Roger Johansson, 456 Berea Street
Latest update: 2008-11-01
Translations of this article are available. Please note that many translations are not actively maintained, so their content differs from that in this original version.
This document attempts to explain how and why using web standards will let you build websites in a way that saves time and money for developers and provides a better experience for visitors. Also discussed are other methods, guidelines and best practices that will help produce high-quality websites that are accessible and usable to as many people and browsing devices as possible.
When the Internet and the Web became mainstream in the second half of the nineties, web browser vendors had not yet implemented CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) well enough for web developers to be able to use it to control the presentation of an HTML document. The lack of implementation is partly understandable considering that the specification for CSS Level 1 was published in 1996 and the specification for CSS Level 2 in 1998.
The lack of CSS support in web browsers, combined with demands from graphic designers used to the level of control that is possible when working with printed material, led to the abuse of HTML in any way possible to control the visual presentation of a web page.
One example of this is the major “breakthrough” that was made when designers discovered that by using the attribute
border="0" to hide the borders of an HTML table, an invisible grid that could be used to control layout was created. Another example is the use of transparent, and thus invisible, images called “spacer GIFs” to control spacing and margins.
Since HTML was never meant to be used to control the presentation of a document, hacks, invalid code, and vendor-specific elements and attributes were (and still are) used. Validation was something that very few knew about or used. Tag soup is a very descriptive name for this kind of HTML-like code.
As new versions of web browsers were released, CSS support was improved and extended, but not at the rate it should have been. However, despite browser vendors being slow to implement CSS properly, we have now reached a point where web browsers with good CSS support are being used by so many that there is no longer any reason not to use HTML the way it was meant to be: to describe the structure and content of a document, not its presentation. For that, we can now use CSS, which was designed specifically for that purpose.