3.2.5 Content models

Each element defined in this specification has a content model: a description of the element's expected contents. An HTML element must have contents that match the requirements described in the element's content model.

The space characters are always allowed between elements. User agents represent these characters between elements in the source markup as Text nodes in the DOM. Empty Text nodes and Text nodes consisting of just sequences of those characters are considered inter-element whitespace.

Inter-element whitespace, comment nodes, and processing instruction nodes must be ignored when establishing whether an element's contents match the element's content model or not, and must be ignored when following algorithms that define document and element semantics.

Thus, an element A is said to be preceded or followed by a second element B if A and B have the same parent node and there are no other element nodes or Text nodes (other than inter-element whitespace) between them. Similarly, a node is the only child of an element if that element contains no other nodes other than inter-element whitespace, comment nodes, and processing instruction nodes.

Authors must not use HTML elements anywhere except where they are explicitly allowed, as defined for each element, or as explicitly required by other specifications. For XML compound documents, these contexts could be inside elements from other namespaces, if those elements are defined as providing the relevant contexts.

For example, the Atom specification defines a content element. When its type attribute has the value xhtml, the Atom specification requires that it contain a single HTML div element. Thus, a div element is allowed in that context, even though this is not explicitly normatively stated by this specification. [ATOM]

In addition, HTML elements may be orphan nodes (i.e. without a parent node).

For example, creating a td element and storing it in a global variable in a script is conforming, even though td elements are otherwise only supposed to be used inside tr elements.

var data = {
  name: "Banana",
  cell: document.createElement('td'),
}; Kinds of content

Each element in HTML falls into zero or more categories that group elements with similar characteristics together. The following broad categories are used in this specification:

Some elements also fall into other categories, which are defined in other parts of this specification.

These categories are related as follows:

Sectioning content, heading content, phrasing content, embedded content, and interactive content are all types of flow content. Metadata is sometimes flow content. Metadata and interactive content are sometimes phrasing content. Embedded content is also a type of phrasing content, and sometimes is interactive content.

Other categories are also used for specific purposes, e.g. form controls are specified using a number of categories to define common requirements. Some elements have unique requirements and do not fit into any particular category. Metadata content

Metadata content is content that sets up the presentation or behavior of the rest of the content, or that sets up the relationship of the document with other documents, or that conveys other "out of band" information.

Elements from other namespaces whose semantics are primarily metadata-related (e.g. RDF) are also metadata content.

Thus, in the XML serialization, one can use RDF, like this:

<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"
  <title>Hedral's Home Page</title>
   <Person xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/10/swap/pim/contact#"
    <fullName>Cat Hedral</fullName>
    <mailbox r:resource="mailto:hedral@damowmow.com"/>
  <h1>My home page</h1>
  <p>I like playing with string, I guess. Sister says squirrels are fun
  too so sometimes I follow her to play with them.</p>

This isn't possible in the HTML serialization, however. Flow content

Most elements that are used in the body of documents and applications are categorized as flow content. Sectioning content

Sectioning content is content that defines the scope of headings and footers.

Each sectioning content element potentially has a heading and an outline. See the section on headings and sections for further details.

There are also certain elements that are sectioning roots. These are distinct from sectioning content, but they can also have an outline. Heading content

Heading content defines the header of a section (whether explicitly marked up using sectioning content elements, or implied by the heading content itself). Phrasing content

Phrasing content is the text of the document, as well as elements that mark up that text at the intra-paragraph level. Runs of phrasing content form paragraphs.

As a general rule, elements whose content model allows any phrasing content should have either at least one descendant Text node that is not inter-element whitespace, or at least one descendant element node that is embedded content. For the purposes of this requirement, nodes that are descendants of del elements must not be counted as contributing to the ancestors of the del element.

Most elements that are categorized as phrasing content can only contain elements that are themselves categorized as phrasing content, not any flow content.

Text, in the context of content models, means Text nodes. Text is sometimes used as a content model on its own, but is also phrasing content, and can be inter-element whitespace (if the Text nodes are empty or contain just space characters).

Text nodes and attribute values must consist of Unicode characters, must not contain U+0000 characters, must not contain permanently undefined Unicode characters (noncharacters), and must not contain control characters other than space characters. This specification includes extra constraints on the exact value of Text nodes and attribute values depending on their precise context. Embedded content

Embedded content is content that imports another resource into the document, or content from another vocabulary that is inserted into the document.

Elements that are from namespaces other than the HTML namespace and that convey content but not metadata, are embedded content for the purposes of the content models defined in this specification. (For example, MathML, or SVG.)

Some embedded content elements can have fallback content: content that is to be used when the external resource cannot be used (e.g. because it is of an unsupported format). The element definitions state what the fallback is, if any. Interactive content

Interactive content is content that is specifically intended for user interaction.

Certain elements in HTML have an activation behavior, which means that the user can activate them. This triggers a sequence of events dependent on the activation mechanism, and normally culminating in a click event, as described below.

The user agent should allow the user to manually trigger elements that have an activation behavior, for instance using keyboard or voice input, or through mouse clicks. When the user triggers an element with a defined activation behavior in a manner other than clicking it, the default action of the interaction event must be to run synthetic click activation steps on the element.

Each element has a click in progress flag, initially set to false.

When a user agent is to run synthetic click activation steps on an element, the user agent must run the following steps:

  1. If the element's click in progress flag is set to true, then abort these steps.

  2. Set the click in progress flag on the element to true.

  3. Run pre-click activation steps on the element.

  4. Fire a click event at the element.

  5. If this click event is not canceled, run post-click activation steps on the element.

    If the event is canceled, the user agent must run canceled activation steps on the element instead.

  6. Set the click in progress flag on the element to false.

When a pointing device is clicked, the user agent must run these steps:

  1. If the element's click in progress flag is set to true, then abort these steps.

  2. Set the click in progress flag on the element to true.

  3. Let e be the nearest activatable element of the element designated by the user (defined below), if any.

  4. If there is an element e, run pre-click activation steps on it.

  5. Dispatch the required click event.

    If there is an element e and the click event is not canceled, run post-click activation steps on element e.

    If there is an element e and the event is canceled, run canceled activation steps on element e.

  6. Set the click in progress flag on the element to false.

The above doesn't happen for arbitrary synthetic events dispatched by author script. However, the click() method can be used to make it happen programmatically.

Click-focusing behavior (e.g. the focusing of a text field when user clicks in one) typically happens before the click, when the mouse button is first depressed, and is therefore not discussed here.

Given an element target, the nearest activatable element is the element returned by the following algorithm:

  1. If target has a defined activation behavior, then return target and abort these steps.

  2. If target has a parent element, then set target to that parent element and return to the first step.

  3. Otherwise, there is no nearest activatable element.

When a user agent is to run pre-click activation steps on an element, it must run the pre-click activation steps defined for that element, if any.

When a user agent is to run canceled activation steps on an element, it must run the canceled activation steps defined for that element, if any.

When a user agent is to run post-click activation steps on an element, it must run the activation behavior defined for that element, if any. Activation behaviors can refer to the click event that was fired by the steps above leading up to this point. Palpable content

As a general rule, elements whose content model allows any flow content or phrasing content should have at least one child node that is palpable content and that does not have the hidden attribute specified.

This requirement is not a hard requirement, however, as there are many cases where an element can be empty legitimately, for example when it is used as a placeholder which will later be filled in by a script, or when the element is part of a template and would on most pages be filled in but on some pages is not relevant.

Conformance checkers are encouraged to provide a mechanism for authors to find elements that fail to fulfill this requirement, as an authoring aid.

The following elements are palpable content: Transparent content models

Some elements are described as transparent; they have "transparent" in the description of their content model. The content model of a transparent element is derived from the content model of its parent element: the elements required in the part of the content model that is "transparent" are the same elements as required in the part of the content model of the parent of the transparent element in which the transparent element finds itself.

For instance, an ins element inside a ruby element cannot contain an rt element, because the part of the ruby element's content model that allows ins elements is the part that allows phrasing content, and the rt element is not phrasing content.

In some cases, where transparent elements are nested in each other, the process has to be applied iteratively.

Consider the following markup fragment:

<p><object><param><ins><map><a href="/">Apples</a></map></ins></object></p>

To check whether "Apples" is allowed inside the a element, the content models are examined. The a element's content model is transparent, as is the map element's, as is the ins element's, as is the part of the object element's in which the ins element is found. The object element is found in the p element, whose content model is phrasing content. Thus, "Apples" is allowed, as text is phrasing content.

When a transparent element has no parent, then the part of its content model that is "transparent" must instead be treated as accepting any flow content. Paragraphs

The term paragraph as defined in this section is used for more than just the definition of the p element. The paragraph concept defined here is used to describe how to interpret documents. The p element is merely one of several ways of marking up a paragraph.

A paragraph is typically a run of phrasing content that forms a block of text with one or more sentences that discuss a particular topic, as in typography, but can also be used for more general thematic grouping. For instance, an address is also a paragraph, as is a part of a form, a byline, or a stanza in a poem.

In the following example, there are two paragraphs in a section. There is also a heading, which contains phrasing content that is not a paragraph. Note how the comments and inter-element whitespace do not form paragraphs.

  <h1>Example of paragraphs</h1>
  This is the <em>first</em> paragraph in this example.
  <p>This is the second.</p>
  <!-- This is not a paragraph. -->

Paragraphs in flow content are defined relative to what the document looks like without the a, ins, del, and map elements complicating matters, since those elements, with their hybrid content models, can straddle paragraph boundaries, as shown in the first two examples below.

Generally, having elements straddle paragraph boundaries is best avoided. Maintaining such markup can be difficult.

The following example takes the markup from the earlier example and puts ins and del elements around some of the markup to show that the text was changed (though in this case, the changes admittedly don't make much sense). Notice how this example has exactly the same paragraphs as the previous one, despite the ins and del elements — the ins element straddles the heading and the first paragraph, and the del element straddles the boundary between the two paragraphs.

  <ins><h1>Example of paragraphs</h1>
  This is the <em>first</em> paragraph in</ins> this example<del>.
  <p>This is the second.</p></del>
  <!-- This is not a paragraph. -->

Let view be a view of the DOM that replaces all a, ins, del, and map elements in the document with their contents. Then, in view, for each run of sibling phrasing content nodes uninterrupted by other types of content, in an element that accepts content other than phrasing content as well as phrasing content, let first be the first node of the run, and let last be the last node of the run. For each such run that consists of at least one node that is neither embedded content nor inter-element whitespace, a paragraph exists in the original DOM from immediately before first to immediately after last. (Paragraphs can thus span across a, ins, del, and map elements.)

Conformance checkers may warn authors of cases where they have paragraphs that overlap each other (this can happen with object, video, audio, and canvas elements, and indirectly through elements in other namespaces that allow HTML to be further embedded therein, like svg or math).

A paragraph is also formed explicitly by p elements.

The p element can be used to wrap individual paragraphs when there would otherwise not be any content other than phrasing content to separate the paragraphs from each other.

In the following example, the link spans half of the first paragraph, all of the heading separating the two paragraphs, and half of the second paragraph. It straddles the paragraphs and the heading.

 <a href="about.html">
  This is home of...
  <h1>The Falcons!</h1>
  The Lockheed Martin multirole jet fighter aircraft!
 This page discusses the F-16 Fighting Falcon's innermost secrets.

Here is another way of marking this up, this time showing the paragraphs explicitly, and splitting the one link element into three:

 <p>Welcome! <a href="about.html">This is home of...</a></p>
 <h1><a href="about.html">The Falcons!</a></h1>
 <p><a href="about.html">The Lockheed Martin multirole jet
 fighter aircraft!</a> This page discusses the F-16 Fighting
 Falcon's innermost secrets.</p>

It is possible for paragraphs to overlap when using certain elements that define fallback content. For example, in the following section:

 <h1>My Cats</h1>
 You can play with my cat simulator.
 <object data="cats.sim">
  To see the cat simulator, use one of the following links:
   <li><a href="cats.sim">Download simulator file</a>
   <li><a href="http://sims.example.com/watch?v=LYds5xY4INU">Use online simulator</a>
  Alternatively, upgrade to the Mellblom Browser.
 I'm quite proud of it.

There are five paragraphs:

  1. The paragraph that says "You can play with my cat simulator. object I'm quite proud of it.", where object is the object element.
  2. The paragraph that says "To see the cat simulator, use one of the following links:".
  3. The paragraph that says "Download simulator file".
  4. The paragraph that says "Use online simulator".
  5. The paragraph that says "Alternatively, upgrade to the Mellblom Browser.".

The first paragraph is overlapped by the other four. A user agent that supports the "cats.sim" resource will only show the first one, but a user agent that shows the fallback will confusingly show the first sentence of the first paragraph as if it was in the same paragraph as the second one, and will show the last paragraph as if it was at the start of the second sentence of the first paragraph.

To avoid this confusion, explicit p elements can be used.