By Richard York
Creating the underlying theory and planning how cascading style sheets should function and work in a browser are tasks of an independent organization called the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. The W3C is a group that makes recommendations about how the Internet works and how it should evolve. I emphasize should, because the World Wide Web Consortium has no control over the implementation of the standards that it defines. The W3C is comprised of member companies and organizations that come together to create agreed-upon standards for how the web should function. Many prominent companies and organizations are W3C members, including Microsoft, Adobe, The Mozilla Foundation, Apple, Opera Software, and IBM.
CSS is maintained through a group of people within the W3C called the CSS Working Group. The CSS Working Group creates documents called specifications. When a specification has been discussed and officially ratified by W3C members, it becomes a recommendation. These ratified specifications are called recommendations because the W3C has no control over the actual implementation of the language. Independent companies and organizations create that software.
The specifications created by the W3C are not limited only to web browsers; in fact, the specifications can be used in a variety of software, including word processor and spreadsheet applications, as well as by different types of hardware devices, such as PDAs and cell phones. For that reason, the software implementing a specification is referred to by the W3C as the user agent, which is a generic term that encompasses all the different types of software that implement W3C specifications.
The W3C merely recommends that a language be implemented in a certain way to ensure that the language does what is intended no matter which operating system, browser, or other type of software is being used. The goal of this standardization is to enable someone using the Netscape browser, for example, to have the same Internet experience as someone using Internet Explorer, and likewise, for developers to have a common set of tools to accomplish the task of data presentation. Were it not for web standards, developing documents for the web might require an entirely different document for a given user agent. For example, Internet Explorer would require its own proprietary document format, while Mozilla Firefox would require another. Common community standards provide website developers with the tools they need to reach an audience, regardless of the platform the audience is using.
You can find the W3C website at www.w3.org. Go there to find documents that browser makers refer to when they are looking to implement languages such as CSS into a browser or other software. Be advised, these specifications lean heavily toward the technical side. They aren’t intended as documentation for people who use CSS; rather, they are aimed at those who write programs that interpret CSS. Despite the heavily technical nature of the W3C specification documents, many web developers refer to the W3C documents as end-user documentation anyway, since it is the most complete resource.