X3D and HTML5

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Goals: X3D and HTML5

The X3D Working Group has made multiple contributions to the W3C HTML Working Group for the purpose of fully integrating X3D with HTML.

Our long-term goal is to make the native authoring and use of declarative XML-based X3D scenes as natural and well-supported for HTML5 authors as the support provided for Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and Mathematical Markup Language (MathML).

This effort has strategic importance for Web3D and indeed for all 3D graphics, since X3D is an interchange format for a wide variety of models. We are working to establish a solid foundation for X3D to properly support 3D graphics in HTML5.

In order to reach their primary goals in a timely manner, the HTML5 group has decided not to pursue the forms of extensibility that we proposed. This is perhaps unsurprising since they are working on so many important improvements!

Nevertheless we are continuing these investigations and remain optimistic that this excellent progress will continue. Our technical proposal HTML5 Recommendation Additions for X3D remains online and is available for comment.

We have pursued three basic approaches to display an X3D scene inside an HTML page:

  • X3D object in HTML page as an embedded object. HTML page includes an object element tag that refers to an .x3d scene, implemented via an X3D plugin. Data can be passed within the page to/from an X3D scene using DOM events.
    • Status. This is specification-compliant and demonstrated by multiple plugins.
  • X3D directly inline as XML in HTML. HTML page directly includes X3D source, likely with an XML namespace prefix, presumably implemented via an X3D plugin or the browser itself. Again data might be exchanged within the page using DOM events.
    • Status. Experimentally demonstrated as a new capability by X3DOM, and now being considered for further implementation and potential standardization in a Mobile and/or Augmented Reality (AR) profile for X3D.
  • Canvas3D or special API access. HTML page includes some form of canvas (or maybe Canvas3D) element that allows programmatic access to the page, so that X3D Scene Access Interface (SAI) might draw a bitmap.
    • Status. Deferred until HTML5 working group decides whether or not to provide such a new feature.

Example combinations of X3D and HTML (plus variations on these approaches) are considered and demonstrated as part of X3D and HTML5 examples.

Important new work includes the X3DOM suite by Fraunhofer, which shows native X3D within an HTML page, runnable in nightly builds for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Additional implementations are being considered, and similar solutions are being pursued for Internet Explorer and Opera.

Our X3D and HTML5 Summary slideset was presented at the HTML5 Working Group sessions Friday 6 November 2009 in Mountain View during the W3C Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee (TPAC) meeting. As a result we are now actively working on showing X3D as XML in HTML.


The HTML working group page states:

       What is HTML?  HTML is the publishing language of the World Wide Web.

The latest editor's draft Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) recommendation states:

       HTML 5 W3C Working Draft
       A vocabulary and associated APIs for HTML and XHTML
       13.2 Declarative 3D scenes
       Embedding 3D imagery into XHTML documents is the domain of X3D,
       or technologies based on X3D that are namespace-aware.
       4.8.5 The object element
       The object element can represent an external resource, which, depending on
       the type of the resource, will either be treated as an image, as a nested
       browsing context, or as an external resource to be processed by a plugin.
       4.8.6 The param element
       The param element defines parameters for plugins invoked by object elements.

Technical Tasks

We are working on the following tasks.

  • Ensure that all HTML5 questions and issues relative to X3D are properly considered and answered.
  • Document how native X3D in .xml encoding can be best be embedded inside an HTML5 document, typically in a namespace-aware fashion
  • Demonstrate X3D+HTML5 examples on the Web3D Consortium website
  • Examine how X3D pertains to related HTML5 tags (such as object and canvas) that are used for plugin-type content
  • Track MIME type issues
  • Examine overall interoperability issues: combined X3D and HTML content with one floating over the other
    • X3D scene with transparent background floating over HTML document or desktop
    • HTML text overlay laid out over an X3D scene as help
  • Identify API issues of mutual interest (such as DOM, Ajax and XHR) for further developmental work
  • Consider direct integration of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) images as a supported format for X3D ImageTexture node

Work Support


Relevant HTML5 and W3C information:

The following individuals have volunteered to serve as X3D Working Group representatives in the HTML5 Working Group.

  • Johannes Behr, Instant Reality, Fraunhofer Research, Darmstadt Germany
  • Don Brutzman, Naval Postgraduate School (Web3D-W3C liaison and W3C Advisory Committee representative), Monterey California USA
  • John Stewart, FreeWrl, Communications Research Center (CRC) Canada
  • Joe Williams, HyperMultiMedia, Santa Rosa California USA

Any other Web3D Consortium members who are interested in serving as one of our X3D Working Group representatives is asked to review the HTML working group membership materials, notify the X3D working group that you are interested, and describe what your goals will be.


Our weekly X3D and HTML5 teleconference is usually 0800-0900 (pacific time) each Tuesday.

Designated members can participate Web3D HTML5 teleconference call.

Minutes are saved on the X3D server, and are now distributed on the X3D-Public mailing list:

2009: 18 Aug 2009 1 Oct 2009 20 Oct 2009 27 Oct 2009 17 Nov 2009 24 Nov 2009 1 Dec 2009 29 Dec 2009

2010: 5 Jan 2010 19 Jan 2010 26 Jan 2010 02 Feb 2010 09 Feb 2010 16 Feb 2010 23 Feb 2010 (TODO insert missing links) 3 Aug 2010 24 Aug 2010 14 Sep 2010

Annotated References

X3D and HTML4


  • HTML 4.01 HyperText Markup Language (HTML)
  • XHTML Extensible HyperText Markup Language (XHTML)


Canvas for 2D and 3D

Distributed Extensibility

X3D and HTML5 Examples

The X3D and HTML5 examples page shows a set of examples ranging from simple to sophisticated.


We have discussed Johannes' message of 25 March 2009 + responses (Subject: Re: Khronos Press Releases etc.) that included an X3DOM-connector.pdf diagram regarding how X3D might work with DOM, HTML etc. Also discussed the thread on Khronos' presumed upcoming work on Canvas3D element, and past work on Ajax3D.

These and other API topics are all technically related, and of interest, but have varying degrees of maturity.

The primary objective of the current effort is to support X3D and HTML5. Further work on DOM and other APIs is likely to evolve and spin off from this central effort.

X3DOM proposal


The object element represents external resources like pdf-documents, movies or x3d-worlds. This plugin model works nicely for isolated content and applications which are unrelated to the surrounding xhtml-document. If the web-application developer would like to access and manipulate the object content he or she has to deal with object or plugin specific interfaces. e.g. X3D browser should provide a Scene Access Interface (SAI).

The X3DOM model tries to ease the development of applications by not providing a special interface but following and respecting some basic xhtml rules:

1) Declarative XML content is part of the DOM tree; Embedded with a separate xml namespace

       <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
       <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">
       <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
         <x3d:x3d xmlns:x3d="http://www.web3d.org/specifications/x3d-3.0.xsd">
               <x3d:Shape><x3d:Box x3d:size="4 4 4" /></x3d:Shape>

2) The DOM elements can be used to read and manipulate the content

        <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
        <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN","http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">
          <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
         <x3d xmlns=
                <Shape><Box size="4 4 4" /></Shape>
          <script type="text/javascript">       
         // The namespace URIs
          var xhtml_ns = "http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml";
          var x3d_ns =
         // Get elements using namespaces
          var h1 = 
              document.getElementsByTagNameNS(xhtml_ns, "h1");            
          var box = 
              document.getElementsByTagNameNS(x3d_ns, "Box")[0];
         // Edit an attribute of the <Box /> element
          alert(box.getAttributeNS(null, "size"));
          box.setAttributeNS(null, "size", "2 2 2");    
          alert(box.getAttributeNS(null, "size"));

3) Events can be used to interact with the content

           <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
           <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN", "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">
             <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
              <x3d xmlns=
                          <Shape><Box size="4 4 4" />
                          <TouchSensor id="ts" DEF="ts" />
              <script type="text/javascript">                    
              // The namespace URIs
              var xhtml_ns = "http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml";
               var x3d_ns = "http://www.web3d.org/specifications/x3d-3.0.xsd";
              // Get elements using namespaces
               var h1 =  document.getElementsByTagNameNS(xhtml_ns, "h1");     
              var x3d = document.getElementsByTagNameNS(x3d_ns, "x3d")[0];        
              var ts = x3d.getElementsByTagName("TouchSensor")[0];
              alert("ts=" + ts);
              ts.addEventListener("touchTime", function() {
              }, false);

4) The position of the content in the document defines the position of the visible elements

           The X3D element should also define the position where the content will be integrated into the html page. 
           Simular how e.g. SVG or canvas works. A decoupled mechanisms will confuse application developer


The X3DOM model should be implemented as native browser feature, simular to SVG, in the future. Current test-implementation utilize the object/SAI model internally. In addition test-versions based on the Canvas3D layer exist. Both need a browser-extension right now to synchronize and update the DOM changes

Further Information

Fallback model (how an HTML browser can choose an X3D implementation) is available here: x3dom-fallback-model.pdf

More information can be found in the X3DOM paper at the Web3D 2009 symposium. The slides and paper are available as preprint.

X3D Mobile+HTML5 Profile proposal

Here is the X3D Mobile+HTML5 Profile slideset presented to ISO June 2010 and to the SIGGRAPH HTML5 BOF July 2010 that outlines how a common profile is achievable for both HTML5 and Mobile applications. This would give Web authors a consistent and portable palette for X3D-enabled HTML5 content.

X3D and Augmented Reality

Coming soon

Future work

Some topics might become relevant once HTML5 is established as a formal W3C Recommendation. These are not part of our current planned work.

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