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Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

[This is a re-write of a project note I wrote in project over a year ago. Published here to make the world a better place.]

There has been some commotion recently regarding XHTML and HTML, where standardistas have reiterated their arguments about XHTML: it’s a nice standard, but since is isn’t actually treated as XHTML by browsers, it’s better to use HTML.

The “standard” text on this (at least for me) is http://www.hixie.ch/advocacy/xhtml from which I’d like to quote the executive summary:

If you use XHTML, you should deliver it with the application/xhtml+xml MIME type. If you do not do so, you should use HTML4 instead of XHTML. The alternative, using XHTML but delivering it as text/html, causes numerous problems that are outlined below. Unfortunately, IE6 does not support application/xhtml+xml (in fact, it does not support XHTML at all).

I have come back to that text on several occasions, but it never quite convinced me. I didn’t want to lose the well-formedness of XHTML. Then I ran across http://www.webdevout.net/articles/beware-of-xhtml which made me change my mind. The article uses numerous examples to show that XHTML is not just a syntactically nicer version of HTML, but it actually has slightly differing rules for how to apply CSS. So basically, in all projects that I have used XHTML, I have been relying on bugs in present browsers. Ouch.

Time to change—back

They promised us that XHTML was the future, so I haven’t worried too much about HTML lately. Are there any downsides to using HTML instead? Well, not per se. But the tools and platforms I use are slightly XHTML-centric.

  1. All the standard Rails helpers (form helpers, JS helpers, etc.) produce xhtml. The simple solution is to drop this in a file in lib/:

    module ActionView::Helpers::TagHelper
      def tag_with_html_syntax(name, options = nil, open = true, escape = true)
        tag_without_html_syntax(name, options, open, escape)
      alias_method_chain :tag, :html_syntax
  2. TextMate snippets produce XHTML. Most of them can be controlled by an environment variable, but there are exceptions, like C-ret which produces produces an XHTML self-closed br element.

  3. External tools, data sources and parsers are usually xml-centric.
  4. WordPress, which I have used for a few client projects lately, spits out XHTML. I’ll see if I can create a patch for that and have it accepted.

Oh well. XHTML, I’ll miss you. HTML, can we be friends again?

Category: Web development  | Tags: ,  | 2 Comments