In a surprise announcement on the jQuery blog the team has decided that jQuery 1.9 will be the last edition to support legacy editions of Internet Explorer. jQuery 2.0 — planned for release in 2013 — will no longer support IE6, 7 and 8.
In essence, jQuery 2.0 will be a leaner, faster library without old IE bloat such as DOM selection routines, different event models and HTML5 shims. jQuery 1.9 will continue to be developed and support the older IEs. The team advise that you’ll be able to support every browser using conditional comments, e.g.
<!--[if lt IE 9]> <script src="jquery-1.9.0.js"></script> <![endif]--> <!--[if gte IE 9]><!--> <script src="jquery-2.0.0.js"><</script> <!--<![endif]-->
No one expects old editions of IE to be supported forever and some will applaud the decision to abandon browsers which have caused development grief for many years. But the statement is surprising for several reasons.
First, while IE6 and 7 usage has fallen to below 2%, they remain the browsers of choice for many large corporations, government departments and the Chinese. IE8 is likely to fall below 10% by 2013 but it’s the latest edition available to those on Windows XP. Almost one in three people use the OS and, while it’s dying, it’s lingering far longer than Microsoft anticipated.
[The following section has been revised. Thanks to everyone who pointed out the error in the original code.]
It also introduces the problem of having two forked code bases for the same library. Inevitably, there will be bugs and differences between 1.9 and 2.0 — especially as jQuery evolves beyond those editions. What do you do when your code works in one but not the other?
Third: the primary reason developers use jQuery is to circumvent browser compatibility issues. The original purpose of jQuery, Prototype, Mootools, YUI and similar libraries was to provide a consistent set of objects and methods which abstracted the differing browser APIs. Wrappers are placed around features such as DOM selection and event delegation to smooth out implementation wrinkles.
Today, the differences between modern browsers is negligible. Consider the DOM
querySelectorAll(CSS selector) method; it’s supported everywhere (even in IE8) and will always be faster than jQuery’s
Fourth is the confusion the update will cause. Currently, developers can usually migrate to the latest version without breaking their scripts. It doesn’t matter how much publicity jQuery 2.0 receives, many people will think it’s “better” than version 1.9. They’ll upgrade then complain bitterly when their site fails in IE7.
Finally, if jQuery 1.9 works on all browsers, why bother with jQuery 2.0 which doesn’t? It might run a little faster but will that difference be noticeable? The library is already efficient and uses native APIs when they’re available.
I can understand the motivation behind this decision but 2013 feels a little premature. jQuery became popular because of its support for legacy browsers; the team shouldn’t abandon that policy too hastily.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.