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OpenJS World 2022 highlights what's new in web standards

At OpenJS World 2022, a keynote panel discussed efforts focused on improving interoperability and evolving web standards, and commiserated on how some things will never change.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Web standards remain a significant pain point for web developers because standards change and idiosyncrasies like time zones can create serious headaches.  

That was the overarching theme of a panel discussion at OpenJS World 2022, which discussed how developer communities and browser vendors are tackling the issue of changing web standards.

Web standards, published by nonprofit organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Ecma International (formally European Computer Manufacturers Association), act as a template for developers, guiding them on how to code for the web. Standards shift all the time as technology changes, said James Snell, systems engineer at Cloudflare, during the panel discussion.

"Other than jQuery, nothing lasts forever," Snell said, referring to the widely used open source JavaScript library. "Things continue to move and evolve constantly."

WinterCG tackles interoperability

Conversations about web standards usually revolve around browsers, which are a "big space," Snell said, referring to the fact that browsers are the focus of most web standards to date.

The JavaScript programming language is used by over 98% of websites on the client side, according to Robin Bender Ginn, executive director of the OpenJS Foundation and panel moderator. However, JavaScript isn't limited to browsers, so there are other use cases that get overlooked in conversations about standards.

APIs might work well for browsers, Snell said, but they don't work as well in other environments like Deno, a secure runtime for JavaScript, and Cloudfare, a content delivery network (CDN) that uses edge computing and proxy servers to deliver content from the cloud.

A new W3C community group called Web-interoperable Runtimes Community Group (WinterCG) focuses on documenting and improving interoperability of web platform APIs across all runtimes including browsers, edge runtimes, embedded applications and servers. The goal of WinterCG is to address this conversation gap so that developers can write JavaScript once and have it work and test consistently across all of these environments, Snell said.

"The fact that I'm working on two different runtimes makes it painfully obvious that there needs to be a lot more coordination of standards on the APIs to get more interoperability," said Snell, who originally proposed the group and supported its creation.

Project aims for browser integration

The panel highlighted another project that's looking to create an industry-wide standardization process for how to integrate browsers such as Chrome, Edge and Firefox.

Browser automation was started long before front-end frameworks React, Angular or Vue came into play to speed up browsers, said Christian Bromann, founding engineer at Stateful Inc., a software company that builds developer tools. There is now more demand on browsers with single-page applications, which dynamically rewrite the current page for faster transitions, he said, something that was not addressed in the original protocol for browser automation.

The project is composed of a variety of members including cloud-based testing platforms like BrowserStack and Sauce Labs, which have been focusing on new pilot protocols, Bromann said. For example, Firefox 101, which was released last week, includes a cross-browser automation protocol called WebDriver BiDi that provides bidirectional; communication between client and server. It is the type of new browser optimization protocol developers can expect to see more of soon.

One issue can't be fixed by web standards

During the panel discussion wrap-up, each panelist was asked to name one thing that web standards need to address in the future.

"Time zones," Snell said. His comment received a round of laughter.

Audience member William Overton, senior solutions architect at Fastly, an edge cloud platform company, was in on the joke. He said time zones are the bane of every web developer. A blog post's time stamp in one time zone is different from every other time zone, and some governments decide to change their time zones on a whim, which is impossible to predict, he said.

"I can code five years into the future," Overton said. "But at some point, someone is going to change a time zone and the code is going to break."

When asked via Twitter how the time zone issue can be fixed, Snell responded about his tongue-in-cheek jab at how complex date standards are.

"I don't think there's a simple solution there at all. It's always going to be difficult," he said.

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