Geolocation, Offline Web Apps, and Web Storage - HTML5 & CSS3 FOR THE REAL WORLD (2015)


Chapter 11 Geolocation, Offline Web Apps, and Web Storage

Much of what is loosely considered to be a part of HTML5 isn’t, strictly speaking, HTML at all—it’s a set of additional APIs that provide a wide variety of tools to make our websites even better. We introduced the concept of an API way back in Chapter 1, but here’s a quick refresher: an API is an interface for programs. So, rather than a visual interface where a user clicks on a button to make something happen, an API gives your code a virtual “button” to press in the form of a method it calls, giving it access to a set of functionality.

In this chapter, we’ll be covering three APIs: Geolocation, Offline Web Applications, and Web Storage. With these APIs, we can find a visitor’s current location, make our website available offline as well as perform faster online, and store information about the state of our web application so that when a user returns to our site, they can pick up where they left off.

In addition, we’ll also provide an overview of other APIs. To learn about the APIs we won’t be covering, you may want to check out HTML5 API demos, a repository where you can find information about many JavaScript and HTML5 APIs.

Warning: JavaScript Ahead!

A word of warning: as you know, the P in API stands for Programming—so there’ll be some JavaScript code in the next two chapters. If you’re fairly new to JavaScript, don’t worry! We’ll do our best to walk you through how to use these new features employing simple examples with thorough explanations. We’ll be assuming you have a sense of the basics, but JavaScript is an enormous topic. To learn more, SitePoint’s JavaScript: Novice to Ninja by Darren Jones is an excellent resource for beginners.[15] You may also find the Mozilla Developer Network’s JavaScript Guide useful.


The first API we’ll cover is geolocation. Geolocation allows your visitors to share their current location. With that location information, you can display it on a map using a maps library such as Google Maps or the MapQuest API.

Depending on how your visitors are accessing your site, their location may be determined by any, or a combination, of the following:

· IP address

· wireless network connection

· cell tower

· GPS hardware on the device

Which of the above methods are used will depend on the browser, as well as the device’s capabilities. Most browsers attempt to combine methods in order to be more accurate. The browser then determines the location and passes it back to the Geolocation API. One point to note, as the W3C Geolocation spec states: “No guarantee is given that the API returns the device’s actual location.”

Geolocation is supported in:

· Safari 5+

· Chrome 5+

· Firefox 3.5+

· Internet Explorer 9+

· iOS (Mobile Safari) 3.2+

· Android 2.1+

· Opera 10.6—12, then 16+ (Opera began supporting gelocation in version 10.6. When Opera switched to the Blink layout engine in version 15, geolocation was temporarily dropped. It returned in version 16 and later)

Privacy Concerns

Some users will decline sharing their location with you, as there are privacy concerns inherent to this information. Thus, your visitors must opt in to share their location; nothing will be passed along to your site or web application unless the user agrees.

The decision is made via a prompt. Figure 11.1 shows what the prompt looks like in Chrome.

Geolocation user prompt

Figure 11.1. Geolocation user prompt

Note: Chrome May Block This Prompt

Be aware that Chrome may block your site from showing this prompt entirely if you’re viewing your page locally, rather than from an internet server. If this happens, you’ll see an icon in the address bar alerting you to it.

There’s no way around this at present, but you can either test your functionality in other browsers, or deploy your code to a testing server (this can be a local server on your machine, a virtual machine, or an actual internet server).

Geolocation Methods

With geolocation, you can determine the current position of your users. You can also be notified of changes to their position, which could be employed, for example, in a web application that provided real-time driving directions.

These different tasks are controlled through the three methods currently available in the Geolocation API:

· getCurrentPosition

· watchPosition

· clearPosition

We’ll be focusing on the first method, getCurrentPosition.

Checking for Support with Modernizr

Before we attempt to use geolocation, we should ensure that our visitor’s browser supports it. We can do that with Modernizr.

We’ll start by creating a function called determineLocation. We’ve put it in its own JavaScript file, geolocation.js, and included that file in our page.

Inside the function, we’ll first use Modernizr to check if geolocation is supported:

function determineLocation() {

if (Modernizr.geolocation) {


} else {

// geolocation is not supported in this browser



Let’s examine this line by line:

We declare a function called determineLocation to contain our location-checking code.

We check the Modernizr object’s geolocation property to see whether geolocation is supported in the current browser. For more information on how the Modernizr object works, consult Appendix A. If geolocation is supported, we continue on to line three, which is inside the if statement. If geolocation is unsupported, we move on to the code inside the else statement.

Let’s assume that geolocation is supported.

Retrieving the Current Position

The getCurrentPosition method takes one, two, or three arguments. Here’s a summary of the method’s definition from the W3C’s Geolocation API specification:

void getCurrentPosition(successCallback, errorCallback, options);

Only the first argument, successCallback, is required. successCallback is the name of the function you want to call once the position is determined.

In our example, if the location is successfully found, the displayOnMap function will be called with a new Position object. This Position object will contain the current location of the device.

Note: What’s a callback?

A callback is a function that is passed as an argument to another function. A callback is executed after the parent function is finished. In the case of getCurrentPosition, the successCallback will only run once getCurrentPosition is completed and the location has been determined.

For more information on callbacks, see this post by Mike Vollmer at

Geolocation’s Position Object

Let’s take a closer look at the Position object, as defined in the Geolocation API. The Position object has two attributes: one that contains the coordinates of the position (coords), and another that contains the Geolocation API timestamp of when the position was determined (timestamp):

interface Position {

readonly attribute Coordinates coords;

readonly attribute DOMTimeStamp timestamp;


Note: Specification Interfaces

The HTML5, CSS3, and related specifications contain plenty of “interfaces” like the above. These can seem scary at first, but never fear. They’re just summarized descriptions of everything that can go into a certain property, method, or object. Most of the time the meaning will be clear—and if not, they’re always accompanied by textual descriptions of the attributes.

But where are the latitude and longitude stored? They’re inside the coords object. The coords object is also defined in the W3C Geolocation spec. It implements an interface called Coordinates, and these are its attributes:

interface Coordinates {

readonly attribute double latitude;

readonly attribute double longitude;

readonly attribute double? altitude;

readonly attribute double accuracy;

readonly attribute double? altitudeAccuracy;

readonly attribute double? heading;

readonly attribute double? speed;


The question mark after double in some of those attributes simply means that there’s no guarantee that the attribute will be there. If the browser is unable to obtain these attributes, their value will be null. For example, very few computers or mobile devices contain an altimeter—so most of the time there will be no altitude value from a geolocation call. The only three attributes that are guaranteed to be there are latitude, longitude, and accuracy.

latitude and longitude are self-explanatory, and give you exactly what you would expect: the user’s latitude and longitude. The accuracy attribute tells you, in meters, how accurate is the latitude and longitude information.

The altitude attribute is the altitude in meters, and the altitudeAccuracy attribute is the altitude’s accuracy, also in meters.

The heading and speed attributes are only relevant if we’re tracking the user across multiple positions. These attributes would be important if we were providing real-time cycling or driving directions, for example. If present, heading tells us the direction the user is moving (in degrees) in relation to true north. And speed, if present, tells us how quickly the user is moving in meters per second.

Grabbing the Latitude and Longitude

Our successCallback is set to the function displayOnMap. Here’s what this function looks like:

function displayOnMap(position) {

var latitude = position.coords.latitude;

var longitude = position.coords.longitude;

// Let’s use Google Maps to display the location


The first line of our function grabs the Coordinates object from the Position object that was passed to our callback by the API. Inside the object is the property latitude, which we store inside a variable called latitude. We do the same for longitude, storing it in the variable longitude.

Using Google Maps API

In order to display the user’s location on a map, we’ll leverage the Google Maps JavaScript API. Before we can use this, though, we need to add a reference to it in our HTML page. Instead of downloading the Google Maps JavaScript library and storing it on our server, we can point to Google’s publicly available version of the API:

<!-- google maps API-->

<script type="text/javascript"




Note: Where to Get the API Key

You may have noticed in the code the link to the Google Maps API has the parameter key=API_KEY.

While the Google Maps API will work without an API key, it’s a good idea to obtain one. Directions for obtaining an API key can be found in the Google Maps documentation.

Loading a Map

Now that we’ve included the Google Maps JavaScript file, we need to, first, add an element to the page to hold the map, and, second, provide a way for the user to call our determineLocation method by clicking a button.

To take care of the first step, let’s create a fourth box in the sidebar of The HTML5 Herald below the three advertisement boxes. We’ll wrap it inside an article element, as we did for all the other ads. Inside it, we’ll create a div called mapDiv, and a form with a button for users to click to display their location. Let’s also add a heading to tell the user what we’re trying to find out:

<article class="ad-ad4">

<div id="mapDiv">

<h1>Where in the world are you?</h1>

<form id="geoForm">

<input type="button" id="geobutton" value="Tell us!">




We’ll also add a bit of styling to this new HTML:

.ad4 {

position: relative;


.no-geolocation .ad4 {

display: none;


.ad4 h1 {

font-size: 20px;

font-family: AcknowledgementMedium;

text-align: center;


Figure 11.2 reveals what our new sidebar box looks like.

The new widget that enables users to tell us their location

Figure 11.2. The new widget that enables users to tell us their location

The second step is to call determineLocation when we hit the button. First, we grab the button itself. Then, we attach our function to the button’s click event:

var geobutton = document.getElementById('geobutton');

geobutton.addEventListener('click', determineLocation);

With this code in place, determineLocation will be called whenever the button is clicked.

Displaying Our Location in Google Maps

Now, let’s return to our displayOnMap function and deal with the nitty-gritty of actually displaying the map. First, we’ll create a myOptions variable to store some of the options that we’ll pass to Google Maps:

function displayOnMap(position) {

var latitude = position.coords.latitude;

var longitude = position.coords.longitude;

// Let’s use Google Maps to display the location

var myOptions = {

zoom: 14,

mapTypeId: google.maps.MapTypeId.ROADMAP


The first option that we’ll set is the zoom level. For a complete map of the Earth, use zoom level 0. The higher the zoom level, the closer you’ll be to the location, and the smaller your frame (or viewport) will be. We’ll use zoom level 14 to zoom in to street level.

The second option that we’ll set is the kind of map we want to display. We can choose from the following:

· google.maps.MapTypeId.ROADMAP

· google.maps.MapTypeId.SATELLITE

· google.maps.MapTypeId.HYBRID

· google.maps.MapTypeId.TERRAIN

If you’ve used the Google Maps website before, you’ll be familiar with these map types. ROADMAP is the default, while SATELLITE shows you photographic tiles. HYBRID is a combination of ROADMAP and SATELLITE, and TERRAIN will display elements such as elevation and water. We’ll use the default, ROADMAP.

Note: Google Maps Options

To learn more about Google Maps options, see the Map Options section of the Google Maps tutorial.

Now that we’ve set our options, it’s time to create our map! We do this by creating a new Google Maps object with new google.maps.Map().

The first parameter we pass is the result of the DOM method getElementById, which we use to grab the form that houses the button triggering our geolocation call. Passing the results of this method into the new Google Map means that the map created will be placed inside that element, replacing the form with the Google Map.

The second parameter we pass is the collection of options we just set. We store the resulting Google Maps object in a variable called map:

function displayOnMap(position) {

var latitude = position.coords.latitude;

var longitude = position.coords.longitude;

// Let’s use Google Maps to display the location

var myOptions = {

zoom: 14,

mapTypeId: google.maps.MapTypeId.ROADMAP


var map = new google.maps.Map(document.getElementById("geoForm"), myOptions);

Now that we have a map, let’s add a marker with the location we found for the user. A marker is the little red drop we see on Google Maps that marks our location.

In order to create a new Google Maps marker object, we need to pass it another kind of object: a google.maps.LatLng object—which is just a container for a latitude and longitude. The first new line creates this by calling new google.maps.LatLng and passing it the latitude and longitudevariables as parameters.

Now that we have a google.maps.LatLng object, we can create a marker. We call new google.maps.Marker, and then between two curly braces ({}) we set position to the LatLng object, map to the map object, and title to "Hello World!". The title is what will display when we hover our mouse over the marker:

function displayOnMap(position) {

var latitude = position.coords.latitude;

var longitude = position.coords.longitude;

// Let’s use Google Maps to display the location

var myOptions = {

zoom: 14,

mapTypeId: google.maps.MapTypeId.ROADMAP


var map = new google.maps.Map(document.getElementById("geoForm"), myOptions);

var initialLocation = new google.maps.LatLng(latitude, longitude);

var marker = new google.maps.Marker({

position: initialLocation,

map: map,

title: "Hello World!"



The final step is to center our map at the initial point, and we do this by calling map.setCenter with the LatLng object:


You can find a plethora of documentation about Google Maps’ JavaScript API, version 3 in the online documentation.

A Final Word on Older Mobile Devices

While the W3C Geolocation API is well supported in current mobile device browsers, you may need to allow for older mobile devices and support all the Geolocation APIs available. If this is the case, you should take a look at the open-source library geo-location-javascript.

Offline Web Applications

The visitors to our websites are increasingly on the go. With many using mobile devices all the time, it’s unwise to assume that our visitors will always have a live internet connection. Wouldn’t it be nice for our visitors to browse our site or use our web application even if they’re offline? Thankfully, we can cater for this with Offline Web Applications.

HTML5’s Offline Web Applications allows us to interact with websites offline. This might sound like a contradiction: a web application exists online by definition. But there are an increasing number of web-based applications that could benefit from being usable offline. You probably use a web-based email client, such as Gmail; wouldn’t it be useful to be able to compose drafts in the app while you were on the subway traveling to work? What about online to-do lists, contact managers, or office applications? These are all examples of applications that benefit from being online, but which we’d like to continue using if our internet connection cuts out in a tunnel.

The Offline Web Applications spec is supported in:

· Safari 4+

· Chrome 5+

· Firefox 3.5+

· Opera 10.6+

· iOS (Mobile Safari) 2.1+

· Android 2.0+

It is currently unsupported in all versions of IE.

How It Works: the HTML5 Application Cache

Offline Web Applications works by leveraging what is known as the application cache. The application cache can store your entire website offline: all the JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, as well as your images and resources.

This sounds great, but you may be wondering what happens when there’s a change? That’s the beauty of the application cache: your application is automatically updated every time the user visits your page while online. If even one byte of data has changed in one of your files, the application cache will reload that file.

Note: Application Cache versus Browser Cache

Browsers maintain their own caches in order to speed up the loading of websites; however, these caches are only used to avoid having to reload a given file—and not in the absence of an internet connection. That’s even if all the files for a page are cached by the browser. If you try to click on a link while your internet connection is down, you’ll receive an error message.

With Offline Web Applications, we have the power to tell the browser which files should be cached or fetched from the network, and what we should fall back to in the event that caching fails. It gives us far more control about how our websites are cached.

Setting Up Your Site to Work Offline

There are three steps to making an Offline Web Application:

1. Create a cache.appcache manifest file.

2. Ensure that the manifest file is served with the correct content type.

3. Point all your HTML files to cache.appcache in the manifest attribute.

The HTML5 Herald isn’t really an application at all, so there’s no real need to provide offline functionality. Yet it’s simple enough to do, and there’s no real downside, so we’ll go through the steps of making it available offline to illustrate how it’s done.

The cache.appcache File

Despite its fancy name, the cache.appcache file is really nothing more than a text file that adheres to a certain format. You can name the file whatever you like (cache.appcache, mysite.appcache, herald.appcache etc), so long as the extension is .appcache.

Here’s an example of a simple cache.appcache file:








The first line of the cache.appcache file must read CACHE MANIFEST. After this line, we enter CACHE:, and then list all the files we’d like to store on our visitor’s hard drive. This CACHE: section is also known as the explicit section (since we’re explicitly telling the browser to cache these files).

Upon first visiting the page, the visitor’s browser makes a local copy of all files defined in the section. On subsequent visits, the browser will load the local copies of the files.

After listing all the files we’d like stored offline, we can specify an online whitelist. This will define any files that should never be stored offline—usually because they require internet access for their content to be meaningful. For example, you may have a PHP script, lastTenTweets.php, that grabs your last ten updates from Twitter and displays them on an HTML page. The script would only be able to pull your last ten tweets while online, so it makes no sense to store the page offline.

The first line of this section is the word NETWORK. Any files specified in the NETWORK section will always be reloaded when the user is online, and will never be available offline.

Here’s what that example online whitelist section would look like:



Unlike the explicit section, where we had to painstakingly list every file we wanted to store offline, in the online whitelist section we can use a shortcut: the wildcard *. This asterisk tells the browser that any files or URLs not mentioned in the explicit section (and therefore not stored in the application cache) should be fetched from the server.

Here’s an example of an online whitelist section that uses the wildcard:



Warning: All Files Must Be Included

Every URL in your website must be accounted for in the .appcache file, even URLs that you link to. If it’s unaccounted for in the manifest file, that resource or URL will fail to load, even if you’re online. To avoid this problem, you should use the * (asterisk) in the NETWORKsection.

You can also add comments to your .appcache file by beginning a line with # (hash). Everything after the # will be ignored. Be careful to avoid having a comment as the first line of your .appcache file; as we mentioned earlier, the first line must be CACHE MANIFEST. You can, however, add comments to any other line.

It’s good practice to have a comment with the version number of your .appcache file (we’ll see why a bit later on):


# version 0.1







Setting the Content Type on Your Server

The next step in making your site available offline is to ensure that your server is configured to serve the manifest files correctly. This is done by setting the content type provided by your server, along with the .appcache file (we discussed content type in Chapter 5, so you can skip back there now if you need a refresher).

Assuming you’re using the Apache web server, add the following to your .htaccess file:

AddType text/cache-manifest .manifest

Pointing Your HTML to the Manifest File

The final step to making your website available offline is to point your HTML pages to the manifest file. We do that by setting the manifest attribute on the html element in each of our pages:

<!DOCTYPE html>

<html manifest="cache.appcache">

Once we’ve done that, we’re finished! Our web page will now be available offline. Better still, since any content that hasn’t changed since the page has been viewed will be stored locally, our page will now load much faster—even when our visitors are online.

Warning: Set the manifest Attribute on Every Page

Each HTML page on your website must set the manifest attribute on the html element. Ensure that you do this, or your application might not be stored in the application cache! While it’s true that you should only have one .appcache file for the entire application, every HTML page of your web application needs <html manifest="cache.appcache">.

Seeking Permission to Store the Site Offline

As with geolocation, browsers provide a permission prompt when a website is using a cache.appcache file. Unlike geolocation, though, not all browsers are required to do this. When present, the prompt asks users to confirm that they’d like the website to be available offline. Figure 11.3shows the prompt’s appearance in Firefox.

Prompt to allow offline web application storage

Figure 11.3. Prompt to allow offline web application storage

Going Offline to Test

Once we have completed the three steps to make an offline website, we can test out our page by going offline. Firefox and Opera provide a menu option that lets you work offline, so there’s no need to cut your internet connection. (Note that you do need to have the menu bar enabled in these browsers, otherwise it will fail to work). To do this in Firefox, go to File > Work Offline as shown in Figure 11.4.

Testing offline web applications with Firefox’s Work Offline mode

Figure 11.4. Testing offline web applications with Firefox’s Work Offline mode

However, while it’s convenient to go offline from the browser menu, it’s most ideal to turn off your network connection altogether when testing Offline Web Applications.

Testing if the Application Cache Is Storing Your Site

Going offline is a good way to spot-check if our application cache is working, but for more in-depth debugging we’ll need a finer instrument. Fortunately, Chrome’s Web Inspector tool has some great features for examining the application cache.

To check whether our cache.appcache file has the correct content type, here are the steps to follow in Chrome ( has a sample you can use to follow along):

1. Navigate to the URL of your home page in Chrome.

2. Open up the Web Inspector (click the wrench icon, then choose Tools > Developer Tools).

3. Click on the Console tab, and look for any errors that may be relevant to the cache.appcache file. If everything is working well, you should see a line that starts with “Document loaded from Application Cache with manifest” and ends with the path to your cache.appcache file. If you have any errors, they will show up in the console, so be on the lookout for errors or warnings here.

4. Click on the Resources tab.

5. Expand the application cache section. Your domain ( in our example) should be listed.

6. Click on your domain. Listed on the right should be all the resources stored in Chrome’s application cache, as shown in Figure 11.5.

Viewing what is stored in Chrome’s application cache

Figure 11.5. Viewing what is stored in Chrome’s application cache

Making The HTML5 Herald Available Offline

Now that we understand the ingredients required to make a website available offline, let’s practice what we’ve learned on The HTML5 Herald. The first step is to create our herald.appcache file. You can use a program such as TextEdit on a Mac or Notepad on Windows to create it, but you have to make sure the file is formatted as plain text. If you’re using Windows, you’re in luck! As long as you use Notepad to create this file, it will already be formatted as plain text. To format a file as plain text in TextEdit on a Mac, choose Format > Make Plain Text. Start off your file by including the line CACHE MANIFEST at the top.

Next, we add all the resources we’d like available offline in the explicit section, which starts with the word CACHE:. We must list all our files in this section. Since there’s nothing on the site that requires network access (well, there is one thing, but we’ll get to that shortly), we’ll just add an asterisk to the NETWORK section to catch any files we may have missed in the explicit section.

Here’s an excerpt from our herald.appcache file:
















Once you’ve added all of your resources to the file, save it as herald.appcache. Be sure that the extension is set to .appcache rather than .txt or something else.

Then, if you’re yet to do so already, configure your server to deliver your manifest file with the appropriate content type.

The final step is to add the manifest attribute to the html element in our two HTML pages.

We add the manifest attribute to both index.html and register.html, like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>

<html lang="en" manifest="herald.appcache">

And we’re set! We can now browse The HTML5 Herald at our leisure, whether or not we have an internet connection.

Limits to Offline Web Application Storage

While no specific storage limit is defined for the application cache in the Offline Web Applications spec, it does state that browsers should create and enforce a storage limit. As a general rule, assume that you’ve no more than 5MB of space with which to work.

Several of the files we specified to be stored offline are video files. Depending on how large your video files are, it might make little sense to have them available offline, as they could exceed the browser’s storage limit.

What can we do in that case? We could place large video files in the NETWORK section, but then our users will simply see an unpleasant error when the browser tries to pull the video while offline.

A better alternative is to use an optional section of the appcache file: the fallback section.

The Fallback Section

The fallback section allows us to define what the user will see should a resource fail to load. In the case of The HTML5 Herald, rather than storing our video file offline and placing it in the explicit section, it makes more sense to leverage the fallback section.

Each line in the fallback section requires two entries. The first is the file for which you want to provide fallback content. You can specify either a specific file, or a partial path such as media/, which would refer to any file located in the media folder. The second entry is what you’d like to display should the file specified fail to load.

If the files are unable to be loaded, we can provide a still image of the film’s first frame instead. We’ll use the partial path media/ to define the fallback for both video files at once:


media/ images/ford-plane-still.png

/ /offline.html

Of course, this is redundant since, as you know from Chapter 5, the HTML5 video element already includes a fallback image to be displayed in the event the video doesn’t load.

For some more practice with this concept, let’s add another fallback. In the event that none of our pages load, it would be nice to define a fallback file that tells you the site is offline. We can create a simple offline.html file:

<!DOCTYPE html>

<html lang="en" manifest="/herald.appcache">


<meta charset="utf-8">

<title>You are offline!</title>

<link rel="stylesheet" href="css/styles.css?v=1.0"/>



<h1>Sorry, we are now offline!</h1>



In the fallback section of our cache manifest, we can now specify /, which will match any page on the site. If any page fails to load or is not in the application cache, it will fall back to the offline.html page:


media/ images/video-fallback.jpg

/ /offline.html

Warning: Safari 5

There is a bug in Safari 5 where media files such as .mp3 and .mp4 won’t load from the offline application cache.

Refreshing the Cache

The files that you’ve specified in the explicit section of the manifest will be cached until further notice. This can cause headaches while developing: you might change a file and be left scratching your head when you’re unable to see your changes reflected on the page.

Even more importantly, once your files are sitting on a live website, you’ll want a way to tell browsers that they need to update their application caches. This can be done by modifying the herald.appcache file. When a browser loads a site for which it already has an .appcache file, it will check to see if the manifest file has changed. If there are no changes, it will assume that its existing application cache is all it needs to run the application, so it won’t download anything else. If the .appcache file has changed, the browser will rebuild the application cache by re-downloading all the specified files.

This is why we specified a version number in a comment in our herald.appcache. This way, even if the list of files remains exactly the same, we have a way of indicating to browsers that they should update their application cache; all we need to do is increment the version number.

Caching the Cache

This might sound absurd, but your offline site access herald.appcache file may itself be cached by the browser. Why, you may ask? Because of the way HTTP handles caching.

In order to speed up the performance of web pages overall, caching is performed by browsers according to rules set out via the HTTP specification. What do you need to know about these rules? That the browser receives certain HTTP headers, including Expire headers. These Expire headers tell the browser when a file should be expired from the cache and when it needs updating from the server.

If your server is providing the manifest file with instructions to cache it (as is often the default for static files), the browser will happily use its cached version of the file instead for fetching your updated version from the server. As a result, it will skip re-downloading any of your application files because it thinks the manifest has not changed!

If you find that you’re unable to force the browser to refresh its application cache, try clearing the regular browser cache. You could also change your server settings to send explicit instructions not to cache the herald.appcache file.

If your site’s web server is running Apache, you can tell Apache not to cache the herald.appcache file by adding the following to your .htaccess file:

<Files herald.appcache>

ExpiresActive On

ExpiresDefault "access"


The <Files herald.appcache> entry tells Apache to only apply the rules that follow to the herald.appcache file. The combination of ExpiresActive On and ExpiresDefault "access" forces the web server to always expire the herald.appcache file from the cache. The effect is that theherald.appcache file will never be cached by the browser.

Are we online?

Sometimes you’ll need to know if your user is viewing the page offline or online. For example, in a web mail app saving a draft while online involves sending it to the server to be saved in a database; but while offline, you would want to save that information locally instead, and wait until the user is back online to send it to your server.

The Offline Web Applications API provides a few handy methods and events for managing this. For The HTML5 Herald, you may have noticed that the page works well enough while offline: you can navigate from the home page to the sign-up form, play the video, and generally mess around without any difficulty. However, when you try to use the geolocation widget we built earlier in this chapter, things don’t go so well. This makes sense—without an internet connection, there’s no way for our page to figure out your location (unless your device has a GPS), much less communicate with Google Maps to retrieve the map.

Let’s look at how we can fix this. We’d like to provide a message to users indicating that this functionality is unavailable while offline. It’s actually very easy—browsers that support Offline Web Applications give you access to the navigator.onLine property, which will be true if the browser is online and false if it’s not. Here’s how we’d use it in our determineLocation method:

function determineLocation() {

if (navigator.onLine) {

// find location and call displayOnMap

} else {

alert("You must be online to use this feature.");



Give it a spin. Using Firefox or Opera, navigate to the page and click the button to load the map. Once you’re satisfied that it works, choose Work Offline and reload the page; now try clicking the button again. This time you’ll receive a helpful message telling you that you need to be online to access the map.

Some other features that might be of use to you include events that fire when the browser goes online or offline. These events fire on the window element, and are simply called and window.offline. These can, for example, allow your scripts to respond to a change in state by either synchronizing information up to the server when you go online, or saving data locally when you drop offline.

There are a few other events and methods for dealing with the application cache, but the ones we’ve covered here are the most important. They’ll suffice to have most websites and applications working offline without a hitch.

Further Reading

If you’d like to learn more about Offline Web Applications, here are a few good resources:

· WHATWG Offline Web Applications spec

· HTML5 Laboratory’s “Using the cache manifest to work offline”

· Opera’s Offline Application Developer’s Guide

· Peter Lubbers’ SlideShare presentation on Offline Web Applications

· Mark Pilgrim’s walk-through of Offline Web Applications

· Safari’s Offline Applications Programming Guide

Web Storage

The Web Storage API defines a standard for how we can save data locally on a user’s computer or device. Before the emergence of the Web Storage standard, web developers often stored user information in cookies, or by using plugins. With Web Storage, we now have a standardized definition for how to store up to 5MB of data created by our websites or web applications. Better still, Web Storage already works in Internet Explorer 8.0!

Web Storage is a great complement to Offline Web Applications, because you'll need somewhere to store all that user data while you’re working offline and Web Storage provides it.

Web Storage is supported in these browsers:

· Safari 4+

· Chrome 5+

· Firefox 3.6+

· Internet Explorer 8+

· Opera 10.5+

· iOS (Mobile Safari) 3.2+

· Android 2.1+

Two Kinds of Storage

There are two kinds of HTML5 Web Storage: session storage and local storage.

Session Storage

Session storage lets us keep track of data specific to one window or tab. It allows us to isolate information in each window or tab. Even if the user is visiting the same site in two windows (or two tabs), each window (or tab) will have its own individual session storage object and thus separate, distinct data.

Session storage is not persistent—it only lasts for the duration of a user’s session on a specific site (in other words, for the time that a browser window or tab is open and viewing that site).

Local Storage

Unlike session storage, local storage allows us to save persistent data to the user’s computer via the browser. When a user revisits a site at a later date, any data saved to local storage can be retrieved.

Consider shopping online: it’s not unusual for users to have the same site open in multiple windows or tabs. Let’s say that you’re shopping for shoes, and you want to compare the prices and reviews of two brands. You may have one window open for each brand, but regardless of what brand or style of shoe you’re looking for, you’re always going to be searching for the same shoe size. It’s cumbersome to have to repeat this part of your search in every new window.

Local storage can help. Rather than require the user to specify the shoe size they’re browsing for every time they launch a new window, we could store this information in local storage. That way, when the user opens a new window to browse for another brand or style, the results would just present items available in that shoe size. Furthermore, because we’re storing the information to the user’s computer, we’ll be able to access this information when they visit the site at a later date.

Warning: Each Browser’s Web Storage is Unique

One important point to remember when working with Web Storage is that if the user visits your site in Safari, any data will be stored to Safari’s Web Storage store. If the user then revisits your site in Chrome, the data that was saved via Safari will be unavailable. Where the Web Storage data is stored depends on the browser, and each browser’s storage is separate and independent.

Note: Local Storage versus Cookies

Local storage can at first glance seem to play a similar role to HTTP cookies, but there are a few key differences. First of all, cookies are intended to be read on the server side, whereas local storage is only available on the client side. If you need your server-side code to react differently based on some saved values, cookies are the way to go. Yet, cookies are sent along with each HTTP request to your server—and this can result in significant overhead in terms of bandwidth. Local storage, on the other hand, just sits on the user’s hard drive waiting to be read, so it costs nothing to use. (But you can send what’s stored in local storage to a server as well using an Ajax request, if you wish.)

In addition, we have significantly more space to store data using local storage. With cookies, we can only store 4KB of information in total. With local storage, the maximum is much greater, though it varies a bit across desktop and mobile. On the desktop, the maximum for Chrome, Opera, Firefox, and IE is 10MB, and 5MB for Safari. On mobile, the maximum is 2MB for Android, 5MB for mobile Safari and iOS, and 10MB for Chrome and Firefox on mobile.

What Web Storage Data Looks Like

Data saved in Web Storage is stored as key/value pairs. Here are a few examples of simple key/value pairs:

· key: name, value: Alexis

· key: painter, value: Picasso

· key: email, value:

Getting and Setting Our Data

The methods most relevant to Web Storage are defined in an object called Storage. Here is the complete definition of Storage:

interface Storage {

readonly attribute unsigned long length;

DOMString key(in unsigned long index);

getter any getItem(in DOMString key);

setter creator void setItem(in DOMString key, in any value);

deleter void removeItem(in DOMString key);

void clear();


The first methods we’ll discuss are getItem and setItem. We store a key/value pair in either local or session storage by calling setItem, and we retrieve the value from a key by calling getItem.

If we want to store the data in or retrieve it from session storage, we simply call setItem or getItem on the sessionStorage global object. If we want to use local storage instead, we’d call setItem or getItem on the localStorage global object. In the examples to follow, we’ll be saving items to local storage.

When we use the setItem method, we must specify both the key we want to save the value under, and the value itself. For example, if we’d like to save the value "6" under the key "size", we’d call setItem like this:

localStorage.setItem("size", "6");

To retrieve the value we stored to the "size" key, we’d use the getItem method specifying only the key:

var size = localStorage.getItem("size");

Converting Stored Data

Web Storage stores all values as strings, so if you need to use them as anything else, such as a number or even an object, you’ll have to convert them. To convert from a string to a numeric value, we can use JavaScript’s parseInt method.

For our shoe size example, the value returned and stored in the size variable will actually be the string "6", rather than the number 6. To convert it to a number, we use parseInt:

var size = parseInt(localStorage.getItem("size"));

The Shortcut Way

We can quite happily continue to use getItem(key) and setItem(key, value); however, there’s a shortcut we can use to save and retrieve data.

Instead of localStorage.getItem(key), we can simply say localStorage[key]. For example, we could rewrite our retrieval of the shoe size:

var size = localStorage["size"];

And instead of localStorage.setItem(key, value), we can say localStorage[key] = value:

localStorage["size"] = 6;

Note: Out of Key

What happens if you request getItem on a key that was never saved? In this case, getItem will return null.

Removing Items and Clearing Data

To remove a specific item from Web Storage, we can use the removeItem method. We pass it the key we want to remove, and it removes both the key and its value.

To remove all data stored by our site on a user’s computer, we can utilize the clear method. This will delete all keys and all values stored for our domain.

Storage Limits

Internet Explorer “allows web applications to store nearly 10MB of user data.” Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Opera all allow for up to 5MB of user data, which is the amount suggested in the W3C spec. This number may evolve over time, as the spec itself states: “A mostly arbitrary limit of five megabytes per origin is recommended. Implementation feedback is welcome and will be used to update this suggestion in the future.” In addition, Opera allows users to configure how much disk space is allocated to Web Storage.

Rather than worrying about how much storage each browser has, a better approach is to test to see if the quota is exceeded before saving important data. The way you test for this is by catching the QUOTA_EXCEEDED_ERR exception. Here’s one example of how we can do this:

try {

sessionStorage["name"] = "Susan";

} catch (exception) {

if (exception === QUOTA_EXCEEDED_ERR) {

// we should tell users that their quota has been exceeded.



Note: Trying to Catch Exceptions

Sometimes problems happen in our code. Designers of APIs know this, and in order to mitigate the effects of these problems, they rely on exceptions. An exception occurs when something unexpected happens. The authors of APIs can define specific exceptions to be thrown when particular problems occur. Then developers using those APIs can decide how they’d like to respond to a given type of exception.

In order to respond to exceptions, we can wrap any code we think may throw an exception in a try/catch block. This works the way you might expect: first, you try to do something. If it fails with an exception, you can catch that exception and attempt to recover gracefully.

To read more about try/catch blocks, see the “try…catch” article at the Mozilla Developer Networks’ JavaScript Reference.

Security Considerations

Web Storage has what’s known as origin-based security, which means that data stored via Web Storage from a given domain is only accessible to pages from that domain. It’s impossible to access any Web Storage data stored by a different domain. For example, assume that we control the domain, and we store data created on that site using local storage. Another domain (say,, does not have access to any of the data stored by Likewise, has no access to any of the local storage data saved by

Adding Web Storage to The HTML5 Herald

We can use Web Storage to add a Remember me on this computer checkbox to our registration page. This way, once the user has registered, future forms that may need filling out on the site would already have this information.

Let’s define a function that grabs the value of the form’s input elements for name and email address:

function saveData() {

var name = document.getElementById("name").value;

var email = document.getElementById("email").value;


Here we’re storing the value of the email and name form fields in variables called email and name respectively.

Once we have retrieved the values in the two input elements, our next step is to actually save these values to localStorage:

function saveData() {

var name = document.getElementById("name").value;

var email = document.getElementById("email").value;

localStorage.setItem("name", name);

localStorage.setItem("email", email);


Let’s also store the fact that the “Remember me” checkbox was checked, saving this information to local storage:

function saveData() {

var name = document.getElementById("name").value;

var email = document.getElementById("email").value;

localStorage.setItem("name", name);

localStorage.setItem("email", email);

localStorage.setItem("remember", true);


Now that we have a function that saves the visitor’s name and email address, let’s call it if they check the Remember me on this computer checkbox. We’ll do this by watching for the change event on the checkbox; this event will fire whenever the checkbox’s state changes, whether it’s due to a click on the checkbox itself, a click on its label, or a keyboard press:

var rememberMe = document.getElementById("rememberme");

rememberMe.addEventListener("change", saveData, false);

Note: IE8 Support

For simplicity, we are using addEventListener in this chapter. This function is supported in all major modern browsers except IE8. If you look at the code for the book, you’ll see that we use a simple helper function called addEvent that employs addEventListener if it’s supported, or an old method called attachEvent if not—a method that IE8 supports.

Next, let’s make sure that the checkbox is actually checked, since the change event will fire when the checkbox is unchecked as well:

function saveData() {

if (document.getElementById("rememberme").checked === true) {

var name = document.getElementById("name").value;

var email = document.getElementById("email").value;

localStorage["name"] = name;

localStorage["email"] = email;

localStorage["remember"] = true;



Finally, let’s ensure that Web Storage is present in our visitor’s browser:

function saveData() {

if (document.getElementById("rememberme").checked === true) {

var name = document.getElementById("name").value;

var email = document.getElementById("email").value;

localStorage["name"] = name;

localStorage["email"] = email;

localStorage["remember"] = true;



Now we’re saving our visitor’s name and email whenever the checkbox is checked, so long as local storage is supported. The problem is that we have yet to actually do anything with the data!

Let’s add another function to check and see whether the name and email have been saved and, if so, fill in the appropriate input elements with that information. Let’s also precheck the “Remember me” checkbox if we’ve set the key remember to true in local storage:

function loadStoredDetails() {

var name = localStorage["name"];

var email = localStorage["email"];

var remember = localStorage["remember"];

if (name) {

document.getElementById("name").value = name;


if (email) {

document.getElementById("email").value = email;


if (remember === "true") {

document.getElementById("rememberme").setAttribute("checked", "checked");



Again, we want to check to ensure that Web Storage is supported by the browser before taking these actions:

function loadStoredDetails() {

if (Modernizr.localstorage) {

var name = localStorage["name"];

var email = localStorage["email"];

var remember = localStorage["remember"];

if (name) {

document.getElementById("name").value = name;


if (email) {

document.getElementById("email").value = email;


if (remember === true) {

document.getElementById("rememberme").setAttribute("checked", "checked");


} else {

// no support for Web Storage



At the beginning of rememberMe.js, we call the loadStoredDetails function once the page loads:


Now if the user has previously visited the page and checked Remember me on this computer, their name and email will already be populated on subsequent visits to the page.

As a final step, we should clear out any values saved previously if the user unchecks the “Remember me” checkbox:

if (document.getElementById("rememberme").checked === true) {

var name = document.getElementById("name").value;

var email = document.getElementById("email").value;

localStorage.setItem("name", name);

localStorage.setItem("email", email);

localStorage.setItem("remember", "true");


// if they uncheck the "Remember me" checkbox, clear out

// all the values

else {



Viewing Our Web Storage Values with Web Inspector

We can use the Safari or Chrome Web Inspector to look at or even change the values of our local storage. In Safari, we view the stored data under the Storage tab, as shown in Figure 11.6.

Viewing the values stored in local and session storage

Figure 11.6. Viewing the values stored in local and session storage

In Chrome, the data can be viewed through the Resources tab.

Since users own any data saved to their hard drive, they can actually modify the data in Web Storage should they choose to do so.

Let’s try this ourselves. If you double-click on the email value in Web Inspector’s Storage tab while viewing the register.html page, you can actually modify the value stored there, as Figure 11.7 shows.

Modifying the values stored in Web Storage

Figure 11.7. Modifying the values stored in Web Storage

There’s nothing we as developers can do to prevent this, since our users own the data on their computers. We can and should, however, bear in mind that savvy users have the ability to change their local storage data. In addition, the Web Storage spec states that any dialogs shown in browsers asking users to clear their cookies should now also allow them to clear their local storage. The message is we can’t be 100% sure that the data we store is accurate, nor that it will always be there. Thus, sensitive data should never be kept in local storage.

If you’d like to learn more about Web Storage, here are a few resources you can consult:

· W3C’s Web Storage specification

· Mozilla Developer Network’s Web Storage documentation

· Web Storage tutorial from IBM’s developerWorks

Additional HTML5 APIs

We’d like to mention some other APIs briefly, to give you an overview of what they are, and provide resources should you want to learn more.

Web Workers

The new Web Workers API allows us to run large scripts in the background without interrupting our main page or web app. Prior to Web Workers, it was impossible to run multiple JavaScript scripts concurrently. Have you ever come across a dialog like the one shown in Figure 11.8?

A script that runs for too long freezes the whole page

Figure 11.8. A script that runs for too long freezes the whole page

With Web Workers, we should see less of these types of warnings. The new API allows us to capture scripts that take a long time to run and require no user interaction, and run them behind the scenes concurrently with any other scripts that do handle user interaction. This concept is known as threading in programming, and Web Workers brings us thread-like features. Each “worker” handles its own chunk of script without interfering with other workers or the rest of the page. To ensure the workers stay in sync with each other, the API defines ways to pass messages from one worker to another.

Web Workers are supported in:

· Safari 4+

· Chrome 4+

· Firefox 3.5+

· IE10+

· Opera 11.5+

· Android 4.4+

To learn more about Web Workers, see:

· HTML5 Rocks article “The Basics of Web Workers”

· Mozilla Developer Network tutorial “Using Web Workers”

· W3C Web Workers’ specification

Web Sockets

Web Sockets defines a “protocol for two-way communication with a remote host.” We’ll avoid going into this topic for a couple of reasons. First, this API is of great use to server-side developers, but is less relevant to front-end developers and designers. Second, Web Sockets are still in development and have actually run into some security issues. Firefox 4 and Opera 11 have disabled Web Sockets by default due to these issues.[16]

Web Sockets are supported in:

· Safari 7.1+

· Chrome 31+

· Firefox 34+

· Opera 26+

· iOS (Mobile Safari) 7.1+

· IE 10+

· Android 4.4+

Web Sockets are currently unsupported in all versions of IE and on Android.

To learn more about Web Sockets, see the specification at the W3C.


There are going to be times when the 5MB of storage and simplistic key/value pairs offered by the Web Storage API falls short of your needs. If you require the ability to store substantial amounts of data and have more complex relationships between your data, you'll likely need a fully fledged database to take care of your storage requirements.

Usually databases are unique to the server side, but there is a database solution that’s been proposed to fill the need on the client side: Indexed Database API, or IndexedDB for short.

Note: What about Web SQL?

There was an additional database proposal previously called Web SQL, but its specification is no longer being updated. Web SQL was at one point seen as a viable option, but it’s since been abandoned in favor of IndexedDB.

IndexedDB is supported in:

· Partial support in Safari 7.1+

· Firefox 10+

· Chrome 23+

· Opera 15+

· Partial support in iOS 8

· Android 4.4+

· Partial support in IE 10+

If you would like to learn more, here are a few good resources:

· Mark Pilgrim’s summary of local storage in HTML5

· W3C’s IndexedDB specification

Back to the Future

In this chapter, we’ve had a glimpse into the new JavaScript APIs available in the latest generation of browsers. While these might lack full browser support for some time, tools such as Modernizr can help us gradually incorporate them into our real-world projects, bringing an extra dimension to our sites and applications.

In the next—and final—chapter, we’ll look at one more API, as well as two techniques for creating complex graphics in the browser. These open up a lot of potential avenues for creating web apps that leap off the page.

[15] Melbourne: SitePoint, 2014

[16] See and