How does the Space Jam website from 1996 still work on today's browsers?
November 15, 2016 7:20 PM   Subscribe

After 20 years, the website, despite looking comically outdated, still works with today's browsers! How did they do this - is it really the same website? If someone could get a Windows 95 or Mac OS 7 computer online today, would it still display in Netscape?
posted by Seeking Direction to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, it's the same website. No reason it wouldn't display on a vintage machine. Just about all of the HTML tags and codes that were used to build websites in 1996 are still understood and used by browsers today.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 7:26 PM on November 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

HTML is backwards compatible. Very little has changed in web development, it's just layers on top.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:27 PM on November 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

It has Omniture, Google Analytics, and other ad network Javascript tracking code, and they seem to be working, so someone's at least looking at it and kind of keeping it up to date. But yeah, the actual HTML is 1996 vintage.
posted by miyabo at 8:25 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi, my job is developing web standards and web browsers at Mozilla. I can explain in more detail why web browsers are still backward-compatible with old web pages.

First, there are billions of web pages, written by millions of people and groups. There are only a few web browsers, mostly developed at a handful of companies.

It would make my job easier if we could say, "Okay, the next version of Firefox won't support [old crufty feature] anymore. Please update your web pages to use [new and improved feature] instead." But there's zero chance that all of those millions of authors will somehow manage to update every single single web page ever written, before the next version of Firefox comes out. And if ten of your favorite web sites don't work in the new version of Firefox, guess what? You're probably going to switch to a different web browser. So instead, what happens is that standards bodies and browser developers make sure that old content still works in new browsers. This makes web browsers and web standards more complicated than they might otherwise be, but the cost is mostly borne by a few people (such as myself) rather than millions of web authors and publishers.

This is enshrined in the HTML Design Principles. Browsers even have a featured called Quirks Mode that lets them emulate bugs from certain earlier browsers, in order to display web pages that depend on those bugs.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:43 PM on November 15, 2016 [30 favorites]

The first web page ever* is still perfectly usable on the most modern browser.

* Well, technically a snapshot from November of 1992. The original page came online in '90 and went public in '91 - but has apparently been lost to history.
posted by MoTLD at 9:00 PM on November 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Servo is a new browser being developed at Mozilla research that both mbrubeck and I work on. It is not able to render everything on the web yet, but Spacejam looks pretty good. The reason for this is twofold: 1) Spacejam is a well-known and hilarious site and we thought it would be funny if it worked in Servo, and 2) Spacejam is a well-known, easily found example of pre-CSS web design, which makes it an ideal test case for old pre-CSS sites which are harder to come by.

My first reaction to this question was to compile a fresh version of Servo, and check out Spacejam (screen capture. There are at least two rendering issues still, and I'll file those as bugs and someone will come along and fix it, and thus future generations will get to experience the joy of Spacejam.

Backwards compatibility (or as we say, web compatibility) is taken very seriously. Even the bugs in old browsers are specified and preserved. This has made it a real challenge to create a new browser with vastly different performance characteristics, but it also makes the web a great place for developers who can trust their code to work on multiple implementations for the indefinite future.
posted by metajack at 9:01 PM on November 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

One interesting note, from a technical perspective its not so strange that the site still works in modern browsers. Its really quite simple in a mechanism that has carried forward as browser technologies have advanced.

Whats more surprising is that its still up and maintained somewhere from an infrastructure perspective. Undoubtedly in the last 20 years the servers hosting that page have been migrated and upgraded. The DNS records have been paid for and managed. And they've actually added to it with things like Omniture and Google Analytics (google analytics didn't exist until 2005) And all along the way folks have had to ask whether its worth it to still keep it alive and conscious decisions have been made to do so. To me thats more impressive.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:24 AM on November 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

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