Nathan Leigh Davis is a designer and developer who writes about design, technology and things that inspire him.

Journal

Don’t mess with browser vendor prefixes!

Using vendor prefixes has become an essential part of modern web development. Prefixes are incredibly useful, as they allow us to use properties that aren’t yet implemented consistently across various browsers. However the latest controversy, in which Mozilla and others have sought consent from the W3C CSS working group to support some webkit-prefixed properties, threatens to undermine that.

Basically the other browser vendors are annoyed that “Webkit’s monopoly on mobile” is causing developers to only use webkit-prefixed properties and to disregard those of other browser vendors. Their proposed solution is to make webkit-prefixes part of the specification. Huh?

Before continuing I should say that I love vendor prefixes for both CSS and JavaScript. While I understand the argument against prefixes, I think they have become an integral part of web development. They are one of the reasons why browsers and web standards are evolving so quickly, after being stagnant for so long. Let’s be honest about this - Flash may be dead, but it’s still more advanced than web standards, which take so long to evolve it borders on ridiculous.

However the idea that some vendor prefixes could become an official part of the specification is ridiculous and Mozilla are fools for advocating that they should. Imagine a scenario where webkit-prefixed CSS and JavaScript code is supported by non-webkit browsers, but doesn’t work as intended? How many developers would trust Microsoft not to get this horribly wrong?

Perhaps what is most frustrating is that developers (you and I) are being blamed for causing the issue. Mozilla and others are asserting that developers are not writing code for their browsers and admittedly there’s probably a fair few of few of us who aren’t. That isn’t our fault though. It’s the fault of the other browser makers who haven’t adequately evangelised their product. Webkit makes us excited about bleeding edge CSS and JavaScript in a way the Opera, Microsoft and Mozilla don’t.

The other browser makers need to get creative! Find people and organisations to evangelise your product. Publish exciting platform previews. Provide developer tools that automatically create compatible code for webkit-prefixed properties. Do something! Just don’t mess with the spec!

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