Polyfills allow web developers to use an API regardless of whether it is supported by a browser or not, and usually with minimal overhead. Typically they first check if a browser supports an API, and use it if available, otherwise using their own implementation. Polyfills themselves use other, more supported features, and thus different polyfills may be needed for different browsers. The term is also used as a verb: polyfilling is providing a polyfill for a feature.
shim.gif, and similar terms such as progressive enhancement and graceful degradation were not appropriate, so he invented a new term. The term is based on the spackling paste brand Polyfilla, a paste used to cover up cracks and holes in walls, and the meaning "fill in holes (in functionality) in many (poly-) ways". The word since gained popularity, particularly due to its use by Paul Irish and in Modernizr documentation.
The distinction that Sharp makes is:
What makes a polyfill different from the techniques we have already, like a shim, is this: if you removed the polyfill script, your code would continue to work, without any changes required in spite of the polyfill being removed.
This distinction is not drawn by other authors. At times various other distinctions are drawn between shims, polyfills, and fallbacks, but there are no generally accepted distinctions: most consider polyfills a form of shim. The term polyfiller is also occasionally found.
document.createElement("tagname")for each of the new HTML5 elements, which causes IE to parse them correctly. It also includes basic default styling for those HTML5 elements.
<audio>elements, including the HTML5 MediaElement API, in older browsers using Flash or Silverlight plug-ins. It also provides an optional media player UI for those elements, which is consistent across all browsers.
"This piece of information makes building an HTML5 compatibility shim for IE7 far easier than had previously been assumed."
The recommendations... represent the collective knowledge of developers who have been deep in the HTML5 trenches
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