Sunday, August 21, 2011

11 hard truths about HTML5 HTML5 offers Web developers powerful new features, but spec limitations may prevent it from unseating native apps

HTML5 heralds some nifty new features and the potential for sparking a Web programming paradigm shift, and as everyone who has read the tech press knows, there is nothing like HTML5 for fixing the Internet. Sprinkle some HTML5 into your code, and your websites will be faster and fancier -- it'll make your teeth white, too. But the reality of what HTML5 can do for those seeking native-app performance on the Web falls short of the hype.

After several years of enjoying HTML5's sophisticated new tags and APIs, the time is ripe to admit that there are serious limitations with the model. Not only are there reasons to grouse about HTML5 failing to fulfill our Web nirvana dreams, there are even reasons to steer away from HTML5 in some cases.

[ Find out which 10 apps are pushing HTML5 to the limit. | Also on InfoWorld: "HTML5 in the browser: Canvas, video, audio, and graphics" | "HTML5 in the browser: Local data storage | "HTML5 in the browser: HTML5 data communications" | "HTML5 in the browser: HTML5 forms" | "HTML in the browser: Geolocation, JavaScript, and HTML5 extras" ]

The truth is, despite its powerful capabilities, HTML5 isn't the solution for every problem. Its additional features are compelling and will help make Web apps formidable competitors for native apps, but security issues, limitations of local data storage, synchonization challenges, and politics should have us all scaling back our expectations for the spec. After all, every technology has its limitations.

What follows is a list of 11 hard truths Web developers must accept in making the most of HTML5.

HTML5 hard truth No. 1: Security is a nightmare
The fundamental problem with client-side computing is that the user ultimately has control over the code running on the machine. In the case of Web apps, when your browser comes with a great debugging tool, this control is easier than ever to abuse.

With a JavaScript debugger like Firebug, anyone who is curious about what Facebook, Google, or any other website is doing can just start inserting breakpoints and watch the code. This is great for debugging and learning how websites operate, but it's a nightmare for security.

Suppose there's a variable that holds a value you'd like to change; well, Firebug or any of the other browser debuggers is happy to help you tweak the data to be anything you desire. Do you want to trick your friends into thinking you're in another geographic location? It's easy to edit the variables that hold latitude and longitude to place your browser anywhere in the world. All the neat features of your Web app can be modified, and the browser environment makes it easier than it would be normally with native code.

There are limits to the security problems that can be incurred. Some JavaScript tools such as Google Web Toolkit are nearly as complicated as standard compilers. Their output can be fairly inscrutible. Luckily tools like the JavaScript Deminifier can help.

The danger depends, of course, on the nature of the application. It's one thing when someone edits their latitude and longitude to play tricks on their friends by checking into a website while pretending to be halfway around the world. The trouble begins when someone qualifies for all of the rights, privileges, and free beers accorded by being crowned the mayor of some location. When money gets involved, the games can only get worse. All of this means that client-based HTML5 apps can't be trusted with serious data collection, and it's better for everyone to be aware of their capabilities.


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