Stay alert

A few days ago, Chris wrote up his thoughts about how alert(), confirm(), and prompt() were being deprecated by Chrome and collected a bunch of thoughts from developers. If certain features can essentially be turned off by a major browser, a lot of folks started to worry about the predictability of the web.

On that note, I really liked this note by Richard Harris:

We can’t normalise the attitude that collateral damage is the price of progress, even if we accept the premise — which I don’t — that removing APIs like alert represents progress. For all its flaws, the web is generally agreed to be a stable platform, where investments made today will stand the test of time. A world in which websites are treated as inherently transient objects, where APIs we commonly rely on today could be cast aside as unwanted baggage by tomorrow’s spec wranglers, is a world in which the web has already lost.

This specific bit of drama isn’t of much interest to me, I must admit. But! I think it brings up a super important distinction between software and the web. Here’s a story.

The other day I was faffing about with Astro (which I like a lot). I was rebuilding my personal site with it and I decided — in a spark of punk rock-ness — to update to the latest version of it. I thought perhaps it might make my build process a bit quicker and give me a chance to explore new features. But alas — everything broke. APIs had been deprecated! My build process broke! Everything crumbled down around me.

This isn’t me dunking on Astro. I love it, still. But it’s important to remember that Astro isn’t the web. Neither is React or any other framework, really. Those teams can feel free to deprecate things, improve things as much as they want. They can burn it all to the ground and start again. But stuff like alert(), old CSS features, and HTML elements aren’t in the same category. They can’t be deprecated in the same way because, as Jeremy said, the web needs to be predictable. And we can’t treat the web like plain ol’ software because no one team or individual owns those features.

Here’s the gist of my rant: alert() and confirm() aren’t features of Chrome, but of the web. But I fear that’s how a lot of folks might think about them.

This is also why standards are so important! Talking about new features in public lets us fix all the bugs and answer all the questions before a new feature ships onto this platform where you can’t just delete it when you realize you goofed up. I’m not even really dunking on Chrome here either, but this distinction between software and the open web is an important one to make. Right?

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