Apple breaks web storage in iOS 5.1, does not care about web apps?

Many iOS apps which rely on web storage APIs for persistent data have been broken by the recent upgrade to iOS 5.1. The issue affects apps built with PhoneGap or others which use WebKit APIs to store data. The affect for users is that they lose all their data after the upgrade. For example, it sounds like the issue has hit this app:

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Another developer says:

My statistics show users abandoning ship as their settings are wiped over and over, after each app restart.

This is a critical error that must be patched as soon as possible. Remember there’s also a delay from Apples app approval process to consider.

Put more precisely, WebKit used to store its local databases in Library/WebKit which is a location that the OS regards as persistent and which is backed up to iCloud. In iOS 5.1 this data is stored in Library/Caches which means it is regarded as temporary and likely to be deleted. The W3C Candidate Recommendation says of localStorage:

User agents should expire data from the local storage areas only for security reasons or when requested to do so by the user.

An embedded browser is not quite the same as a web browser though, and if you are using SQLite in Webkit then that falls outside the W3C HTML 5 API since Web SQL is no longer included.

The issue is complicated in that there also seems to be a bug, described here, which causes data to be lost after upgrading an app to a newer version; and there are problems with actual web apps as well as with apps that use an embedded UIWebView.

PhoneGap is fixable in that it can call native APIs and there is work going on to implement this. The danger is that more platform-specific code undermines the cross-platform benefits.

Discussions on the Apple developer forums during the beta period for 1OS 5.1 show that Apple was aware of the issue and that it is by design. The impression given is that Apple was annoyed by the number of apps using web storage to speed up their apps (whether web or native) rather than just storing customer-created content, and felt it was imposing too much burden on the constrained storage space in an iOS device.

It does not help that there is no way to increase the storage in an iPad or iPhone other than by replacing it with a newer one with more memory.

The problem is a real one, but you cannot escape the impression that Apple considers solutions like PhoneGap, or even web apps that behave like local apps, as a kind of workaround or hack that is to be discouraged in favour of apps written entirely with the iOS SDK.

Apple benefits from true native apps as they are more likely to be exclusive to its platform, and must be sold through the App Store with a fee to Apple.

The official Data Storage Guidelines for iOS are here.

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