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Home Guide HTML vs HTML5: Core Differences

HTML vs HTML5: Core Differences

By Laura Boemo, Community Contributor -

Simple, accessible, and famous: the HyperText Markup Language – mostly known as HTML has been a crucial tool in Web Programming over the past decades. However, it has not always been as it is today. Since HTML’s release in the late 80s, many aspects of this language have been changed, evolved, or discarded to generate its most modern version: HTML5

With that in mind, this guide will explain not only the difference between HTML and HTML5 but its motivations, functionalities, and how all those aspects affect the present (and future) of web development and testing. 

What is HTML?

Since its creation, the HyperText Markup Language has been responsible for instructing Browsers how to render content on Web Pages providing its structure. To make it possible, HTML uses an element tag syntax: the text content is written inside angle brackets to be categorized. 

The following image is a simple example of how the hypertext markup language (HTML structure) looks when rendering a text with a title and paragraph.

1 HTML Example

However, more than text quotes, the markup language can also categorize the presentation of embedding links, images, and interactive forms. All very rustic but also practical enough. 

That way, HTML, accompanied by the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript, have formed the three biggest pillars of Web Development since its inception. 

Quick Fact: The first version of HTML consisted of only 22 tags; in HTML5, it is close to 100.

The Origin of HTML

In 1993, Tim Berners-Lee created the HTML using GML as a reference. Which, for that era and the text monitors with green letters on black ground, was perfect: used to reflect text with no advanced formatting and no colors. 

Since those days, the standards for HTML and CSS have been maintained by The World Wide Web Consortium – the ones responsible for the launch of HTML4 in the 99s, updating its typography quality and speed of content rendering.

Web Development has gone from a necessity of just hyperlinks and paragraphs to full multimedia experiences that were supposed to be provided by the HTML markup – requirements that the current HTML4 functionalities could not give. 

An alliance between the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) generated a solution that remains to this day: HTML5.

What is HTML5?

As an upcoming major version of HTML, HTML5 came in 2008 to solve the problems of a new era. Its main objectives were to improve error handling, reduce reliance on plugins, and replace scripting with more markups. 

However, its contribution to the world of tech went far beyond: it simplified and implemented patterns in the development of web applications, revolutionizing how people access the Internet. 

What is new in HTML5?

HTML5 has been introduced to support complex web applications with advanced multimedia element support. It offers a lot more new tags and support elements such as form and semantic features along with many others listed below. 

  • As far as some deprecated elements – like center, font, and strike – new ones were added, such as video, time, nav, section, progress, meter, aside, canvas, charset, async, ping, and input attributes for email, URL, dates, and times. 
  • Likewise, the support for tools like API with offline caching, MathML for mathematical notations, and vector graphics was implemented. 
  • Among many other HTML5 evolutions, the application can also work correctly without an Internet connection due to the new way of storing data.
  • Interactive media such as 3D graphics, games, visual effects, audio, and video playback no longer require additional plugins.

With all those points, HTML5 could give developers more flexibility and users a better experience with reduced testing cycles.

HTML5 Supported Features

Although HTML5 brought many innovations, some browsers were not updated for this drastic change. Until nowadays, some specific versions of certain browsers are still unable to process some of the usabilities of HTML vs HTML5 – and it is possible to check which are those in Caniuse


This website’s main functionalities of HTML5 are visually related to its compatible platforms

  • Form Features
  • Media Features
  • Semantic Tags
  • Storage Capability
  • Canvas Elements.

However, those are not the only match points possible to check when testing browser compatibility with HTML5 

Following is an example from Caniuse of the HTML5 Semantic Elements available in browsers.

3 HTML5Compatibility

HTML vs HTML5: Core Differences

Since the above sections have already covered some of the innovations that HTML5 brought,  it is important to highlight its improvements in an HTML vs HTML5 differences scenario.

Tags and ElementsHTML is limited regarding its tag functionalities: creating shapes (like circles, triangles, or hexagons) is not possible, there is no integration with Javascript, and the tags do not have any semantic structure between them.HTML5 brought new tags and elements to Web Development; it also has a pre-installed JavaScript web worker API, making it capable of running in the application’s Background.

The new range of tags also makes it possible to add semantics and patterns to the HTML Markup.
Browser CompatibilityCompatible with all browsers since it has been present for decades on the Internet, and many Web Programmers are still using it – and will still be using it in the future since HTML will have continuous support. Not all Browsers introduced the support for the HTML5 new features – however, the big names like Chrome, Firefox, Mozilla, Opera, and Safari already did it fairly well.
Storage OptionsThis markup language uses Cache Memory (Cookies) as storage for the website data – until then considered the only reliable way to store state information. 

Minimal, temporary solution, and sometimes disabled by web users.

Support Application Cache, SQL Database, Session Storage, and Local Storage with the localStorage object. The last one was game-changing for Web Development once the data could be accessed from any point of the application within scripts, but only the stateless nature of the HTTP protocol.
Error HandlingAs mentioned before, tags for semantics in HTML were mainly based on div tags, being differentiated only by their id. 

For example, if there is a div for the header, it would be written as  ‘div id=” header”’. However, as big as the system gets, it is harder to find which div is generating an error in the case of malformed tags, and there was no clearly defined parsing algorithm.

The error handling in HTML5 improved not only with the semantics evolution but with the codified error and careful handling of messages. 

This solution can save Web Developers time and money – and motivates them to write proper HTML semantic code. 

Mobile SupportIn 1999, when the latest version of HTML before HTML5 was released, there was no clue of the future existence of mobile devices. 

After its emergence, the need for better HTML standards got required.

Mobile Support was implemented in HTML5, and now there are HTML standards to access Web applications on any device.

What expect from the Future of HTML5?

Once Technology and Web Development are pivotal in the modern era that the world is facing right now, the Tech Community has to cover a new range of challenges and evolvements that the global demand is requiring for – and, when it comes to the Internet, the biggest part of them involves an evolution of the HTML5.

Happily, the W3C is aware of this demand, the Community has already announced future updates in the “application foundations” of HTML5, such as substantial improvements in the privacy tools and the digital rights management options. 

However, with such evolution happening, BrowserStack remains the industry leader for Cross Browser Testing on a Real Device Cloud with all the latest browser-device-OS combinations.

The cloud infrastructure is capable of testing and detecting inconsistencies in web applications with the latest and legacy browser-OS versions. 

More than 3000 Browsers & Mobile Devices for interactive Live Testing save costs and time to create the best experience for the final customer and the Engineering/QA Teams. 

Testing  HTML5 with BrowserStack 

HTML5 is compatible with all popular browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, IE9, and Opera), and with DOCTYPE, it is even possible to have a few HTML features in older versions of Internet Explorer too. 

To test your HTML across popular browsers, Sign Up to get started and access the BrowserStack dashboard. 

4 BrowserStack Dashboard for Testing HMTL

Teams can use the Quick Launch functionality as well or choose their desired Device-Browser-OS combination for testing HTML. 

The device information that is used is as below. 

Device: Desktop (1440 x 821)

Browser: Safari 16.6

OS: macOS (Monteray)

5 Loading Safari Browser for HTML5 Testing

Once launched,  you can go around the website you launched to change the location of the testing (IP), test the Screen Reader, report bugs, and much more. 

6 BrowserStack Local testing on Live

Once you are done testing your code, you can either stop your session or choose another browser configuration. On clicking, “Stop Session” in the toolbar, you will be redirected to the dashboard to pick up and test another browser combination to debug HTML.

With BrowserStack, QA teams get faster results while dynamic rendering with HTML and CSS errors by testing software in real user conditions.

Test HTML on BrowserStack

Choosing Between HTML vs HTML5

Using outdated HTML versions of over modern standards is a no-brainer. If you’re learning,  HTML5 should always be preferred over older versions. 

As listed above in comparison table as well, HTML5 improves on several aspects of HTML4 and HTML. 

  • HTML5 brought new tags and elements to Web Development
  • Pre-installed JavaScript web worker API makes it capable of running in the application’s Background. 
  • The new range of tags also makes it possible to add semantics and patterns to the HTML Markup. 
  • The error handling in HTML5 improved not only with the semantics evolution but with the codified error and careful handling of messages.
  • Mobile Support implemented in HTML5 introduced HTML standards to access Web applications on any device.
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