HTML 5 aims to formalize Semantic HTML

HTML 5's new additions focus on Semantic HTML by allowing Web developers to easily tag a meaning to content. Learn more about these new additions, and find out which elements didn't make the cut in HTML 5.

It's kind of hard to believe that it's almost been a decade since HTML 4.01 was made official. However, it has taken browsers a while to recognize the standard, and this process continues today. I was pleased to see that the W3C has released the first draft of HTML 5 with its goal of creating Semantic HTML.

Semantic HTML

The impetus behind Semantic HTML is the creation of HTML documents that are void of any reference to how the HTML is presented. This means that Semantic HTML contains only the implied meaning of data via the use of the appropriate tags. This has been the goal of the separation of content and presentation, and HTML 5 is pushing it closer to reality.

A couple examples of Semantic HTML include only using the table element for tabular data, and actual header tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>) are used to mark important data on a page. The creation of Semantic HTML introduces a number of new features and banishes some older elements.

New additions in HTML 5

HTML 5's new additions focus on Semantic HTML by allowing Web developers to easily assign meaning to content via HTML tags. The following list provides a sampling of these elements:

  • article: Represents an independent piece of content within a page.
  • audio: Provides multimedia support.
  • canvas: Renders dynamic bitmap graphics on the fly, such as graphs, games, and so forth.
  • dialog: Marks up a conversation.
  • embed: Provides support for plug-in content.
  • footer: Represents the footer of a section.
  • header: Represents the header of a section.
  • nav: Represents a section of a document whose purpose is navigation.
  • section: Represents a generic section of a document.
  • video: Provides multimedia support.

This subset of new elements demonstrates that presentational HTML is gone. Turn your attention to CSS when approaching the task of properly delivering content to the user community. One worry with working with a new technology is backward compatibility.

The HTML 5 standard includes two conformance requirements for Web developers and the software used to view the content (the user agent). The user agent section includes guidelines to ensure older HTML is correctly rendered, so there should be no worries about breaking existing Web content.

Out with the old

A quick perusal of the first draft of HTML 5 shows that the push towards CSS for presentation continues, as relevant elements have been removed from HTML 5. These elements include font manipulation with the standard font tag, along with basefont and big.

You will no longer be able to use the underline <u> element for underlining text, and strike is gone as well. It is interesting to see the bold <b> and italics <i> elements are still in place. One element that is often overused is <center>; beginning with HTML 5, you should use CSS to horizontally center elements.

Numerous attributes have also been removed; for instance, the align, background, and bgcolor attributes have been removed from the body element.

I know the removal of frame-related elements (frame, frameset, and noframes) will receive a resounding cheer from Web developers. The negative impact on accessibility and usability were the final straw for frames. Also, the applet tag has been removed, and the object tag is now the standard.

This is just a quick list of changes; the W3C site offers a detailed list of what has changed from HTML 4 to HTML 5.

More to come

The time for a new HTML version is long overdue. It is driven by the push to separate content from presentation and separate the code.

This is only the first draft of the HTML 5 standard, so changes are likely to occur — and let's not forget that browser support will be slow to arrive, since the current version is still not fully supported. You should definitely keep an eye on the standard.

What are your thoughts on W3C standards and their usage? Do you develop standards-based Web applications? Share your thoughts with the Web Developer community.

Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.


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Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

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