WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

WAVE5 Development Begins

WAVE 5.0

Yesterday I made the first set of commits to the WAVE5 project in our internal SVN code repository, signaling the official start of development for the fifth version of WebAIM’s popular WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool. This project has been in the planning and design stage for several months now, and although we haven’t actually built anything yet, we’re far enough along to start sharing a few of our plans and solicit feedback and ideas from WAVE users.

The current 4.0 version of WAVE, which we released in early 2008, uses an XML-based evaluation platform that we began in late 2005, using the best systems and technologies available to us at the time. Although that was less than five years ago, there have since been numerous exciting advances in web languages, libraries, and systems, providing us the opportunity to create a faster, more flexible evaluation platform while significantly reducing the size and complexity of the WAVE code base. For this reason, WAVE5.0 is likely to be almost a complete rewrite, a process which we expect to take about a year to complete. With any luck, we’ll have a public beta to show off late this fall, with an official release in early 2011. Of course, all this is just an estimate at this point, but we’ll post updates here if there are any major changes to the timeline.

Features and Functionality

One of the primary goals of WAVE5 is to switch our interaction model from that of the classic “Web 1.0” website to a fully interactive web application. Instead of submitting a url and getting a mostly static report back, WAVE5 will allow WAVE users to filter, change, and otherwise modify a wave report client-side in real time. Rather than just producing a report, WAVE5 will provide the tools and resources necessary for evaluators to fully understand and utilize the information and suggestions it provides.

As part of our goal to help make WAVE more useful for everyone, WAVE5 also includes an ambitious project to increase the size and utility of our internal documentation by an order of magnitude (at least). We are preparing a dedicated help page for every WAVE icon or rule, detailing it’s purpose and algorithm and providing suggestions for fixing any problems it may have found. Additionally, we plan to have a longer WAVE tutorial for new and advanced users, and documents mapping WAVE’s rules and icons to common accessibility standards and guidelines. The application interface will allow for easy reference of an icon found in a report to the corresponding documentation.

Another important aspect of the WAVE5 development process is the extra importance we’re putting on the WAVE Toolbar. With WAVE4, the Firefox toolbar was a side project build largely after the bulk of the WAVE website work was completed. With WAVE5, all development will be done in parallel, server and toolbar, to make sure that was have parity of features, stability, and release dates across both versions. In other words, all the plans and features just mentioned will also be available in the WAVE Toolbar, which will be released the same day as the WAVE web application.

Along with these major changes, we expect to see noticeable improvements in the time it takes WAVE to process pages, and although end users will never see it, our new build, test, and administration system will bring major decreases in the time it takes us to fix bugs and develop new functionality. At least that’s the plan.

Public Feedback

Although we have nothing to show off yet, we are nevertheless soliciting public feedback at this point. If there are specific WAVE features you’ve always wanted to see, or some part of WAVE that you feel could be improved, now is the perfect time to let us know. Ideas and suggestions can be left as comments on this post, or send directly to the WAVE team via the contact page on the WAVE website.


  1. Jim Tobias

    I love WAVE, use it every day, and recommend it to everyone. So good luck on the new version.

    Did you do any *formal* market research to drive development? Getting public feedback is good, and a suggestion box is good. But you should take WAVE more seriously as a real product. It deserves a rigorous approach to its sustainability and ongoing success. (Don’t feel the need to take me seriously; I made the same pitch unsuccessfully to CAST about Bobby in 1997, and that worked out okay anyway, right?)

  2. Aaron Leventhal

    Will WAVE support ARIA?

    What will the license be? Any thought on collaborating with other groups, such as Open AJAX, on the markup rules?

    Since this is now going to have to work in real time, will WAVE work as a plugin in the browser? What about working with groups that are adding accessibility testing into Firebug tools?

  3. iamboz

    I only use the toolbar version. I’ve always wanted a list view of the errors on a page. Sometimes the error icons don’t show next to the actual error or don’t show at all.

    Currently you display this message: “Uh, WAVE has detected 5 errors.” I would love it if clicking on “5 errors” expanded a list of the errors.

  4. Rich Schwerdtfeger

    WebAIM should be looking at the rule sets created to support WCAG 2 and WAI-ARIA in the Open Ajax Alliance Accessibility tools task force. Browser plug-ins are already being developed to use it and three major tools vendors are on board to support the rule sets: IBM, ParaSoft, and Deque.

    The effort also supports an embrace and extend policy.

    Or – you could reinvent the wheel.

  5. Aaron Andersen

    In response to some of the comments made above…

    As far as the license, WAVE5 will probably be licensed the same as WAVE4, which is “free as in beer, with some usage restrictions on the web version.” We have had discussions about open sourcing it a few times, but never came up with a plan that all the necessary people could agree on.

    The most important thing to us is that WAVE is and will always continue to be a free tool, and be as useful as possible to the web developers and accessibility testers using it. As such, most of our development planning has been focused on rules, features, and interface, and not on market research. We are working on a few ideas to help improve sustainability of the tool (and are certainly open to more suggestions), but it isn’t our top priority at the moment.

    The rules and evaluation suite in WAVE4 was developed and refined by WebAIM over many years, based on our experience maintaining the WAVE tool and our accessibility training, consulting, and design work. The WAVE5 test suite will be based on those tests, with additions and corrections as necessary from user suggestions, our increased experience with accessibility, and the changing nature of web systems, languages, and technologies. Although we always provide updates with rule changes as necessary, major work on the WAVE5 test suite needs to completed in the next few months in order for us meet our goal of releasing the tool by the end of the year.

    We were recently made aware of the work being done by the Open Ajax Alliance Accessibility group on evaluation rules, and will continue to review and follow their suite as it progresses. However, since they don’t have a deadline for completion (that I know of), we cannot say if any of it will be used in WAVE5 or not. Additionally, fundamental differences between our testing and evaluation philosophy and theirs makes much of what each of us does incompatible with the products created by the other, so I doubt that WAVE will ever completely implement their complete set of tests.

    WAVE5 will support ARIA as much as possible, both as a way of making the WAVE tool itself as accessible as we can, and also as part of the updated test suite inasmuch as we can find specific things to test and report on.

    WAVE will never be a browser plugin per se, but the WAVE extension for Firefox will have (as much as possible) all the features of the web application (and possibly more). An interactive list of all the icons presented on the page will definitely be included in both versions.

  6. Rich Schwerdtfeger

    Deadline for completion for OAA WCAG 2 work will be October.

  7. Amy Goldman

    as a colleague of Len Kasday, original WAVE developer (RIP), I am thrilled to see that his legacy lives on…thanks for your continued work on this tool.

  8. Gian Wild

    Fantastic news. WAVE is one of the best accessibility testing tools available and it’s great to see continued work on it.

  9. John Brandt

    Great news. As for features…I use the on-line/website version, the Dreamweaver plug-in version and the Firefox plug-in version. Often if I test a site with each version, I get different results. I can’t be sure, but I think the on-line version is the most “conservative” of the versions and will “find the most errors.” Anyway to make them all behave the same way?

  10. Cheryl Kobashigawa

    We’re very happy with the WAVE toolbar for Firefox; will those “hidden” errors be resolved in V5 (the errors that sometimes don’t appear and you have to look at all the yellow boxes to find the error)? Feature-wise, we use the on-line version as well as the Firefox toolbar. I agree with everyone above, WAVE is one of the best accessibility testing tools.