Tags: markup

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Monday, February 20th, 2017

Do we need a new heading element? We don’t know - JakeArchibald.com

Jake is absolutely spot-on here. There’s been a lot of excited talk about adding an h element to HTML but it all seems to miss the question of why the currently-specced outline algorithm hasn’t been implemented.

This is a common mistake in standards discussion — a mistake I’ve made many times before. You cannot compare the current state of things, beholden to reality, with a utopian implementation of some currently non-existent thing.

If you’re proposing something almost identical to something that failed, you better know why your proposal will succeed where the other didn’t.

Jake rightly points out that the first step isn’t to propose a whole new element; it’s to ask “Why haven’t browsers implemented the outline for sectioned headings?”

(I added a small historical note in the comments pointing to the first occurrence of this proposal way back in 1991.)

Friday, February 17th, 2017

The average web page from top twenty Google results

Ever wondered what the most commonly used HTML elements are?

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Teaching in Porto, day one

Today was the first day of the week long “masterclass” I’m leading here at The New Digital School in Porto.

When I was putting together my stab-in-the-dark attempt to provide an outline for the week, I labelled day one as “How the web works” and gave this synopsis:

The internet and the web; how browsers work; a history of visual design on the web; the evolution of HTML and CSS.

There ended up being less about the history of visual design and CSS (we’ll cover that tomorrow) and more about the infrastructure that the web sits upon. Before diving into the way the web works, I thought it would be good to talk about how the internet works, which led me back to the history of communication networks in general. So the day started from cave drawings and smoke signals, leading to trade networks, then the postal system, before getting to the telegraph, and then telephone networks, the ARPANET, and eventually the internet. By lunch time we had just arrived at the birth of the World Wide Web at CERN.

It wasn’t all talk though. To demonstrate a hub-and-spoke network architecture I had everyone write down someone else’s name on a post-it note, then stand in a circle around me, and pass me (the hub) those messages to relay to their intended receiver. Later we repeated this exercise but with a packet-switching model: everyone could pass a note to their left or to their right. The hub-and-spoke system took almost a minute to relay all six messages; the packet-switching version took less than 10 seconds.

Over the course of the day, three different laws came up that were relevant to the history of the internet and the web:

Metcalfe’s Law
The value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users.
Postel’s Law
Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept.
Sturgeon’s Law
Ninety percent of everything is crap.

There were also references to the giants of hypertext: Ted Nelson, Vannevar Bush, and Douglas Engelbart—for a while, I had the mother of all demos playing silently in the background.

After a most-excellent lunch in a nearby local restaurant (where I can highly recommend the tripe), we started on the building blocks of the web: HTTP, URLs, and HTML. I pulled up the first ever web page so that we could examine its markup and dive into the wonder of the A element. That led us to the first version of HTML which gave us enough vocabulary to start marking up documents: p, h1-h6, ol, ul, li, and a few others. We went around the room looking at posters and other documents pinned to the wall, and starting marking them up by slapping on post-it notes with opening and closing tags on them.

At this point we had covered the anatomy of an HTML element (opening tags, closing tags, attribute names and attribute values) as well as some of the history of HTML’s expanding vocabulary, including elements added in HTML5 like section, article, and nav. But so far everything was to do with marking up static content in a document. Stepping back a bit, we returned to HTTP, and talked about difference between GET and POST requests. That led in to ways of sending data to a server, which led to form fields and the many types of inputs at our disposal: text, password, radio, checkbox, email, url, tel, datetime, color, range, and more.

With that, the day drew to a close. I feel pretty good about what we covered. There was a lot of groundwork, and plenty of history, but also plenty of practical information about how browsers interpret HTML.

With the structural building blocks of the web in place, tomorrow is going to focus more on the design side of things.

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

DirtyMarkup · Tidy up your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code

A handy prettifier for front-end code. Useful if you’re trying to find something inside code markup, CSS, or JavaScript that’s been minified.

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Front-End Developers Are Information Architects Too ◆ 24 ways

Some great thoughts here from Francis on how crafting solid HTML is information architecture.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Progressive enhancement and team memberships

A really nice pattern, similar to one I wrote about a little while back. There’s also this little gem of an observation:

Progressive enhancement is also well-suited to Agile, as you can start with the core functionality and then iterate.

Monday, November 21st, 2016

FormLinter—Detect common issues that hurt conversions

A little tool for testing common form issues.

  • Did we remember to give every input a label? (No, placeholders are not an adequate replacement)?
  • Do our labels’ for attributes match our inputs’ ids?
  • Did we take advantage of the url, email, and password input types, or did we forget and just use text?
  • Are our required fields marked as such?

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Custom Elements: an ecosystem still being worked out - Tales of a Developer Advocate

Really, really smart thinking from Paul here, musing on the power relationship between the creators of custom elements and the users of custom elements.

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Create a MarkDown tag - JSFiddle

This is nice example of a web component that degrades gracefully—if custom elements aren’t supported, you still get the markdown content, just not converted to HTML.

<ah-markdown>
## Render some markdown!
</ah-markdown>

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

The Lost Art of HTML | shaunrashid.com

Building a good foundation using HTML is like building a good foundation for a house. Without it, you run the risk of having to deal with issues that are difficult and expensive to fix later on.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

From WordPress to Apple News, Instant Articles, and AMP - The Media Temple Blog

Chris runs through the process and pitfalls of POSSEing a site (like CSS Tricks) to Apple’s News app, Facebook’s Instant Articles, and Google’s AMP.

Hey, whatever you want. As long as…

  1. It’s not very much work
  2. The content’s canonical home is my website.

I just want people to read and like CSS-Tricks.

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

Responses To The Screen Reader Strategy Survey | HeydonWorks

Heydon asked screen readers some questions about their everyday interactions with websites. The answers quite revealing: if you’re using headings and forms correctly, you’re already making life a lot easier for them.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

I Wanted To Type a Number | Filament Group, Inc., Boston, MA

Choosing the right input type for your form field.

Aria-Controls is Poop | HeydonWorks

I wrote a while back about how I switched from using a button to using a link for progressive disclosure patterns. That looks like it was a good move—if I use a button, I’d need to use aria-controls and, as Heydon outlines here, the screen reader support is pants.

Monday, August 29th, 2016

MarkApp: Building apps with HTML

Here’s an interesting collection from Lea: small JavaScript libraries that do their configuration declaratively via HTML, rather than in JavaScript.

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Marking up help text in forms

Zoe asked a question on Twitter recently:

‘Sfunny—I had been pondering this exact question. In fact, I threw a CodePen together a couple of weeks ago.

Visually, both examples look the same; there’s a label, then a form field, then some extra text (in this case, a validation message).

The first example puts the validation message in an em element inside the label text itself, so I know it won’t be missed by a screen reader—I think I first learned this technique from Derek many years ago.

<div class="first error example">
 <label for="firstemail">Email
<em class="message">must include the @ symbol</em>
 </label>
 <input type="email" id="firstemail" placeholder="e.g. you@example.com">
</div>

The second example puts the validation message after the form field, but uses aria-describedby to explicitly associate that message with the form field—this means the message should be read after the form field.

<div class="second error example">
 <label for="secondemail">Email</label>
 <input type="email" id="secondemail" placeholder="e.g. you@example.com" aria-describedby="seconderror">
 <em class="message" id="seconderror">must include the @ symbol</em>
</div>

In both cases, the validation message won’t be missed by screen readers, although there’s a slight difference in the order in which things get read out. In the first example we get:

  1. Label text,
  2. Validation message,
  3. Form field.

And in the second example we get:

  1. Label text,
  2. Form field,
  3. Validation message.

In this particular example, the ordering in the second example more closely matches the visual representation, although I’m not sure how much of a factor that should be in choosing between the options.

Anyway, I was wondering whether one of these two options is “better” or “worse” than the other. I suspect that there isn’t a hard and fast answer.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Start Building Accessible Web Applications Today - Course by @marcysutton @eggheadio

A great series of short videos from Marcy on web accessibility.

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Progressive Enhancement for JavaScript App Developers | De Voorhoede

Build JS apps responsibly - cover your basics, render strategically and enhance into true apps.

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Extensible web components

Adam Onishi has written up his thoughts on web components and progressive enhancements, following on from a discussion we were having on Slack. He shares a lot of the same frustrations as I do.

Two years ago, I said:

I have conflicting feelings about Web Components. I am simultaneously very excited and very nervous.

I still feel that way. In theory, web components are very exciting. In practice, web components are very worrying. The worrying aspect comes from the treatment of backwards compatibility.

It all comes down to the way custom elements work. When you make up a custom element, it’s basically a span.

<fancy-select></fancy-select>

Then, using JavaScript with ShadowDOM, templates, and the other specs that together make up the web components ecosystem, you turn that inert span-like element into something all-singing and dancing. That’s great if the browser supports those technologies, and the JavaScript executes successfully. But if either of those conditions aren’t met, what you’re left with is basically a span.

One of the proposed ways around this was to allow custom elements to extend existing elements (not just spans). The proposed syntax for this was an is attribute.

<select is="fancy-select">...</select>

Browser makers responded to this by saying “Nah, that’s too hard.”

To be honest, I had pretty much given up on the is functionality ever seeing the light of day, but Monica has rekindled my hope:

Still, I’m not holding my breath for this kind of declarative extensibility landing in browsers any time soon. Instead, a JavaScript-based way of extending existing existing elements is currently the only way of piggybacking on all the accessible behavioural goodies you get with native elements.

class FancySelect extends HTMLSelectElement

But this imperative approach fails completely if custom elements aren’t supported, or if the JavaScript fails to execute. Now you’re back to having spans.

The presentation on web components at the Progressive Web Apps Dev Summit referred to this JavaScript-based extensibility as “progressively enhancing what’s already available”, which is a bit of a stretch, given how completely it falls apart in older browsers. It was kind of a weird talk, to be honest. After fifteen minutes of talking about creating elements entirely from scratch, there was a minute or two devoted to the is attribute and extending existing elements …before carrying as though those two minutes never happened.

But even without any means of extending existing elements, it should still be possible to define custom elements that have some kind of fallback in non-supporting browsers:

<fancy-select>
 <select>...</select>
</fancy-select>

In that situation, you at least get a regular ol’ select element in older browsers (or in modern browsers before the JavaScript kicks in and uplifts the custom element).

Adam has a great example of this in his post:

I’ve been thinking of a gallery component lately, where you’d have a custom element, say <o-gallery> for want of a better example, and simply populate it with images you want to display, with custom elements and shadow DOM you can add all the rest, controls/layout etc. Markup would be something like:

<o-gallery>
 <img src="">
 <img src="">
 <img src="">
</o-gallery>

If none of the extra stuff loads, what do we get? Well you get 3 images on the page. You still get the content, but just none of the fancy interactivity.

Yes! This, in my opinion, is how we should be approaching the design of web components. This is what gets me excited about web components.

Then I look at pretty much all the examples of web components out there and my nervousness kicks in. Hardly any of them spare a thought for backwards-compatibility. Take a look, for example, at the entire contents of the body element for the Polymer Shop demo site:

<shop-app unresolved="">SHOP</shop-app>

This seems really odd to me, because I don’t think it’s a good way to “sell” a technology.

Compare service workers to web components.

First of all, ask the question “who benefits from this technology?” In the case of service workers, it’s the end users. They get faster websites that handle network failure better. In the case of web components, there are no direct end-user benefits. Web components exist to make developers lives easier. That’s absolutely fine, but any developer convenience gained by the use of web components can’t come at the expense of the user—that price is too high.

The next question we usually ask when we’re evaluating a technology is “how well does it work?” Personally, I think it’s just as important to ask “how well does it fail?”

Service workers work well and fail well. If a browser supports service workers, the user gets all the benefits. If a browser doesn’t support service workers, the user get the same experience they would have always had.

Web components (will) work well, but fail badly. If a browser supports web components, the user gets the experience that the developer has crafted using these new technologies. If a browser doesn’t support web components, the user gets …probably nothing. It depends on how the web components have been designed.

It’s so much easier to get excited about implementing service workers. You’ve literally got nothing to lose and everything to gain. That’s not the case with web components. Or at least not with the way they are currently being sold.

See, this is why I think it’s so important to put some effort into designing web components that have some kind of fallback. Those web components will work well and fail well.

Look at the way new elements are designed for HTML. Think of complex additions like canvas, audio, video, and picture. Each one has been designed with backwards-compatibility in mind—there’s always a way to provide fallback content.

Web components give us developers the same power that, up until now, only belonged to browser makers. Web components also give us developers the same responsibilities as browser makers. We should take that responsibility seriously.

Web components are supposed to be the poster child for The Extensible Web Manifesto. I’m all for an extensible web. But the way that web components are currently being built looks more like an endorsement of The Replaceable Web Manifesto. I’m not okay with a replaceable web.

Here’s hoping that my concerns won’t be dismissed as “piffle and tosh” again by the very people who should be thinking about these issues.

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Web Design in 4 minutes

This is a wonderful way of progressively explaining the layered approach to building for the web that Charlotte was teaching in her Codebar workshop.