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W3C Advances Web Font Standards

  • August 18, 2010
  • By Sean Michael Kerner
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Since the advent of the Web, developers have been limited in the fonts they could use for online content. That's now changing thanks to the emerging Web Open File Format (WOFF) standard from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

WOFF will enable Web developers to use a broad set of fonts that will be supported across all major browsers. The WOFF 1.0 standard has not yet been finalized, but according to the W3C, it is nearing completion.

"The W3C WebFonts Working Group does not expect to make any significant groundbreaking changes to the current WOFF 1.0 spec, but the development and review process will likely result in incremental changes and additional clarification made in the spec to improve its content quality," Vladimir Levantovsky, chairman of the W3C WebFonts Working Group and senior technology strategist at Monotype Imaging, told InternetNews.com.

Levantovsky noted that the development of the WOFF Recommendation follows the process that the W3C set up to ensure high technical quality while allowing time for review.

Moving forward, the W3C will be publishing additional materials and tools to help validate WOFF prior to the complete standard becoming official.

"WOFF Validator as well as other tools are being developed by the WebFonts WG, and they will likely be published as a part of WOFF test suite and/or reference implementation," Levantovsky said.

The W3C plans to designate WOFF as a recommended Web standard when implementations pass the test suite.

Work on enabling a Web fonts standard has been ongoing since at least 2008, according to Levantovsky.

"Many different solutions were discussed, and each of them was carefully examined and evaluated from both technical and usability point of view," he said. "WOFF was the result of truly collaborative efforts made by the browser vendors and font foundries -- it exemplifies a technical solution that is easy to implement and use. It offers Web developers access to tens of thousands of commercial and open source fonts, and it received strong support from the font development community."

CSS Font Face

Most Web developers specify fonts today with the CSS font-face tag, which WOFF will help to further extend.

"Fonts converted to WOFF format will be used by Web developers using CSS @font-face command, the same way that other font files could be used today," Levantovsky said. "The main difference is that CSS specification does not specify a particular font file format that has to be supported by a browser -- historically each browser vendor made their own choices of font formats to support."

He added that without WOFF there is no font interoperability between different browsers, and Web developers have traditionally either had to serve fonts in different formats to different browsers, or to resort to only using Web-safe core fonts.

"WOFF is going to change all this," Levantovsky said. "Browser support for WOFF will offer [a] fully interoperable solution, and many commercial font vendors have already declared their support for WOFF and the availability of Web-font licenses."

Levantovsky noted that developers who want to use commercial typefaces will have to obtain a proper license to use the fonts on the Web, similar to licensing fonts for use in print media.

Though WOFF does not yet have a test suite, multiple browsers have already moved to support the Web-font technology.

"Many browser vendors have already either implemented support for WOFF or announced their intention to do so in the nearest future," Levantovsky said. "Firefox 3.6 and later supports WOFF. IE9 already supports WOFF. WOFF support has already been added to WebKit, and according to the representative from Google, Chrome 6 beta supports WOFF and the Chrome version 6 will support WOFF when it's released next month."

"It is only a matter of time before Web users will see WOFF fully supported in all major browsers," he added.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: W3C, web developers, WOFF




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