Netscape Navigator 6.0 to Fail Standards
by David Flanagan
Netscape is rushing to release version 6.0 of its Navigator browser despite
the fact that there are serious problems with its compliance to open standards.
I'm writing to express my dismay at the number of standards-compliance bugs
that remain in the Navigator 6.0 code base, and at the end of this article I'm
requesting that like-minded developers register their comments and sign their
names in protest.
Editor's Note: Due to the overwhelming response to this article,
we want to alert you to subsequent articles on this same topic.
8 November 2000: David summarizes over 1,000 reader responses (as of
November 8) and clarifies his main points in
Netscape Navigator 6.0 to Fail Standards Compliance: An Update.
16 November 2000: And now that Netscape 6.0 has been released, read
David's latest article,
Released. David says it's now time to move into a standards-based era, and
he includes a summary and an official response from Eric Krock, Netscape's
Group Product Manager for Tools and Components.
Navigator 6 will be Netscape's first commercial release of a browser based on
open-source code from the Mozilla project. The Mozilla project, hosted at
includes an online bug database, accessible at
http://bugzilla.mozilla.org. A search of this database
reveals numerous outstanding bugs that affect compliance with HTML, DOM, CSS,
Reading the discussions of individual bugs provides an interesting glimpse into
the workings of the Mozilla open-source process, and into the interactions
between Mozilla and Netscape. In a number of cases, Mozilla engineers have
fixed standards-compliance bugs and have had their patches to the source code
reviewed twice by senior engineers. Even when the patches are extraordinarily
simple ones, and the Mozilla engineers are convinced that they pose no risk of
introducing other bugs, their requests to include the fixes into the Netscape
6 release are denied by the Netscape
Product Development Team (PDT) out of fear, apparently, that accepting
these patches would cause the release schedule to slip.
Indeed, the discussion of
#53849 includes a definition of a "must-fix problem" as one that is
"defined by marketing and legal requirements." Under this criteria, even
the trivial correction of a misspelling in an error message (see
#57869), cannot be made.
A sampling of bugs that affect Navigator's standards compliance include:
- #40828: The padding of cells in HTML tables is lost when the
table is hidden and reshown using the CSS and DOM standards. A fix is
available for this bug, but has been refused by the PDT. The discussion of
this bug includes an impassioned plea from a developer for the fix to be
included in Navigator 6.0.
- #57634: HTML <DL> elements may not be nested within
<DD> elements. Although this practice is common, and a fix for the bug
is available, Netscape will not fix this bug for Navigator 6. Instead, they
will simply document it in the release notes.
HTML hyperlinks until the user has already interacted with the link. This is
a bug in DOM Level 0 compliance. It is also incompatible with previous
releases of Navigator, which do allow link properties to be manipulated
programmatically. There is a proposed fix for this bug.
- #58753: The Document.referrer property (specified
by DOM Level 0) is not correctly implemented.
- #9850 The DOM method createEntityReference() does not
- #48031: The DOM methods removeChild() and
replaceChild() can crash the browser. There is a patch available
for this bug, but it will not be applied for Navigator 6.0.
Date.toTimeString() are specified by the ECMAScript standards, but
are not implemented. This has been fixed in the Mozilla sources, but the fix
will not be adopted for Netscape 6.
does not work as specified by the ECMAScript standard when called as a
function. The fix for this bug has been refused by the PDT.
method does not work as specified by the ECMAScript standard.
These standards-compliance bugs are of particular concern to Web developers
because Netscape 6 is not just a Web browser; it is a development platform.
Developers who have eagerly looked forward to "sixth-generation" browsers
that are finally standards compliant may be disappointed by Netscape's
offering. Although these compliance bugs will presumably be fixed in later
releases, the 6.0 release defines a baseline, and many developers may shy
away from using any of the advanced features enabled by the HTML, DOM, CSS,
and ECMAScript standards in any 6.x browser because of the noncompliance of
the 6.0 release.
I'm making the following requests of the Netscape PDT:
Thanks to everyone who registered their thoughts on David Flanagan's
petition. We are no longer accepting new comments, but you can
read the 1,300 comments we collected.
- That you rename the upcoming release of Navigator 6.0 as a beta and
reopen the tree and allow your engineers to apply the patches they've already
- That you refocus your attention and efforts on
- That you postpone a final release of the Navigator 6.0 platform until
it more robustly supports open standards.
David Flanagan is the author of several
best-selling O'Reilly books, including
Java in a Nutshell,
Java Examples in a