ChangeProposals/summary element

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Change summary from an Attribute to an Element


This is an attempt to provide a Solomonic solution to the summary impasse, by reclassifying summary as an element with a limited set of allowed textual markup, but no active elements, in order to provide the functionality that those who have used summary as an attribute have found lacking in a mechanism that limits summary content to an attribute value, which cannot be annotated or semantically marked-up.


If authors and developers are used to the concept of using the summary attribute for the TABLE element in HTML4x, why not simply change summary from an attribute to an element (regardless of what that element is named)? As an element, summary provides those who have actually used the summary attribute, with capabilities which are not possible when summary is an attribute; one of the internationalization issues authors have faced when using the summary attribute is how to provide multi-lingual versions of information when it is limited to an attribute value, without the possibility of programmatically indicating natural language switches, through the use of the lang attribute.

If authors are as ignorant of the HTML4 attribute summary as some in the HTML WG have claimed, then they won't be confused by an HTML5 element named summary which is the child of CAPTION and which cannot have active child elements.

For legacy content, summary attribute values should be mapped to the summary element.


  1. the purpose of the summary element is to convey contextual and orientational information about tabular data; as an element without active content, the summary element provides authors and content developers with a means of programmatically annotating and clarifying such summarization information;
  2. summary is a child of CAPTION
  3. the summary element may contain: @lang, ABBR, DFN, OL, UL, LI, STRONG, EM, DL, DD
  4. the summary element CANNOT contain activatable text


Positive Effects

  • Provides authors with a means of semantically marking summarization information

Negative Effects

  • None: the transition from summary the attribute to summary the element is an example of graceful evolution

Conformance Classes Changes



Changing summary from an attribute to an element does not provide the types of "risk" inherent in other proposals concerning summarizing text for TABLE, because the basic concepts and terminology applies; the benefit is the ability to provide structured text in the summarizing information (such as OL, UL, LI, which studies have shown are better than prose to convey information to certain user groups.


  • List references