Standardizing <select> And Beyond: The Past, Present And Future Of Native HTML Form Controls

Standardizing <select> And Beyond: The Past, Present And Future Of Native HTML Form Controls

Standardizing <select> And Beyond: The Past, Present And Future Of Native HTML Form Controls — Stephanie dives into the past by going back to the beginning of HTML and tracing the evolution of form controls through to the present and the current state of working with them.

Working with native HTML Form Controls has been such a pain point for web developers, from styling to extending them, the limitations are so great that countless dev hours have been spent recreating them. But why are form controls so difficult to work with?

In this article, Stephanie dives into the past by going back to the beginning of HTML and tracing the evolution of form controls through to the present and the current state of working with them. She shares her thoughts and takes a glimpse at what the future holds for working with these essential pieces of the web.

Whether it’s an input to search a website or a text input field and submit button for comments on a blog or a checkbox to accept the terms and conditions of a website, form controls are some of the most common components and provide the foundation for interactivity on the web. They are everywhere online and have been since the beginning of HTML.

They were introduced in the HTML 2.0 specification in 1995, but, despite their early origins, the ease with which developers can style or customize them ranges from extremely easy to nearly impossible. This has led to developers scrapping these native controls altogether and building custom ones from scratch which can be problematic and time-consuming.

Controls built from scratch lack the features that come with native ones, such as accessibility and security, so there’s a plethora of extra work to make custom controls accessible and secure. We’ll look at the history of form controls that led us to where we are today, the current state of working with them, and a brief glimpse of the work being done to fix this space.

A Brief History Of HTML Controls

After the release of the first web browser in the early ’90s from Tim Berners-Lee called WorldWideWeb (later renamed to Nexus), multiple other web browsers were being developed and made available to the public. But the preliminary HTML specification was extremely basic at the time, with only a handful of tags available for text markup.

As the new vendors started to iterate on their new browsers, each one started to implement new HTML tags to help fill out feature gaps and start to add support for things like images and other interactive elements. This created a growing rift in HTML as there was no standard or specification for it yet.

In 1993, Berners-Lee and Dan Connolly had worked on defining the first specification for HTML but the draft expired in early 1994. The first HTML Working Group was established after that first draft expired and completed the first specification for HTML 2.0 that would become the basis for HTML Standards going forward.

The HTML 2.0 specification took note of the current landscape of HTML features across different browsers, and rather than break the web, included those features that were already available in browsers in the spec.

HTML 2.0 gave the web the first specifications for form functionality for the following form types:

  • form
  • input (type=):
    • text
    • password
    • radio
    • image
    • hidden
    • submit
    • reset
  • select
  • option
  • textarea

The spec standardized the method for users to enter data into an HTML document and how that data was to be used to perform an action such as logging into a website. It did not, however, define the different parts of the controls or how each control would be constructed and rendered in the browser.

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