This is a work in progress! For the latest updates from the HTML WG, possibly including important bug fixes, please look at the editor's draft instead. There may also be a more up-to-date Working Draft with changes based on resolution of Last Call issues.
This section only applies to user agents, data mining tools, and conformance checkers.
The rules for parsing XML documents into DOM trees are covered by the next section, entitled "The XHTML syntax".
For HTML documents, user agents must use the parsing rules described in this section to generate the DOM trees. Together, these rules define what is referred to as the HTML parser.
While the HTML syntax described in this specification bears a close resemblance to SGML and XML, it is a separate language with its own parsing rules.
Some earlier versions of HTML (in particular from HTML2 to HTML4) were based on SGML and used SGML parsing rules. However, few (if any) web browsers ever implemented true SGML parsing for HTML documents; the only user agents to strictly handle HTML as an SGML application have historically been validators. The resulting confusion — with validators claiming documents to have one representation while widely deployed Web browsers interoperably implemented a different representation — has wasted decades of productivity. This version of HTML thus returns to a non-SGML basis.
Authors interested in using SGML tools in their authoring pipeline are encouraged to use XML tools and the XML serialization of HTML.
This specification defines the parsing rules for HTML documents, whether they are syntactically correct or not. Certain points in the parsing algorithm are said to be parse errors. The error handling for parse errors is well-defined: user agents must either act as described below when encountering such problems, or must abort processing at the first error that they encounter for which they do not wish to apply the rules described below.
Conformance checkers must report at least one parse error condition to the user if one or more parse error conditions exist in the document and must not report parse error conditions if none exist in the document. Conformance checkers may report more than one parse error condition if more than one parse error condition exists in the document. Conformance checkers are not required to recover from parse errors.
Parse errors are only errors with the syntax of HTML. In addition to checking for parse errors, conformance checkers will also verify that the document obeys all the other conformance requirements described in this specification.
There is only one set of states for the tokenizer stage and the tree construction stage, but the tree construction stage is reentrant, meaning that while the tree construction stage is handling one token, the tokenizer might be resumed, causing further tokens to be emitted and processed before the first token's processing is complete.
In the following example, the tree construction stage will be called upon to handle a "p" start tag token while handling the "script" end tag token:
... <script> document.write('<p>'); </script> ...
To handle these cases, parsers have a script nesting level, which must be initially set to zero, and a parser pause flag, which must be initially set to false.
The stream of Unicode characters that comprises the input to the tokenization stage will be initially seen by the user agent as a stream of bytes (typically coming over the network or from the local file system). The bytes encode the actual characters according to a particular character encoding, which the user agent must use to decode the bytes into characters.
For XML documents, the algorithm user agents must use to determine the character encoding is given by the XML specification. This section does not apply to XML documents. [XML]
In some cases, it might be impractical to unambiguously determine the encoding before parsing the document. Because of this, this specification provides for a two-pass mechanism with an optional pre-scan. Implementations are allowed, as described below, to apply a simplified parsing algorithm to whatever bytes they have available before beginning to parse the document. Then, the real parser is started, using a tentative encoding derived from this pre-parse and other out-of-band metadata. If, while the document is being loaded, the user agent discovers an encoding declaration that conflicts with this information, then the parser can get reinvoked to perform a parse of the document with the real encoding.
User agents must use the following algorithm (the encoding sniffing algorithm) to determine the character encoding to use when decoding a document in the first pass. This algorithm takes as input any out-of-band metadata available to the user agent (e.g. the Content-Type metadata of the document) and all the bytes available so far, and returns an encoding and a confidence. The confidence is either tentative, certain, or irrelevant. The encoding used, and whether the confidence in that encoding is tentative or certain, is used during the parsing to determine whether to change the encoding. If no encoding is necessary, e.g. because the parser is operating on a stream of Unicode characters and doesn't have to use an encoding at all, then the confidence is irrelevant.
If the user has explicitly instructed the user agent to override the document's character encoding with a specific encoding, optionally return that encoding with the confidence certain and abort these steps.
If the transport layer specifies an encoding, and it is supported, return that encoding with the confidence certain, and abort these steps.
The user agent may wait for more bytes of the resource to be available, either in this step or at any later step in this algorithm. For instance, a user agent might wait 500ms or 1024 bytes, whichever came first. In general preparsing the source to find the encoding improves performance, as it reduces the need to throw away the data structures used when parsing upon finding the encoding information. However, if the user agent delays too long to obtain data to determine the encoding, then the cost of the delay could outweigh any performance improvements from the preparse.
The authoring conformance requirements for character encoding declarations limit them to only appearing in the first 1024 bytes. User agents are therefore encouraged to use the preparse algorithm below (part of these steps) on the first 1024 bytes, but not to stall beyond that.
For each of the rows in the following table, starting with the first one and going down, if there are as many or more bytes available than the number of bytes in the first column, and the first bytes of the file match the bytes given in the first column, then return the encoding given in the cell in the second column of that row, with the confidence certain, and abort these steps:
|Bytes in Hexadecimal
|EF BB BF
This step looks for Unicode Byte Order Marks (BOMs).
Otherwise, the user agent will have to search for explicit character encoding information in the file itself. This should proceed as follows:
Let position be a pointer to a byte in the input stream, initially pointing at the first byte. If at any point during these substeps the user agent either runs out of bytes or decides that scanning further bytes would not be efficient, then skip to the next step of the overall character encoding detection algorithm. User agents may decide that scanning any bytes is not efficient, in which case these substeps are entirely skipped.
Now, repeat the following "two" steps until the algorithm aborts (either because user agent aborts, as described above, or because a character encoding is found):
If position points to:
Advance the position pointer so that it points at the first 0x3E byte which is preceded by two 0x2D bytes (i.e. at the end of an ASCII '-->' sequence) and comes after the 0x3C byte that was found. (The two 0x2D bytes can be the same as the those in the '<!--' sequence.)
Advance the position pointer so that it points at the next 0x09, 0x0A, 0x0C, 0x0D, 0x20, or 0x2F byte (the one in sequence of characters matched above).
Let attribute list be an empty list of strings.
Let got pragma be false.
Let need pragma be null.
Let charset be the null value (which, for the purposes of this algorithm, is distinct from an unrecognised encoding or the empty string).
Attributes: Get an attribute and its value. If no attribute was sniffed, then jump to the processing step below.
If the attribute's name is already in attribute list, then return to the step labeled attributes.
Add the attribute's name to attribute list.
Run the appropriate step from the following list, if one applies:
If the attribute's value is "
content-type", then set got
pragma to true.
Apply the algorithm for extracting an encoding
meta element, giving the
attribute's value as the string to parse. If an encoding is
returned, and if charset is still set
to null, let charset be the encoding
returned, and set need pragma to
Let charset be the encoding corresponding to the attribute's value, and set need pragma to false.
Return to the step labeled attributes.
Processing: If need pragma is null, then jump to the second step of the overall "two step" algorithm.
If mode is true but got pragma is false, then jump to the second step of the overall "two step" algorithm.
If charset is a UTF-16 encoding, change the value of charset to UTF-8.
If charset is not a supported character encoding, then jump to the second step of the overall "two step" algorithm.
Return the encoding given by charset, with confidence tentative, and abort all these steps.
Advance the position pointer so that it points at the next 0x09 (ASCII TAB), 0x0A (ASCII LF), 0x0C (ASCII FF), 0x0D (ASCII CR), 0x20 (ASCII space), or 0x3E (ASCII >) byte.
Repeatedly get an attribute until no further attributes can be found, then jump to the second step in the overall "two step" algorithm.
Advance the position pointer so that it points at the first 0x3E byte (ASCII >) that comes after the 0x3C byte that was found.
Do nothing with that byte.
When the above "two step" algorithm says to get an attribute, it means doing this:
If the byte at position is one of 0x09 (ASCII TAB), 0x0A (ASCII LF), 0x0C (ASCII FF), 0x0D (ASCII CR), 0x20 (ASCII space), or 0x2F (ASCII /) then advance position to the next byte and redo this substep.
If the byte at position is 0x3E (ASCII >), then abort the "get an attribute" algorithm. There isn't one.
Otherwise, the byte at position is the start of the attribute name. Let attribute name and attribute value be the empty string.
Attribute name: Process the byte at position as follows:
Advance position to the next byte and return to the previous step.
Spaces: If the byte at position is one of 0x09 (ASCII TAB), 0x0A (ASCII LF), 0x0C (ASCII FF), 0x0D (ASCII CR), or 0x20 (ASCII space) then advance position to the next byte, then, repeat this step.
If the byte at position is not 0x3D (ASCII =), abort the "get an attribute" algorithm. The attribute's name is the value of attribute name, its value is the empty string.
Advance position past the 0x3D (ASCII =) byte.
Value: If the byte at position is one of 0x09 (ASCII TAB), 0x0A (ASCII LF), 0x0C (ASCII FF), 0x0D (ASCII CR), or 0x20 (ASCII space) then advance position to the next byte, then, repeat this step.
Process the byte at position as follows:
Process the byte at position as follows:
Advance position to the next byte and return to the previous step.
For the sake of interoperability, user agents should not use a pre-scan algorithm that returns different results than the one described above. (But, if you do, please at least let us know, so that we can improve this algorithm and benefit everyone...)
If the user agent has information on the likely encoding for this page, e.g. based on the encoding of the page when it was last visited, then return that encoding, with the confidence tentative, and abort these steps.
The user agent may attempt to autodetect the character encoding from applying frequency analysis or other algorithms to the data stream. Such algorithms may use information about the resource other than the resource's contents, including the address of the resource. If autodetection succeeds in determining a character encoding, then return that encoding, with the confidence tentative, and abort these steps. [UNIVCHARDET]
The UTF-8 encoding has a highly detectable bit pattern. Documents that contain bytes with values greater than 0x7F which match the UTF-8 pattern are very likely to be UTF-8, while documents with byte sequences that do not match it are very likely not. User-agents are therefore encouraged to search for this common encoding. [PPUTF8] [UTF8DET]
Otherwise, return an implementation-defined or user-specified default character encoding, with the confidence tentative.
In controlled environments or in environments where the
encoding of documents can be prescribed (for example, for user
agents intended for dedicated use in new networks), the
UTF-8 encoding is
In other environments, the default encoding is typically dependent on the user's locale (an approximation of the languages, and thus often encodings, of the pages that the user is likely to frequent). The following table gives suggested defaults based on the user's locale, for compatibility with legacy content. Locales are identified by BCP 47 language tags. [BCP47]
|Suggested default encoding
|All other locales
The document's character encoding must immediately be set to the value returned from this algorithm, at the same time as the user agent uses the returned value to select the decoder to use for the input stream.
This algorithm is a willful violation of the HTTP specification, which requires that the encoding be assumed to be ISO-8859-1 in the absence of a character encoding declaration to the contrary, and of RFC 2046, which requires that the encoding be assumed to be US-ASCII in the absence of a character encoding declaration to the contrary. This specification's third approach is motivated by a desire to be maximally compatible with legacy content. [HTTP] [RFC2046]
It is not unusual for Web browsers to support dozens if not upwards of a hundred distinct character encodings.
User agents must support the preferred MIME name of every character encoding they support, and should support all the IANA-registered names and aliases of every character encoding they support. [IANACHARSET]
When comparing a string specifying a character encoding with the name or alias of a character encoding to determine if they are equal, user agents must remove any leading or trailing space characters in both names, and then perform the comparison in an ASCII case-insensitive manner.
When a user agent would otherwise use an encoding given in the first column of the following table to either convert content to Unicode characters or convert Unicode characters to bytes, it must instead use the encoding given in the cell in the second column of the same row. When a byte or sequence of bytes is treated differently due to this encoding aliasing, it is said to have been misinterpreted for compatibility.
The requirement to treat certain encodings as other encodings according to the table above is a willful violation of the W3C Character Model specification, motivated by a desire for compatibility with legacy content. [CHARMOD]
When a user agent is to use the UTF-16 encoding but no BOM has been found, user agents must default to UTF-16LE.
Support for encodings based on EBCDIC is not recommended. This encoding is rarely used for publicly-facing Web content.
Support for UTF-32 is not recommended. This encoding is rarely used, and frequently implemented incorrectly.
This specification does not make any attempt to support EBCDIC-based encodings and UTF-32 in its algorithms; support and use of these encodings can thus lead to unexpected behavior in implementations of this specification.
Given an encoding, the bytes in the input stream must be converted to Unicode characters for the tokenizer, as described by the rules for that encoding, except that the leading U+FEFF BYTE ORDER MARK character, if any, must not be stripped by the encoding layer (it is stripped by the rule below).
Bytes or sequences of bytes in the original byte stream that could not be converted to Unicode code points must be converted to U+FFFD REPLACEMENT CHARACTERs. Specifically, if the encoding is UTF-8, the bytes must be decoded with the error handling defined in this specification.
Bytes or sequences of bytes in the original byte stream that did not conform to the encoding specification (e.g. invalid UTF-8 byte sequences in a UTF-8 input stream) are errors that conformance checkers are expected to report.
One leading U+FEFF BYTE ORDER MARK character must be ignored if any are present.
The requirement to strip a U+FEFF BYTE ORDER MARK character regardless of whether that character was used to determine the byte order is a willful violation of Unicode, motivated by a desire to increase the resilience of user agents in the face of naïve transcoders.
Any occurrences of any characters in the ranges U+0001 to U+0008, U+000E to U+001F, U+007F to U+009F, U+FDD0 to U+FDEF, and characters U+000B, U+FFFE, U+FFFF, U+1FFFE, U+1FFFF, U+2FFFE, U+2FFFF, U+3FFFE, U+3FFFF, U+4FFFE, U+4FFFF, U+5FFFE, U+5FFFF, U+6FFFE, U+6FFFF, U+7FFFE, U+7FFFF, U+8FFFE, U+8FFFF, U+9FFFE, U+9FFFF, U+AFFFE, U+AFFFF, U+BFFFE, U+BFFFF, U+CFFFE, U+CFFFF, U+DFFFE, U+DFFFF, U+EFFFE, U+EFFFF, U+FFFFE, U+FFFFF, U+10FFFE, and U+10FFFF are parse errors. These are all control characters or permanently undefined Unicode characters (noncharacters).
U+000D CARRIAGE RETURN (CR) characters and U+000A LINE FEED (LF) characters are treated specially. Any CR characters that are followed by LF characters must be removed, and any CR characters not followed by LF characters must be converted to LF characters. Thus, newlines in HTML DOMs are represented by LF characters, and there are never any CR characters in the input to the tokenization stage.
The next input character is the first character in the input stream that has not yet been consumed. Initially, the next input character is the first character in the input. The current input character is the last character to have been consumed.
The insertion point is the position (just before a
character or just before the end of the input stream) where content
document.write() is actually
inserted. The insertion point is relative to the position of the
character immediately after it, it is not an absolute offset into
the input stream. Initially, the insertion point is
The "EOF" character in the tables below is a conceptual character
representing the end of the input stream. If the parser
is a script-created parser, then the end of the
input stream is reached when an explicit "EOF"
character (inserted by the
document.close() method) is
consumed. Otherwise, the "EOF" character is not a real character in
the stream, but rather the lack of any further characters.
When the parser requires the user agent to change the encoding, it must run the following steps. This might happen if the encoding sniffing algorithm described above failed to find an encoding, or if it found an encoding that was not the actual encoding of the file.
The insertion mode is a state variable that controls the primary operation of the tree construction stage.
Initially, the insertion mode is "initial". It can change to "before html", "before head", "in head", "in head noscript", "after head", "in body", "text", "in table", "in table text", "in caption", "in column group", "in table body", "in row", "in cell", "in select", "in select in table", "after body", "in frameset", "after frameset", "after after body", and "after after frameset" during the course of the parsing, as described in the tree construction stage. The insertion mode affects how tokens are processed and whether CDATA sections are supported.
Several of these modes, namely "in head", "in body", "in table", and "in select", are special, in that the other modes defer to them at various times. When the algorithm below says that the user agent is to do something "using the rules for the m insertion mode", where m is one of these modes, the user agent must use the rules described under the m insertion mode's section, but must leave the insertion mode unchanged unless the rules in m themselves switch the insertion mode to a new value.
When the steps below require the UA to reset the insertion mode appropriately, it means the UA must follow these steps:
then switch the insertion mode to "in select" and abort these
steps. (fragment case)
th element and last is false, then
switch the insertion mode to "in cell" and abort these steps.
tr element, then
switch the insertion mode to "in row" and abort these steps.
tfoot element, then switch the
insertion mode to "in table body" and abort these steps.
then switch the insertion mode to "in caption" and abort
then switch the insertion mode to "in column group" and
abort these steps. (fragment case)
then switch the insertion mode to "in table" and abort these
then switch the insertion mode to "in body" ("in body"! not "in head"!) and abort
these steps. (fragment case)
then switch the insertion mode to "in body" and abort these
then switch the insertion mode to "in frameset" and abort
these steps. (fragment case)
then switch the insertion mode
head" Then, abort these steps. (fragment
Initially, the stack of open elements is empty. The stack grows downwards; the topmost node on the stack is the first one added to the stack, and the bottommost node of the stack is the most recently added node in the stack (notwithstanding when the stack is manipulated in a random access fashion as part of the handling for misnested tags).
The current node is the bottommost node in this stack.
The current table is the last
element in the stack of open elements, if there is
one. If there is no
table element in the stack of
open elements (fragment case), then the
current table is the first element in the stack
of open elements (the
Elements in the stack fall into the following categories:
The following elements have varying levels of special
parsing rules: HTML's
annotation-xml; and SVG's
All other elements found while parsing an HTML document.
The stack of open elements is said to have an element in a specific scope consisting of a list of element types list when the following algorithm terminates in a match state:
Initialize node to be the current node (the bottommost node of the stack).
If node is the target node, terminate in a match state.
Otherwise, if node is one of the element types in list, terminate in a failure state.
Otherwise, set node to the previous
entry in the stack of open elements and return to step
2. (This will never fail, since the loop will always terminate in
the previous step if the top of the stack — an
html element — is reached.)
applet in the HTML namespace
caption in the HTML namespace
html in the HTML namespace
table in the HTML namespace
td in the HTML namespace
th in the HTML namespace
marquee in the HTML namespace
object in the HTML namespace
mi in the MathML namespace
mo in the MathML namespace
mn in the MathML namespace
ms in the MathML namespace
mtext in the MathML namespace
annotation-xml in the MathML namespace
foreignObject in the SVG namespace
desc in the SVG namespace
title in the SVG namespace
ol in the HTML namespace
ul in the HTML namespace
button in the HTML namespace
Nothing happens if at any time any of the elements in the
stack of open elements are moved to a new location in,
or removed from, the
Document tree. In particular, the
stack is not changed in this situation. This can cause, amongst
other strange effects, content to be appended to nodes that are no
longer in the DOM.
In some cases (namely, when closing misnested formatting elements), the stack is manipulated in a random-access fashion.
Initially, the list of active formatting elements is empty. It is used to handle mis-nested formatting element tags.
The list contains elements in the formatting
category, and scope markers. The scope markers are inserted when
applet elements, buttons,
elements, marquees, table cells, and table captions, and are used to
prevent formatting from "leaking" into
object elements, marquees, and
The scope markers are unrelated to the concept of an element being in scope.
In addition, each element in the list of active formatting elements is associated with the token for which it was created, so that further elements can be created for that token if necessary.
When the steps below require the UA to push onto the list of active formatting elements an element element, the UA must perform the following steps:
If there are already three elements in the list of active formatting elements after the last list marker, if any, or anywhere in the list if there are no list markers, that have the same tag name, namespace, and attributes as element, then remove the earliest such element from the list of active formatting elements. For these purposes, the attributes must be compared as they were when the elements were created by the parser; two elements have the same attributes if all their parsed attributes can be paired such that the two attributes in each pair have identical names, namespaces, and values (the order of the attributes does not matter).
This is the Noah's Ark clause. But with three per family instead of two.
Add element to the list of active formatting elements.
When the steps below require the UA to reconstruct the active formatting elements, the UA must perform the following steps:
This has the effect of reopening all the formatting elements that were opened in the current body, cell, or caption (whichever is youngest) that haven't been explicitly closed.
The way this specification is written, the list of active formatting elements always consists of elements in chronological order with the least recently added element first and the most recently added element last (except for while steps 8 to 11 of the above algorithm are being executed, of course).
When the steps below require the UA to clear the list of active formatting elements up to the last marker, the UA must perform the following steps:
pointer and the
pointer are both null.
form element pointer
points to the last
form element that was opened and
whose end tag has not yet been seen. It is used to make form
controls associate with forms in the face of dramatically bad
markup, for historical reasons.
The frameset-ok flag is set to "ok" when the parser is created. It is set to "not ok" after certain tokens are seen.