Making the Web Developer’s Pilgrimage
Post from October 21, 2021 (↻ March 26, 2022), filed under Web Development.
Have you read the HTML specification? Have you marked highlights, taken notes, and reviewed what you learned? Have you reported issues and made suggestions to the HTML working group, giving back and improving the standard?
As HTML is the most important language on the Web, and as this—reading, reviewing, feeding back on 2,182 pages about HTML *—is such an epic endeavor, we may call this the Web Developer’s Pilgrimage. I call this the Web Developer’s Pilgrimage—and I recommend every web developer, and especially every frontend developer, to make it.
A Pilgrimage, What For?
While nothing here is religious, the field of web development, and even its subfield of frontend development, is not taking HTML as seriously as it should be taken. Everyone thinks they know HTML—the premise of my book series—, but close to no one demonstrates they know the syntax. Perhaps unsurprisingly, close to no developer reads the HTML spec, either †.
If we could also encourage web and frontend developers to work through the HTML specification, that might bring us to a whole new level.
About My Own Pilgrimage
Did I walk this talk, did I make the HTML pilgrimage? I did!—and while it was not my first specification, and also not my first HTML specification, it was much more work than I had thought.
I started this journey in November of last year, when I downloaded the spec as a MOBI to read it on my phone.
Although I much enjoy reading, the HTML specification was something I couldn’t go through very quickly—it took almost a year for me to finish. (To be fair, in that time I’ve read 73 other books. I enjoy and I track my reading.)
But when I finished, I did what I suggested above as part of the journey.
- I read the entire specification.
- I worked through my highlights, coming out at 145 pages of quotes and notes.
- I edited parts of the specification, preparing 19 PRs with small and large improvements. (Or not, as not all PRs found agreement.)
- I filed 12 issues for discussion, including 1 omnibus.
I cannot count the number of hours I put into reading, reviewing, and feeding back. (I cut the hours short recently, as you can tell by the issue “omnibus.”) I view all this effort a part of my work as a frontend specialist.
❧ Now I believe it would be a powerful ritual for web and frontend developers to join: Read the HTML specification, reflect on it, and give back to the many, many, many peers who have contributed to the HTML standard, one of the most important technical standards there are.
Web professionals, standing on the shoulders of giants. Start and write about your HTML pilgrimage! 🙏
(What I described is the fast track. The spec suggests to be read like this: “This specification should be read like all other specifications. First, it should be read cover-to-cover, multiple times. Then, it should be read backwards at least once. Then it should be read by picking random sections from the contents list and following all the cross-references.” I’m out—you write about that part of the journey!)
* That’s the current page count of the HTML standard’s official PDF export, and it just recently changed, largely because of reformatting of the PDF. With the old formatting, like in August, the standard had “only” about 1,300 pages.
† Close to no, meaning very few. I recall polls on Twitter about this, including one of my own, but owe you to retrieve and share the respective data points.
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering lead (currently manager for Developer Experience at LivePerson) and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have questions or suggestions about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message.
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Perhaps my most comprehensive book: The Web Development Glossary (2020). With explanations and definitions for literally thousands of terms from Web Development and related fields, building on Wikipedia as well as the MDN Web Docs. Available at Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.