The Future of Offline Web Applications

W3C has received 27 position papers for a workshop on November 5th on the Future of Offline Web Applications, which are all worth a read if you’re interested in Widgets, AppCache, and Web Apps in general. They are all quite short (1-2 pages) but packed with useful insights into the current state of web apps.

While the primary topic is “offline web applications” this also covers the general area of installable web applications – so W3C Widgets gets a lot of mentions here, as do Google’s CRX format and Mozilla’s OWA format, though as a paper from Telefonica notes:

“These new manifest format proposals are precursors to fragmentation on the Web and we believe action has to be taken to avoid it”.

(Although most people seem to agree that a proliferation of packaging and manifest formats for web apps is unhelpful, we don’t seem to be able to escape XKCD 927)

Another point worth noting is the range of devices being considered; for example Toshiba and LG are concerned with apps for TVs as well as tablets and mobile.

However, the main focus of the papers is offline applications, and a paper from Google sums up the current state-of-the-art:

“The last few years have seen the specification of a handful of offline enabling technologies along with nascent implementations from different browser vendors. That set of enabling technologies include, LocalStorage, WebSQLDatabase, WebIndexedDatabase, WebFileSystem, WebWorkers, and ApplicationCache. Support for these is fragmented and where implementations do exist, critical components are not mature or stable enough to rely on heavily.”

The number of offline options for web applications has ballooned from storing a few kilobytes in a cookie to a wide range of storage-related specifications; the most well-known of which, LocalStorage, has quite a few implementation problems (which has prompted comments from some browser vendors that they’d prefer to deprecate or remove it – before its even had major takeup.) So clearly there is a lot of work to do in this space, whereas the area of web application manifests and packaging (aka Widgets) would seem unproblematic by comparison.

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2 Responses to The Future of Offline Web Applications

  1. Luisa Miguel says:

    Hi Scott Wilson,
    Thank you so much for the last posts, specially the one about “Offline Web Apps Workshop Position”. I had the oportunity to read your article for the W3C Conference to be held in USA soon and was impressed with the potential of the widgets applications and liked to know about the future web widgets ecosystem possibility that can be redescovered in a different perspective by the interested users. I’m not from this field of action or studing directly in this theme, but everytime I read more about your research work in this space, I get more and more interested in this matters! So, it’s been great to learn so much with you in every blogue post you write.

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