How-To Geek

Forward Compatibility

Forward compatibility, like backwards compatibility, is a compatibility concept used in system and product design. Unlike backwards compatibility, wherein a new system is designed to accept data from an old system (such as DVD players, invented long after the CD player, being designed to accept CDs), forwards compatibility is a design strategy wherein a product or system in the present is designed for maximum compatibility with future versions of itself.

Two great examples from the technology world are HTML and PNG image files. HTML is designed to ignore all unknown tags which allows for a smooth browsing experience even for those with older browsers; older browser engines that haven’t been updated for the newest HTML tags don’t break when they encounter those tags, they simply ignore them. The same mechanism is at place with the PNG image format. The PNG format divides the image data into sections and the sections are either critical or ancillary. All past, present, and future versions of the PNG format respect the critical flag, but the newer features that rely on the ancillary flagged sections can be safely ignored by older applications.

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