Social media firm Facebook has switched from a Flash-based video player to using HTML5 for video content on its site in a further blow for the platform that was once the default choice for displaying multimedia content on web pages.
Facebook said in a blog post that it had recently changed to HTML5 for all video content in News Feed, Pages and the Facebook embedded video player, citing some of the reasons why it had made the switch.
"From development velocity to accessibility features, HTML5 offers a lot of benefits. Moving to HTML5 best enables us to continue to innovate quickly and at scale, given Facebook's large size and complex needs," said Facebook front-end engineer Daniel Baulig.
"We are continuing to work together with Adobe to deliver a reliable and secure Flash experience for games on our platform, but have shipped the change for video to all browsers by default."
Adobe's Flash platform has been around for over a decade, and the Flash Player app or plug-in for the browser became an essential installation for anyone who wanted to see multimedia content or watch video on the web.
However, with HTML5, the newest version of the markup language used to define web pages, a native element was added to explicitly support content such as video without the need for plugins. This has had a bumpy road to adoption, with a lack of agreement as to which video coding format or formats should be supported in browsers, but many developers and online services have begun to switch to HTML5 for displaying video.
"Using web technologies allows us to tap into the excellent tooling that exists in browsers, among the open source community, and at Facebook in general. Not having to recompile code and being able to apply changes directly in the browser allow us to move fast," explained Baulig.
Meanwhile, Flash has had its share of problems, including poor performance on mobile devices and numerous security vulnerabilities that have required Adobe to issue a steady flow of fixes.
However, switching to HTML5 has brought a new crop of problems that Facebook has had to deal with, according to Baulig.
"One of the major issues we wanted to solve before shipping the HTML5 player was the number of bugs in various browsers around HTML5 videos. One specific bug in Chrome's implementation of the SPDY protocol caused the browser to simply stop loading and playing videos in News Feed," he said.
There is also the problem of how widespread HTML5 video support has yet to become, but the vast majority of browsers now support it, in theory.
"In practice we noticed that a lot of the older browsers would simply perform worse using the HTML5 player than they had with the old Flash player. We saw more errors, longer loading times and a generally worse experience," Baulig said.
For this reason, Facebook decided to launch the HTML5 player for just a small set of browsers at first, continuously rolling out to more browsers, versions and operating systems as it managed to iron out bugs.
"That's why we waited until recently to ship the HTML5 player to all browsers by default, with the exception of a small set of them," Baulig explained.
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