The World Wide Web Consortium Issues HTML 4.0 as a W3C Recommendation

HTML 4.0 Fact Sheet

Press Release

Fact Sheet


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In recognition of the increasing importance of the Web, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has released HTML 4.0 (HyperText Markup Language version 4.0) as a W3C Recommendation. This represents a culmination of work with Member organizations over a period of several years. HTML 4.0 builds upon W3C's earlier Recommendation for HTML 3.2 adding a host of new features.

The HTML 4.0 specification was developed by the W3C HTML Working Group, which includes key industry players such as Adobe Systems, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Netscape Communications, Novell, Reuters, SoftQuad, Spyglass and Sun Microsystems; content specialists at HotWired, PathFinder and Verso, and experts in the fields of accessibility and internationalization.

HTML 4.0 is the product of a cross-industry agreement on a wide range of features for richer and more accessible Web pages. The W3C Recommendation for HTML 4.0 comes at a time when people are browsing the Web from an increasingly broad range of devices, from smart TVs to cellular phones. HTML is now a fundamental building block for networked computers and mission critical information systems for corporations and their trading partners.

The original HTML specification was written in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, now Director of W3C, while he was at CERN. Innovations from NCSA and other contributors were reviewed under the auspices of the Internet Engineering Task Force, and published as the HTML 2.0 specification (RFC 1866), edited by Dan Connolly, now the Architecture Domain Leader at W3C. Subsequent work by W3C led to the HTML 3.2 Recommendation, representing industry consensus on HTML features in 1996.

Key Features

HTML is very widely used as the data format for documents on the World Wide Web. HTML 4.0 is an SGML application conforming to the International Standard ISO 8879 - Standard Generalized Markup Language. It enables hypertext documents to be represented using text-based markup, providing interoperability across a wide range of platforms.

HTML 4.0 includes features for basic document idioms such as headings, lists, paragraphs, tables and images, as well as hypertext links, and electronic forms. These can be rendered on graphical displays, text-only displays or speech-based browsers, as well as printed to hardcopy media. Additional features support meta-information describing link relationships and document properties, such as authorship, and copyright statements.

HTML 4.0 adds enhancements in several areas to make the Web more appealing for both content providers and users:

Scripts allow Web applications to dynamically update pages, while style sheets give rich control over appearence. This together with the improvements to forms and tables makes HTML 4.0 a great improvement on 3.2 for building exciting pages that load quickly.

HTML 4.0 includes many features that promise to open up the Web to people with disabilities, for instance, richer descriptions for images, labels for form fields, and ways to associate table data with headers for use with speech-based browsers or Braille readers.

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is developing detailed authoring guidelines for how to make your pages accessible to all. This will open up the Web to millions of users who hitherto have been held back by pages designed only for people using graphical browsers.

World-wide access was critical to the members of the W3C HTML Working Group. Incorporating the expertise of leading experts on internationalization, HTML 4.0 provides the markup needed for any language including multilingual documents  -  authors can now make their documents more accessible to users, whatever their language.

HTML 4.0 accomplishes this by fully supporting the international ISO 10646 character set, and allowing authors to manage differences in language, text direction, and character encoding schemes. For example, authors can now use right-to-left or mixed direction text.


HTML has been applied to a very wide range of applications. For example: personal home pages, advertising and marketing, product support, home shopping, newsletters, directories, news services, reference information and easy to use front ends to existing information systems. It is increasingly being used for building new corporate-wide information systems for companies and their trading partners (intranets and extranets).

HTML is typically used together with the Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) to provide access to Web pages on host computers on the global Internet or within Corporate intranets. It can also be used to access information held on local media such as CD-ROMs.

Further information on HTML can be found at

Press Release

Fact Sheet


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