MHTML / MIME HTML - Another Good Microsoft Creation

Posted in Wed, 14 Jan 2009 07:09:00 GMT

Microsoft's contribution to Web 2.0's AJAX revolution is well known with their creation of the XMLHttpRequest Object. Although it didn't take off until Firefox and Google picked it up, it was created by Microsoft, so they do deserve some kudos. Another good Microsoft creation that deserves some credit is MHTML (MIME HTML) which allows all of webpages referenced resources to be downloaded and saved in a single file. This way you can avoid having the manageability problem of many loose files which many browsers produce when you save a web page. This is very useful for archiving webpages to file servers and local disk as well as emailing webpages to people.

I'd like to see MHTML, or something similar, become a true industry standard so we can move away from the loose files downloads which are very inconvenient for archival purposes. Additionally, many CSS stylesheets now disrupt nice printing of pages which limits the ability of PDF printing for archival purposes..

An alternative to MHTML would be ZIP containers similar to ODF, OOXML, and XPS. Moving to standardized, containerized files will provide the same benefit of MIME HTML, allowing entire webpages and associated resources to be treated as a single file for better usability.

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  1. http://hype-free.blogspot.com/ said 1 day later:

    Coincidentally recently I’ve written a post about creating MHTML’s (with Perl :-)): http://hype-free.blogspot.com/2009/01/using-single-file-to-serve-up-multiple.html

    I found it to be interesting but it has several flaws (besides not being properly documented): requiring absolute URL’s and not supporting compression. JAR’s IMHO are a much better way for dealing with this problem.

  2. John Wang said 1 day later:

    Thanks for posting. Your post contains some good information as well as a new requirement that I wasn’t considering, which seems to be the online use of webpage archives.

    My use has primarily been to download webpages for offline archival, like printing a webpage as a PDF. For this purpose, Firefox’s JAR support isn’t a usable solution because it doesn’t allow you to save a webpage as a JAR (that I’m aware of).

    It seems like a lot of the problems associated with Firefox’s use of JAR is that they are not using JAR for its intended purpose, Java code. It would be better if they either used the ZIP extension or created a new one IMO. Using a “Java ARchive” for webpages seems very unintuitive and problematic.

    As for MHTML, I believe some concerns can be addressed with new product updates. The requirement for absolute URLs is likely due to the primary use case being the offline downloading of HTML pages in which case relative (offpage) URLs are not very usable. Inline images and other resources, however, are supported through the Content-ID header. Regarding compression, the current state of affairs appears to have webservers perform compression using mod_deflate and similar approaches because not all browsers support compression.

    I think both approaches can use wider adoption to refine their approaches. Currently, JAR seems to have a few more challenges for basic usability as Firefox does not allow you to save pages as JARs and the security issue. Those seem to be larger challenges to overcome than the ones facing MHTML which may be more specific to online use and large files.

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