W3C Proposes Push API Specification

Curtis C. Chen, October 25th, 2012

The Internet runs on standards. Without standards, we wouldn’t have the Domain Name System (DNS) which resolves hostnames to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, or the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) which served up this very web page. Even web service APIs, which can vary wildly depending on the back-end service, depend on standards like XML and JSON to make third-party development possible. And now, the W3C is jumping into the fray with a Working Draft for a general webapp Push API.

This “First Public Working Draft” (FPWD), introduced earlier this month, may never become a “Request For Comment” (RFC)i.e., an official Internet standard–but plenty of ad hoc standards have survived and even thrived over the years. For example, the REST architecture, on which many web service APIs are based, was first introduced in a doctoral thesis by Roy Fielding (who also co-authored the HTTP standard).

The fact that this Push API draft’s editors are employees of AT&T and Telefónica, two of the largest mobile telcos in the world, might raise some eyebrows. But the W3C welcomes–in fact, encourages–public scrutiny and discussion of its proposed standards. One Mozilla employee has already pointed out some security concerns, and concluded: “I don’t oppose this FPWD. But I can’t say with certainty at this time that this is an API that we’re planning on implementing.”

There’s no denying that push messaging is important in the API world. Here at ProgrammableWeb, we’re already tracking fifteen different push services. One of those is Urban Airship, which has taken off in a big way and recently introduced a “Good Push” educational initiative to promote best practices for messaging to mobile users. Those guidelines don’t get into technical details, but the ends could inform the means.

Ultimately, computer scientist John F. Sowa’s Law of Standards may apply: “Whenever a major organization develops a new system as an official standard for X, the primary result is the widespread adoption of some simpler system as a de facto standard for X.”

Push API developers can send their feedback to the W3C by e-mailing public-webapps@w3.org with a subject prefix of [push-api].

(Hat tip: IProgrammer)

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