XHTML – Kicking And Screaming Into The Future

XHTML, the standard was first released in 2000. About five years later we begin to major websites revised to use this standard to see. Even the favorite scapegoat of the compliance standards of scholarship, Microsoft, presents their primary homepages, msn.com and microsoft.com in XHTML. Standards compliant XHTML sites are still the minority. The reason is simple. When the W3C released the new standard, the rest of the web running on HTML not cease to function. Nor will the rest of the Internet, written in various flavors of HTML, cease to function any time soon.Without urgent need to meet the new standard, designers continue to old, familiar methods. These methods will perform in any modern browser, so why switch?

These feelings are similar to those I experienced. A sort of “if it is not broke do not fix it” mentality sets in. Whether HTML was “broken” or not is another argument. To the casual Internet user, their standards are fairly direct. If a site displays without noticeable error and functions to their satisfaction, these standards are met.What additional steps the browser took to make such display possible is irrelevant to most users. This kind of mentality is difficult to overcome designers accustomed to their old methods.

Technical obstacles to adopting XHTML may be quite steep, especially as regards large, existing websites with complex scripting. But the time may eventually come where yesterday’s “good” HTML is little more than an ancient language, unable to be interpreted by modern electronic devices. Whether one agrees with the direction the W3C takes in the development of HTML is irrelevant, you’re just along for the ride. With some perseverance, getting the hang of XHTML is possible. In form, it’s not that different from HTML as Japanese is from English. Knowing HTML has a basic knowledge of the language, it is simply a matter of learning a particular dialect. Even an original no-sayer such as myself managed to do it.

Benefits of XHTML
There are two major advantages to using XHTML. First is the strict nature of valid XHTML documents. ”Valid” documents contain no errors. Documents with no errors easier to decompose by a browser. Although the time savings is negligible, although from the perspective of the human user believes there is a greater efficiency to the performance of the browser. Most modern browsers will function well in what is commonly referred to as “quirks” mode, where, in the absence of an on-page information on the nature of HTML they are reading, present a “best guess” representation of a page. The quirks mode will also forgive many errors in the HTML. Modern browsers installed on your home computer have the luxury of size and power to deal with these errors. When browser technology makes the jump to other devices may not have the size and strength to be so forgiving. This is where the strict, valid documents demanded by the XHTML standard become important.

The second advantage is in the code itself, which is cleaner and more compact than common, “table” based layout in HTML.Although XHTML retains table functionality, the standard makes clear tables are not to be used for page layout or anything other than displaying data in a tabular format. This is usually the primary obstacle most designers have with moving to XHTML. The way many designers have come to rely on the layout and organize their pages is now taboo. Simple visual inspection of XHTML code reveals how light and efficient as compared to a table based HTML layout. XTHML uses Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which when called externally, remove virtually all styling information from the XHTML document itself. This creates a document focused solely on the content.

XHTML makes use of “div” tags to define content areas. How these “divisions” are displayed is controlled by CSS. This is known as CSS-P, or CSS positioning. Trading in “table” tags for “divs” can be difficult. Learning a new way of accomplishing an already familiar task is generally difficult. Such as learning a different design program or image editor, frustration can be constant.Looking at “divs” as a kind of table cell might be useful, though not completely right. As required by the XHTML standard, always ensure that there is a DOCTYPE definition at the top of the document. This is not only required by the standard, but it will force Internet Explorer 6, currently the most common browser, to its “standards compliance” mode. IE6 and Firefox, both operating in standards compliance mode will display XHTML in much the same way. Not identical, but much better than IE6 operating in quirks mode. Learning how to iron the final differences between displays is the final obstacle and can be a bit of tweaking in the CSS.

Clean code has multiple benefits. It creates a smaller page size, which over time can save costs associated with use. Although the size difference may appear small, for someone running a highly trafficked site, even saving a few kilobytes of size can make a big difference. Furthermore, some believe search engines may not look kindly on standards complaint pages. This is just a theory, though. In general, any page modification that makes the content easier to reach and higher in the code is considered wise. Search engines, so it is believed, prefer to reach content quickly, and a greater weight to the first content they encounter. Using XHTML and “div” layout allows designers to perform this task easier.

XHTML is the current standard of the W3C. The W3C continues development of XHTML and XHTML 2.0 will replace the current standard in the future. Learning and using XHTML today will help designers prepare for tomorrow. Valid XTHML produces no errors that could delay a browser, and the code produced is clean and efficient. This saves in file size and helps designers better achieve their SEO goals. Learning XHTML is primarily about learning a new way to layout pages. Though frustrating at first, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial inconvenience.

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