The craft of HTML

HTML is a practical art. In a professional context, it requires precise and extensive skills. As with many popular crafts, the vast majority of people do it on their own, but only a few do it for a living. The quality of products varies a lot.

Bruno Pedro has recently published Top blogs fail W3C Markup Validation. He has taken the top 20 list of popular weblogs and puts them through W3C validator. None passed markup validation. Then the author is encouraging people to take care of validation. The comments following the article express either frustration, anger or support. This article is a good illustration of the misunderstanding about HTML validation.

HTML validation is not a goal. HTML validation is a means.

Jeffrey Zeldman, the King of Web Standards (Business Week), in one of his weblog entry comments on the invalid top 20, And lest a BusinessWeek article lull us into complacency, let us here note that the top 20 blogs as measured by Technorati.com fail validation–including one blog Happy Cog designed. (It was valid when we handed it off to the client.) (my emphasis). A while ago, I had already written about Failed Commitments?.

Acknowledging failure

We, all of us, fail sometimes. The Web has been even designed for failures. Cool URIs don’t change, but they can break. The Web is not collapsing when a URI is broken. The same way, when an HTML page is invalid, browsers still try to recover and render the content anyway.

Checking validation of your web pages after publication (when available on the Web) is most of the time too late. It is far better to create all the necessary control and checking steps in the publishing process, in the Web site development process, to maintain the quality of your products. It is one of the main points of the Web Standards Do, use tools and processes to fix issues before they hurt.

How can you help?

When you are a developer of a content management system, of an authoring tool, of a small widget, be sure to create all the function to sanitize the content in production and input. Maintaining the quality of your content is a better goal than a one time validation.

Reference of tools

Please share your references, tools and techniques.

11 thoughts on “The craft of HTML

  1. Thanks for the reference to Bug Leak.

    The goal of my article was to expose the lack of commitment people show regarding W3C Standards.

    I believe the W3C should launch a campaign to promote their standards across all the top blogs and Web sites.

    Top bloggers are a great vehicle to spread a message, if it’s done properly.

  2. Yes, I agree, HTML is rather a craft than a science (and I don’t mean that pejorative). Tag soup is the curse of HTML but also the key to its wide spread. As with english, if you pardon the comparison, that a non native like me will hardly ever speak perfectly, though being, in general, understood, and generously tolerated. Accepting the nececssity(!) of flaws does not imply to stop striving for perfection. Professionals (and tools) should not diverge from the letters of the spec, but we must respect the ignorance of the noobs. It could be us (and occasionally is).

    I am not advocating tag soup or vendor “features”, but the whole Html 5 story came up because of XHTML becomming too “scientific”. W3C gotta KISS the frog.

  3. One thing I have found particularly frustrating is that it is extremely difficult to get Blogger to render valid code. I’ve made great strides at making my blog, which is hosted by Blogger, as clean as I could, but there are still short comings. It is really frustrating seeing a company as large as Google not making more of an effort to ensure that their properties better support W3C HTML/XHTML/CSS specifications.

  4. The most valuable tool that I use for HTML/XHTML validation and including 508/WCAG 1, 2 and 3 compliance during development … CSE HTML Validator. Includes a plugin for Firefox — this helps in identifying any error during a preview of any code or adjustments to it. As far as machine accessibility validation, it does as good a job as Hiawatha Island’s AccVerify product and at a miniscule financial cost compared to AccVerify, 130 bucks, USD .. a steal. However, AccVerify and Watchfire’s WebExact are used to provided audit trails for accessibility. Acunetix’s Web Vulnerability Scanner is a good basic application for security checks of complied Web applications and content. Checking for security vulnerabilities is as important as ensuring valid markup conformance.

  5. The world is more complicated than this article takes into account. Sometimes the situation is such that following a W3C standard isn’t even an option.

    An example situation (from my personal experience): most ussualy a web-maker makes websites for other people and most ussually the situation with those people is one of the two:

    They have no idea of a design at all and expect you to make one.

    They have either a very clear idea of the design or some major ideas.

    The second is the more difficult, because they basically deside over the result without knowing anything about the means of achieving it (HTML) and its limitations, let alone any of the standards. The pain is that most of W3C’s best standards limit the number of implementable design elements (take HTML 4.01 Strict for example – the mere fact that you are limited to div tags as the top-most elements means you can only either use horizontally seperated or absolutely positioned content to ensure multi-browser support).

    Try then, to explain to the customer, that you cannot do something that generally works just because you want to follow some sort of standard. You can’t – “The customer is always right”.

    So I guess it would be a good idea to share some focus on this reality in the web-development trade – the customer and his demands

  6. be sure to create all the fonction to sanitize the content in production and input

    Spell checking can help too.

  7. Indeed. Fixed my spelling mistake. :) It was indeed red underlined by the spelling checker. I should have opened more my eyes, I guess ;)

  8. Thanks for this article, it’s great. So great that we’ve made it ‘sticky’ on The Webmaster Forums. Now we don’t have to repeat ourselves, just send people to this article!

  9. Great list, it helps clear up much of the htacess mystery and confusion that comes from creating such files.

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