HTML5 fundamentals, Part 3: The power of HTML5 APIs

Managing communication

HTML5 reflects the monumental changes in the way you now do business on the web and in the cloud. This article is the third in a four-part series designed to spotlight changes in HTML5, beginning with the new tags and page organization and providing high-level information on web page design, the creation of forms, the use and value of the APIs, and, finally, the creative possibilities that Canvas provides. This installment introduces HTML5 APIs, using an example page to demonstrate functions.


Grace Walker, IT Consultant, Walker Automated Services

Grace Walker, a partner in Walker Automated Services in Chicago, Illinois, is an IT consultant with a diverse background and broad experience. She has worked in IT as a manager, administrator, programmer, instructor, business analyst, technical analyst, systems analyst, and Web developer in various environments, including telecommunications, education, financial services, and software.

07 June 2011

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So, what is an API?

An application programming interface is a collection of programming instructions and standards for accessing a software application. With an API, you can design products powered by the service the API provides.

HTML5 has several new APIs. For example:

  • A 2D drawing API used with the new canvas element for rendering graphs or other visual images
  • An API caching mechanism that supports offline web applications
  • An API for playing video and audio used with the new video and audio elements
  • A history API that makes the browsing history accessible and allows pages to add to it
  • A drag-and-drop API to use with the draggable attribute
  • An editing API to use with the contenteditable attribute
  • Client-side storage with JavaScript APIs for key-value pairs and also embedded SQL databases

This article concentrates on two APIs: Geolocation and Web Worker. First, it analyzes the APIs themselves; then, you create a page that contains both the APIs.

Business is everywhere: Geolocation

You use the Geolocation API to determine and share geographical positions. The API returns longitude and latitude coordinates—information that businesses can use to offer services in the area approximate to the coordinates. These services are generally referred to as location-based services (LBS).

LBS refers to the geographical data sources used to identify the physical location of the instrument being monitored and, thereby, the human associated with that location. This function gives interested parties the opportunity to interact with that individual based on the market for some geolocation-centric point of interest.

Business is really about the creation of quality, utility, and value for customers, while at the same time creating economic and financial benefits for stakeholders, creditors, stockholders, employees, and vendors. The Geolocation-powered LBS makes it quite easy to track or monitor a package or a person using a non-browser device or a browser. Commercially, geolocation is all about the use of geographical assets to determine where someone or something is located, and then selling that specific set of information to anyone who wants to use it for social, commercial, or other purposes, provided there is legal permission from the owner of the information to do so.

How geolocation works

The Geolocation API is based on a new property of the global navigator object: navigator.geolocation. The JavaScript navigator object provides useful information about the visitor's browser and system. Geolocation can determine latitude and longitude using IP addresses, web-based databases, wireless network connections, and triangulation or GPS technology. It should be noted that the accuracy of Geolocation-provided information varies based on the means of obtaining the information. On occasion, and in some locations, you may not be able to get a clear geolocation reading or any data at all.

Scripts can employ the navigator.geolocation object to determine location information related to the user's hosting device. After the location information is retrieved, a position object is created and populated with the data.

The navigator.geolocation object has three methods:

  • getCurrentPosition()
  • watchPosition()
  • clearWatch()

The getCurrentPosition() method

The getCurrentPosition() method retrieves the user's current location, but only once. When it is called by a script, the method asynchronously attempts to obtain the current location of the hosting device. Asynchronous communication means that the sender and receiver are not concurrently engaged in communication. Using asynchronous communication lets the browser continue with other activities so that it doesn't have to wait for a response from the receiving entity.

The getCurrentPosition() method can have up to three arguments:

  • geolocationSuccess. The callback with the current position (required)
  • geolocationError. The callback if there was an error (optional)
  • geolocationOptions. The geolocation options (optional)

The navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPositon() method returns the host device's current position to the geolocationSuccess callback with a Position object as the parameter. If there is an error, the geolocationError callback is invoked with a PositionError object. You can set three properties for geolocationOptions: enableHighAccuracy, timeout, and maximumAge. These optional properties enable high accuracy if the device supports it, a timeout period by which a position should have been returned, and a maximum amount of time that a cached location can be used, respectively.

The getCurrentPosition() method is called as shown here:

void navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition(
          geolocationSuccess, geolocationError, geolocationOptions);

The watchPosition() method

The watchPosition() method polls the user location on a regular basis, watching to see whether the user location has changed. It can have up to three arguments.

When watchPosition is called, it asynchronously starts a watch process involving the acquisition of a new Position object and creation of a watchID. If this acquisition is successful, the associated geolocationSuccess with a Position object as an argument is invoked. Upon a failure involving an invoked method with a non-null geolocationError argument, the method generates the geolocationError with a PositionError object as an argument. When the device position changes, a suitable callback with new Position object is invoked.

The watchPosition() method is called as shown here:

long navigator.geolocation.watchPosition(
          geolocationSuccess, geolocationError, geolocationOptions);

The clearWatch() method

The clearWatch() method terminates an ongoing watchPosition(). This method can have only one argument. When called, it finds the watchID argument that was previously started and immediately stops it.

The clearWatch() method is called as shown here:

void navigator.geolocation.clearWatch(watchID)

Geolocation data: The Position object

The Geolocation API returns a geographical Position object. This object has two properties: timestamp and coords. The timestamp property indicates the time of the geolocation data's creation. The coords property has seven attributes:

  • coords.latitude. The estimated latitude
  • coords.longitude. The estimated longitude
  • coords.altitude. The estimated altitude
  • coords.accuracy. The accuracy of the provided latitude and longitude estimates in meters
  • coords.altitudeAccuracy. The accuracy of the provided altitude estimate in meters
  • coords.heading. The current direction of movement for the hosting device in degrees, counting clockwise relative to true north
  • coords.speed. The device's current ground speed in meters per second

Only three of the properties are guaranteed to be there: coords.latitude, coords.longitude, and coords.accuracy. The rest return null, depending on the capabilities of your device and the back-end positioning server that it talks to. The heading and speed properties are calculated based on the user's previous position, if possible.

Web workers to the rescue

Web workers remedy the problems caused by concurrency. Web workers are the HTML5 family's answer to the JavaScript single-thread problem: They run processes on a separate thread from the main page, preserving the page for the main functions, such as maintaining a stable UI.

A web worker is a JavaScript file that is loaded and executed in the background. These workers allow you to load a JavaScript file dynamically, and then execute a script using a background process that does not affect the UI. Web workers have limited access and are only allowed to pass strings. Because web workers don't use the browser UI thread, they are not permitted access to the DOM. Workers can use both self and this references for the worker's global scope. Worker and parent page communication is achieved using an event model and the postMessage() method.

Because web workers have a multithreaded behavior, they can only access a subset of JavaScript's features. Web workers can:

  • Access the navigator object
  • Use the read-only location object
  • Execute XMLHttpRequest to send HTTP or HTTPS requests
  • Set a time or interval for an activity using setTimeout()/clearTimeout() and setInterval()/clearInterval()
  • Access the application cache
  • Import external scripts using the importScripts() method
  • Spawn other web workers (The child (subworker) must have the same origin as the main page and be placed in the same location as the parent worker.)

There are two types of web workers: dedicated workers and shared workers.

Dedicated web worker

A dedicated worker is linked to the script that created it, and it can communicate with other workers or browser components. However, it cannot communicate with the DOM.

A dedicated worker is created by passing a JavaScript file name to a new worker instance. You create a new worker using the Worker() constructor by specifying the worker's executing script URI. To create a dedicated worker, enter the code shown here, which creates a new dedicated Worker object:

var worker = new Worker('worker.js');

Shared web workers

Shared web workers, like dedicated workers, cannot access the DOM and have only limited access to window properties. Shared web workers can only communicate with other shared web workers from the same domain. The workers are created by passing a JavaScript name to a new shared worker instance.

Page scripts can communicate with shared web workers. However, unlike dedicated web workers, you communicate by using a port object and attaching a message event handler. In addition, you must call the port's start() method before using the first postMessage().

Upon receipt of the first message by the web worker script, the shared web worker attaches an event handler to the active port. Generally, the handler will run its own postMessage() method to return a message to the calling code, and then the port's start() method generates an enable message process.

To create a shared web worker, you must create a SharedWorker object instead of the Worker object. The following code shows how a new SharedWorker object is created:

var worker = new SharedWorker('worker.js');

Constructing a page including the two APIs

You will design a page that contains basic working models of the Geolocation and Web Worker APIs. In addition, you use the Google Map API to render the data gathered as a map.

The page is organized as shown in Figure 1. It contains a Header area created using the <header></header> tags, a Section area created using the <section></section> tags, and an Aside area created using the <aside></aside> tags.

Figure 1. API page layout
Three boxes: a header that spans across a section box on the left containing the geolocation api and an aside box on the right containing the worker api.

The <section> and <aside> areas contain the APIs. The Section area contains the Geolocation API. The Aside area contains the web worker, which calculates prime numbers.

When executed, the web page is displayed as shown in Figure 2. To view the geolocation data, you must first agree to share your information. The web worker starts when the page loads. If you want to see the prime numbers found, click Display Web Worker.

Figure 2. The API web page
Page showing a map and the geolocation information coordinates.

The HTML file

The HTML file begins with the standard HTML5 information shown in Listing 1. The <head> section contains a call to the Google Maps API, setting the value of sensor to False. Using the Google Maps API requires that you state whether your application is using a sensor, such as a GPS, to establish location. You must declare a sensor parameter value of True or False for your Google Maps API application. A sensor value must be declared. The <head> tag also contains links to the JavaScript and CSS3 files used to handle the functions and format the web page.

Listing 1. HTML file beginning
<!doctype html>
  <title>Basic GeoLocation Map & Web Worker Prime Number Calculator</title>
  <script src="//" 
  <LINK href="GeolocationWebWorker.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css">
  <script src="HTML-Part3-GeolocationWebWorker.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

The <body> tag contains an onLoad event that calls the initialization function for geolocation, as shown in Listing 2. This function verifies that geolocation can be used in this browser. The initialization function is in the JavaScript file. If the browser can communicate with the Geolocation API, the map will be rendered.

Listing 2. Initialize Geolocation
<body onLoad="initGeoApp();">
      <h1>Geolocation & Web Worker</h1>
      <h2>Making it work</h2>

The <section> tag shown in Listing 3 contains the display output information for the navigator.geolocation object. A map canvas is created using the longitude and latitude that the API returns. The Position coords data is also displayed using the <span></span> tags.

Listing 3. Geolocation map and position
    <p>This is the geolocation example map.</p>
    <div id="map_canvas" ></div>

    <p>This is the output from the navigator.geolocation object.</p>
        <td><span id="accuracyOutput"></span></td>
        <td><span id="altitudeOutput"></span></td>
        <td><span id="altitudeAccuracyOutput"></span></td>
        <td><span id="headingOutput"></span></td>
        <td><span id="latitudeOutput"></span></td>
        <td><span id="longitudeOutput"></span></td>
        <td><span id="speedOutput"></span></td>
    <p>This is the Web Worker. </p>
    <p>Prime number calculation result:
    <output id="result"></output></p>

The Web Worker calculates prime numbers. You use the new <output> tag to display the calculation that the web worker provides. The ID assigned in the <output> tag is the same ID JavaScript uses to identify the calculation it performs. The IDs used in the <span> and <output> tags makes them accessible to the DOM. Without the reference ID, JavaScript will not know which <span> or <output> to use. Listing 4 shows the output from the web worker.

Listing 4. Web worker output
    <p>This is the Web Worker. </p>
    <p>Prime number calculation result:
    <output id="result"></output></p>

The onClick is used in the <input> tag to first display the values being calculated by the Prime Number web worker, and then the second onClick is used to stop the web worker. Listing 5 shows the code. The displayWorker() function causes the web worker's calculations to be displayed when the button is clicked. The web worker began calculating the prime numbers when the page was loaded.

Listing 5. Inputs for the web worker
    <input type="button" value="Display Web Worker" onClick="displayWorker();">
    <input type="button" value="Stop Web Worker"    onClick="stopWorker();">


The JavaScript file

JavaScript is the engine behind the APIs exhibited on the example page. The Geolocation API is initialized with the initGeoApp() function. This is the function executed by the onLoad() event in the <body> tag: It determines whether your browser can use geolocation (see Listing 6). If your browser can use geolocation, then the Geolocation API is called. If successful, a map is drawn using the Position attributes. The values of the attributes are then printed below the map.

Listing 6. Geolocation functions
function initGeoApp()
   if( navigator.geolocation )
        navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition( success, failure);
        alert("Your browser does not support geolocation services.");

The values are retrieved using document.getElementById, based on the ID that you supplied in the HTML file. document.getElementById is a method of the document object and should be accessed by using document.getElementById, as shown in Listing 7. The values of the Position attributes are stored here so that they can be used to print the attributes below the map to be rendered.

Listing 7. Use getElementById to get coords values
	     var map;
	     function success(position)
            document.getElementById("accuracyOutput").innerHTML = 
            document.getElementById("altitudeOutput").innerHTML = 
            document.getElementById("altitudeAccuracyOutput").innerHTML = 
            document.getElementById("headingOutput").innerHTML = 
            document.getElementById("latitudeOutput").innerHTML = 
            document.getElementById("longitudeOutput").innerHTML = 
            document.getElementById("speedOutput").innerHTML = 

This section defines the coordinates for the Google Map API's LatLng object, as Listing 8 shows. The Google Map API LatLng object provides the coordinate information required to create a map. You can set the zoom level and several other options that create the look of the map presented to the user.

Listing 8. Google Map options
var coordinates = new google.maps.LatLng(position.coords.latitude, 

var myOptions =
    zoom: 14,
    center: coordinates,
    mapTypeControl: false,
    navigationControlOptions: {style: google.maps.NavigationControlStyle.small},
    mapTypeId: google.maps.MapTypeId.ROADMAP  

Note that in the mapTypeID option, the option selected is the ROADMAP. This value presents the map so that it appears as shown in Figure 2. There are four possible values:


Figure 3 shows how the page would appear with the HYBRID option selected.

Figure 3. The API web page with hybrid map
Page showing a map and the geolocation information coordinates.

Create the map using the ID map_canvas, which is the ID for the <div> in the HTML file:

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

Place an initial position marker on the map. Listing 9 shows the code.

Listing 9. Place an initial map marker
      var marker = new google.maps.Marker({
        position: coordinates,
        map: map,
        title: "You are here."
       function failure()
          alert("Sorry, could not obtain location");

The web worker begins executing when the page is initialized. If the user wants to display the output of the calculations being performed, he or she can click Display Web Worker, which will call the displayWorker() function. Listing 10 shows the code.

Listing 10. The web worker
     var worker = new Worker('PrimeNumberWebWorker.js');

  function displayWorker()  
         worker.onmessage = function (event) 
             document.getElementById('result').innerHTML =;

If the user wants to stop the web worker, he or she can click Stop Web Worker, which will call the stopWorker() function shown in Listing 11.

Listing 11. Terminate worker
 function stopWorker() 

The web worker file

This file is the prime number calculator web worker: It calculates every prime number until it is stopped. Listing 12 shows the code.

Listing 12. Calculate prime numbers
var n = 1;
search: while (true) {
   n += 1;
   for (var i = 2; i <= Math.sqrt(n); i += 1)
      if (n % i == 0)
         continue search;

The CSS3 file

The CSS3 file shown in Listing 13 provides the formatting displayed in the HTML5 page.

Listing 13. CSS3 descriptions
* {font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif ;

body {
  margin: 0 300px 0 300px;
  color: #990000;

header > hgroup h1 {
  margin: 0 0 3px 0;
  padding: 0;
  text-align: center;
   font-size: 30px;

header > hgroup h2 {
  margin: 0 0 15px 0;
  padding: 0;
  text-align: center;
  font-style: italic;
   font-size: 12px;

header p {
  margin: 0 0 20px 0 ;
  padding: 0;
  text-align: center;
   font-size: 12px;

aside {
  width: 200px;
  height: 175px;
  margin: -450px 0 0 450px;
  background-color:  #990000;
  padding: .5px 0 0 10px ; 

div {
  width: 400px; 
  height: 250px; 


This installment examined the utility of the Geolocation and Web Worker APIs. These two APIs were selected because together they demonstrate both the innovative and the practical use of APIs. Geolocation is an excellent example of the HTML5 specification's use in the creation of new business models. Likewise, the Web Worker's role is the resolution of the problems inherent in JavaScript's concurrency problem.

These two APIs together illustrate a model combination of the use of HTML5 for commercial and social use. Thus, their utility demonstrates the proper facilitation and general management of an HTML5 rich Internet application.


Example HTML, CSS3 and JavaScript filesHTML5APIs.zip10KB



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ArticleTitle=HTML5 fundamentals, Part 3: The power of HTML5 APIs