1 About the HTML 4 Specification

1.1 How the specification is organized

This specification is divided into the following sections:

Sections 2 and 3: Introduction to HTML 4
The introduction describes HTML's place in the scheme of the World Wide Web, provides a brief history of the development of HTML, highlights what can be done with HTML 4, and provides some HTML authoring tips.

The brief SGML tutorial gives readers some understanding of HTML's relationship to SGML and gives summary information on how to read the HTML Document Type Definition (DTD).

Sections 4 - 24: HTML 4 reference manual
The bulk of the reference manual consists of the HTML language reference, which defines all elements and attributes of the language.

This document has been organized by topic rather than by the grammar of HTML. Topics are grouped into three categories: structure, presentation, and interactivity. Although it is not easy to divide HTML constructs perfectly into these three categories, the model reflects the HTML Working Group's experience that separating a document's structure from its presentation produces more effective and maintainable documents.

The language reference consists of the following information:

The first appendix contains information about changes from HTML 3.2 to help authors and implementors with the transition to HTML 4, and changes from the 18 December 1997 specification. The second appendix contains performance and implementation notes, and is primarily intended to help implementors create user agents for HTML 4.
A list of normative and informative references.
Three indexes give readers rapid access to the definition of key concepts, elements and attributes.

1.2 Document conventions

This document has been written with two types of readers in mind: authors and implementors. We hope the specification will provide authors with the tools they need to write efficient, attractive, and accessible documents, without over-exposing them to HTML's implementation details. Implementors, however, should find all they need to build conforming user agents.

The specification may be approached in several ways:

  • Read from beginning to end. The specification begins with a general presentation of HTML and becomes more and more technical and specific towards the end.

  • Quick access to information. In order to get information about syntax and semantics as quickly as possible, the online version of the specification includes the following features:
    1. Every reference to an element or attribute is linked to its definition in the specification. Each element or attribute is defined in only one location.
    2. Every page includes links to the indexes, so you never are more than two links away from finding the definition of an element or attribute.
    3. The front pages of each section of the language reference manual extend the initial table of contents with more detail about that section.

1.2.1 Elements and attributes

Element names are written in uppercase letters (e.g., BODY). Attribute names are written in lowercase letters (e.g., lang, onsubmit). Recall that in HTML, element and attribute names are case-insensitive; the convention is meant to encourage readability.

Element and attribute names in this document have been marked up and may be rendered specially by some user agents.

Each attribute definition specifies the type of its value. If the type allows a small set of possible values, the definition lists the set of values, separated by a bar (|).

After the type information, each attribute definition indicates the case-sensitivity of its values, between square brackets ("[]"). See the section on case information for details.

1.2.2 Notes and examples

Informative notes are emphasized to stand out from surrounding text and may be rendered specially by some user agents.

All examples illustrating deprecated usage are marked as "DEPRECATED EXAMPLE". Deprecated examples also include recommended alternate solutions. All examples that illustrates illegal usage are clearly marked "ILLEGAL EXAMPLE".

Examples and notes have been marked up and may be rendered specially by some user agents.

1.3 Acknowledgments

Thanks to everyone who has helped to author the working drafts that went into the HTML 4 specification, and to all those who have sent suggestions and corrections.

Many thanks to the Web Accessibility Initiative task force (WAI HC group) for their work on improving the accessibility of HTML and to T.V. Raman (Adobe) for his early work on developing accessible forms.

The authors of this specification, the members of the W3C HTML Working Group, deserve much applause for their diligent review of this document, their constructive comments, and their hard work: John D. Burger (MITRE), Steve Byrne (JavaSoft), Martin J. Dürst (University of Zurich), Daniel Glazman (Electricité de France), Scott Isaacs (Microsoft), Murray Maloney (GRIF), Steven Pemberton (CWI), Robert Pernett (Lotus), Jared Sorensen (Novell), Powell Smith (IBM), Robert Stevahn (HP), Ed Tecot (Microsoft), Jeffrey Veen (HotWired), Mike Wexler (Adobe), Misha Wolf (Reuters), and Lauren Wood (SoftQuad).

Thank you Dan Connolly (W3C) for rigorous and bountiful input as part-time editor and thoughtful guidance as chairman of the HTML Working Group. Thank you Sally Khudairi (W3C) for your indispensable work on press releases.

Thanks to David M. Abrahamson and Roger Price for their careful reading of the specification and constructive comments.

Thanks to Jan Kärrman, author of html2ps for helping so much in creating the Postscript version of the specification.

Of particular help from the W3C at Sophia-Antipolis were Janet Bertot, Bert Bos, Stephane Boyera, Daniel Dardailler, Yves Lafon, Håkon Lie, Chris Lilley, and Colas Nahaboo (Bull).

Lastly, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee without whom none of this would have been possible.

1.3.1 Acknowledgments for the current revision

Many thanks to Shane McCarron for tracking errata for this revision of the specification.

1.4 Copyright Notice

For information about copyrights, please refer to the W3C Intellectual Property Notice, the W3C Document Notice, and the W3C IPR Software Notice.

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