, such as in blogs and social networking services.

See also A feature history of the modern Web Platform


1998-02, 1998-03


  • Shaping the Future of HTML workshop with the conclusion/outcome: In discussions, it was agreed that further extending HTML 4.0 would be difficult, as would converting 4.0 to be an XML application. The proposed way to break free of these restrictions is to make a fresh start with the next generation of HTML based upon a suite of XML tag-sets.
  • CSS 2 Recommendation published.



  • Second W3C HTML Working Group (effectively the first XHTML working group) chartered with the goal of redefining HTML as a modular application of XML and statement that maintenance of HTML 4.0 [will now be] limited to tracking messages and keeping errata; the group later successfully delivers XHTML 1.0, though its work does not produce any major updates to the core HTML language supported by browsers.
  • Todd Fahrner posts a message to the mozilla-layout mailing list proposing use of a doctype switching mechanism in Mozilla:
    Please consider taking a modal approach: ship a browser with 2 independent rendering systems. Use the legacy system for legacy content. Use NGLayout when rendering documents authored in either HTML 4.0 Strict or XML (this will include HTML 5.0). Pay attention to the DOCTYPE.
    It will be two more than a year before the idea is realized in any browser -- first in version 5.0 of Internet Explorer for Mac, then shortly after that, in Mozilla.


  • Google Inc. opens its doors. During the last part of 1998, the Google search engine quickly gains attention and a rapidly growing user base; in a December 1998 Salon article titled Yes, there is a better search engine, Scott Rosenberg writes:
    Google gets remarkably smart search results by using a mathematical algorithm that rates your site based on who links to you. The ranking depends not simply on the number of sites that link to you, but on the linking sites' own importance rating. The result is a kind of automated peer review that sifts sites based on the collective wisdom of the Web itself.
    The idea of the "collective wisdom of the Web" (stated, among other ways, as "the wisdom of crowds") will go on to become one of the hallmarks of "Web 2.0" discussions (when such discussions start in 2004 and 2005) and Google will go on to launch a variety of Web applications that are notable in making innovative use of asynchronous scripting (Ajax) and client-side/browser techologies.
  • eBay initial public offering (IPO); online since 1995, eBay is often cited as a high-profile example of a sophisticated Web application (though unlike Google, eBay never really breaks any new ground in its use of browser technologies).


  • Mozilla project moves to Gecko as its layout engine; Gecko (called NGLayout at the time) is a significant improvement over the engine used in previous Netscape releases, and provides the foundation for Mozilla as we now know it (and eventually for Firefox).
  • Open Diary. Though not exactly a household name now, Open Diary is cited as the first community for blogs (or for what will later become known as blogs), also as the place where blog comments were first introduced (shortly after its launch, a feature was added to enable users to post notes on each others' diary pages), and as an early example of a social networking service.


  • XMLHttpRequest (XHR) support first released, in Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5; as XHR support is later added to other browsers, it will go on to become a cornerstone that enables cross-platform Web applications that make use of asynchronous scripting (Ajz) to provide behavior similar to that of desktop applications.
  • RSS created by Ramanathan V. Guha (who was employed at Netscape at the time, and who will go on to join Google in 2005). It becomes the most widely used format for syndicating feeds (from news sites, blogs, and so on).
  • LiveJournal launched by Brad Fitzpatrick. It pioneers use of certain social networking features eventually common to sites such as Facebook and becomes one of the most prominent blogging sites. Fitzpatrick will go on to sell LiveJournal to SixApart in January 2005 and later move on to work at Google.



  • Lars Knoll rewrites KHTML to use the standard W3C DOM as its internal document representation, enabling integration with Harri Porten's KJS to add Javascript support shortly afterward. In the closing months of 1999 and first few months of 2000, Knoll does further work with Antti Koivisto and Dirk Mueller to add CSS support and to refine and stabilize the KHTML architecture -- thereby building a Web engine that will, in addition to its use in KDE, later be picked up by Apple for their Safari browser (forming the basis of what will eventually become Webkit).
  • Blogger.com launched; one of the earliest dedicated blog-publishing tools, it is credited for helping popularize the format (quote from Wikipedia entry); it will be acquired by Google in February 2003.
  • First non-confidential draft of XHTML™ Extended Forms Requirements published saying After careful consideration, the HTML Working Group has decided that the goals for the next generation of forms are incompatible with preserving backwards compatibility with browsers designed for earlier versions of HTML..


  • HTML Working Group Roadmap first public version published; its "Working Group Goals" section includes a statement that W3C has no intention to extend HTML 4 as such. Instead, further work is focusing on a reformulation of HTML in XML.

1999-12, 2000-01

  • ECMAScript 3rd Edition published
  • HTML 4.01 Recommendation published (final version of HTML4); described in the HTML Working Group Roadmap as an updated recommendation for HTML 4.0 that incorporates editorial corrections and bug fixes for problems detected since HTML 4.0.
  • XHTML 1.0 Recommendation published, with one of its inherent principles being draconian error handling -- something previously foreign to HTML and seen by many as fundamentally not Web-friendly -- since it was at the time (and continues to be) at odds with how existing browser actually process existing HTML content.



  • PHP 4.0 released; powered by a completely rewritten and greatly improved engine, the Zend Engine.


  • Third W3C HTML Working Group (effectively the second XHTML working group) chartered, with a statement that the scope of this charter is to see through to completion the transition to XML; the group later successfully delivers XHTML 1.1 and begins developing XHTML 2.0, though its work does not produce any major updates to the core HTML language supported by browsers.
  • XForms Working Group chartered. Even though the WG was chartered to produce Proposed Recommendation in the XForms area, DOM APIs were included only on the level of investigation: An investigation into the requirements for an XForms DOM. The plan is to obsolete the current HTML DOM, and the issue to be considered is whether the XML DOM is sufficient or whether an XForms DOM is warranted..

2000-07, 2000-09

  • XMLHttpRequest support enabled by default in Mozilla codebase
  • What is an XHTML document? thread related to handling of XHTML served as text/html, initiated by David Baron on the www-html list: The XHTML spec [...] says that XHTML Documents may be sent as "text/html" [...] there have been a number of bugs filed against Mozilla arguing that our XHTML support is broken because XHTML documents are parsed loosely when sent as "text/html" [...] If these conformance requirements do not apply to XHTML documents served as "text/html", then the XHTML spec should say that.
  • Sniffing XHTML sent as text/html thread in response to David Baron's request to the HTML Working Group for guidance on the question of "how should Mozilla detect whether a text/html document is XHTML or not?"; Steven Pemberton responds: The HTML WG has discussed this [...] documents served as text/html should be treated as HTML and not as XHTML. There should be no sniffing of text/html documents to see if they are really XHTML.



  • XHTML 1.1 Recommendation published; after its publication, the third W3C HTML Working group will focus an increasing amount of its energies toward developing XHTML 2.0.



  • SVG 1.0 Recommendation published. Native support for SVG will go on to be implemented in all major desktop browsers, including (beginning in 2010) Microsoft Internet Explorer, as well as being supported across a range of mobile devices.




  • Fourth W3C HTML Working Group (effectively the third XHTML working group) chartered, with a statement that the main scope of this charter is to complete the transition from HTML to XHTML... this includes finishing work on XHTML 2.0 [which] will include new features such as XForms and XML Events as replacements for legacy HTML/XHTML features.
  • XHTML 2.0 First Public Working Draft published, with a statement that while the ancestry of XHTML 2 comes from HTML 4, XHTML 1.0, and XHTML 1.1, it is not intended to be backward compatible with its earlier versions.
  • How liberal is too liberal? blog posting by Mark Pilgrim: Look at it this way: imagine you made a browser that only rendered sites authored in valid HTML or XHTML. How much of the web would your users be able to see? 1%? 0.1%? Less?


  • HLink draft published by the W3C HTML Working Group, signaling a rift that is significant in the history of HTML in that it was a key indicator that some W3C recommendations for XML-based technologies might be out of sync with Web realities and that is foreshadowed a similar rift that would take place later with regard to XForms; for more details, see the HLink page.


  • XHTML 2 second public Working Draft published, with some continuing to hail it as a much-needed and long-overdue refactoring of the language but with some Web notables (including Daniel Glazman, Mark Pilgrim and Jeffrey Zeldman) greeting it with objections; Glazman writes:
    XHTML 2.0 seems to me the live proof that something is going wrong at W3C... I strongly suggest dropping all "XHTML 2.0" efforts in favor of a new "xHTML 5.0" language. Clearly a successor to HTML 4, feature-oriented, made for the _web_.



  • Wordpress.org domain registered. The PHP-based Wordpress blogging engine will go on to become perhaps the most widely used open-source blogging engine -- as an alternative to blogging services such as Blogger.com and other blogging engines such as Movable Type (particularly in the months after May 2004, when licensing fees for Movable Type were changed in way that made it more attractive for users to consider alternatives).


2003-08, 2003-09

  • XForms Proposed Recommendation published; includes dependencies on XPath, XML Schema, and XML Events.
  • Apple and Opera submit review comments on the XForms Proposed Recommendation, and in a follow-up posting, Håkon Wium Lie states:
    Opera Software has been working on an XHTML module which would add some functionality from XForms (e.g. basic data typing and XML submission) without introducing large numbers of extra dependencies. We hope to continue this work in cooperation with W3C and its members.

2003-10, 2003-12


  • Void filling: Web Applications Language blog posting from Ian Hickson: The W3C had so far failed to address a need in the Web community: There is no language for Web applications... I intend to do something about this (hopefully within a W3C context, although that will depend on the politics of the situation).
  • Draconian error handling with respect to syndicated feeds becomes the subject of a flurry of blog postings and mailing-list postings, with (among others) Mark Pilgrim and Ian Hickson advocating the position that draconian error handling is a counterproductive way of dealing with problem: Authors will write invalid content regardless... Specifications [...] should state what the authors must not do, and then tell implementors what they must do when an author does it anyway.


  • Safari 1.2 released; first version of Safari with XMLHttpRequest support
  • Web Forms 2.0 draft published under "Web Forms 2.0" title for first time.
  • Flickr launched; making innovative use of asynchronous scripting/Ajax mechanisms in its user interface, it will go on to become the Web application most often cited in "Web 2.0" discussions.
  • CSS 2.1 Candidate Recommendation published; however, after this initial CR publication, the CSS 2.1 spec will then go back to Working Draft status before returning again to CR status in July 2007.


  • whatwg.org domain registered
  • Ramblings from the North blog posting from Ian Hickson: I've been taking the opportunity to work on a proposal for a Web Applications specification... something along the same lines as Web Forms 2, but specifically for client-side application development.



  • Fragmentation of document formats on the Web essay posted by David Baron: If the W3C does not act, the problem will have to be solved either by some other standardization body or by the market... it is worth remembering that the rules for error-handling in traditional HTML were solved by the market, and the end result was bad for competition and bad for small devices.
  • Backwards Compatibility blog posting from Ian Hickson: Authors still want to write Web applications, and the currently deployed standards are inadequate. Since completely new standards won't cut it [...] this leaves us with the solution we (Opera and Mozilla) have been advocating: updating HTML and the DOM.


The dream of a new web, based on XHTML+SVG+SMIL+XForms, is just that -- a dream. It won't come true no matter how many toy implementations there are... The best way to help the Web is to incrementally improve the existing web standards, with compatibility shims provided for IE, so that web content authors can actually deploy new formats interoperably... Mozilla is joining with Opera and others to explore the sort of incremental improvements to HTML proposed by us at the workshop.
  • WHATWG launched: The group aims to develop specifications based on HTML and related technologies to ease the deployment of interoperable Web Applications [...] for implementation in mass-market Web browsers, in particular Safari, Mozilla, and Opera; [the group] intends to ensure that all its specifications address backwards compatibility concerns [...] and specify error handling behavior to ensure interoperability even in the face of documents that do not comply to the letter of the specifications.
  • Atom Publishing Format and Protocol Working Group (atompub) chartered within the IETF Applications Area to 'use experience gained with RSS [...] as the basis for a standards-track document specifying the [Atom] model, syntax, and feed format. The feed format and HTTP will be used as the basis of work on a standards-track document specifying the editing protocol' and noting that the group will take steps to ensure interoperability, by unambiguously identifying required elements in formats, clearly nominating conformance levels for different types of software, and providing clear extensibility mechanisms and constraints upon them.


  • XML on the Web Has Failed article by Mark Pilgrim, with this comment on draconian error handling: The promise of "draconian error handling will save us" was an empty promise. Whatever interoperability we now enjoy has not been rooted in draconian error handling. Draconianism was a grand experiment, and maybe it could have ensured interoperability if clients hadn't been so buggy and the creators of XML had understood how it interacted with other specifications (like MIME) from the beginning, instead of being blindsided by it years later.


  • First public release of an Opera build with with some degree of XMLHttpRequest support (v7.60 Technical Preview for Windows)





  • What Is Web 2.0 article by Tim O'Reilly. Subsequent discussions of the term Web 2.0 often cite this article; excerpt: It's clear that standards and solutions [...] will enable the next generation of applications. [...] AJAX is also a key component of Web 2.0 applications such as Flickr [...] We're entering an unprecedented period of user interface innovation, as web developers are finally able to build web applications as rich as local PC-based applications.


2005-12 and 2006-01

  • RFC 4287 (The Atom Syndication Format) published by the IETF.
  • The future of HTML, Part 1: WHATWG and The future of HTML, Part 2: XHTML 2.0 articles by Edd Dumbill as that IBM developerWorks site:
    The W3C promotes XHTML 2.0, based on the requirements of a broad vendor base -- not just desktop browser makers. XHTML 2.0 is seen as a radical step. In contrast, the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) promotes a set of incremental specifications, which evolve HTML to add the most immediately required functionality into the browser... The grassroots-organised WHATWG aims for a gently incremental enhancement of HTML 4 and XHTML 1.0, whereas the consortium-sponsored XHTML 2.0 is a comprehensive refactoring of the HTML language.
  • Web Authoring Statistics report published at Google Code site: ...we did an analysis of a sample of slightly over a billion documents, extracting information about popular class names, elements, attributes, and related metadata".



  • Web Forms 2.0 First Public Working Draft published by W3C Web Application Formats Working Group; see also the subsequent public discussion initiated by John Boyer and cross-posted to several mailing lists (following an earlier discussion thread on the member-only list for W3C chairs): IBM strongly advocates for the renewed charter of the XForms and HTML working groups to include unification of the Web Forms 2.0 work with emphases on the ease-of-use benefits from WF2 and the XML basis from XForms.
  • SVG Tiny 1.2 Candidate Recommendation published.
  • jQuery 1.0 released.


  • Microsoft Internet Explorer version 7 released with CSS and W3C DOM improvements, but still no XHTML support
  • Reinventing HTML posting by Tim Berners-Lee: Some things are clearer with hindsight of several years. It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn't work... The plan is to charter a completely new HTML group. Unlike the previous one, this one will be chartered to do incremental improvements to HTML, as also in parallel xHTML.



  • Fifth W3C HTML Working Group chartered (second W3C HTML working group to focus on the core HTML language), with a mission to continue the evolution of HTML (including classic HTML and XML syntaxes) and with a statement that this group will maintain and produce incremental revisions to the HTML specification [to produce] a language evolved from HTML4 for describing the semantics of documents and applications on the World Wide Web.



  • iPhone first released in the US, with a mobile version of Safari.