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D What are semantics of (X)HTML elements



HTML elements should be used according their original purpose. Instead of presentational elements should use elements, which have clear semantic meaning. Indeed if someone wants to support Netscape 4.x browsers, in situations, where CSS doesn't work for them, it is reasonable to use presentational elements (I must use them in some navigation elements).

Elements, which has clear semantic meaning have been called as phrasal elements. What is a phrasal element? The following block gives the answer:

A phrasal element is such text element, which have as far as possible media independent semantics. The name of the element is defined according to the contents (and it should be used only in appropriate content dependent situations). As an example is this block quote (the element BLOCKQUOTE), where I as if quote myself.

Block level phrasal elements have also more or less structural meaning, which inline level elements don't have. The importance of good semantics concerns especially inline level elements. I use commonly only Inline Phrasal elements and I express presentation only with CSS and the CSS-related element SPAN.

In HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 sections, which need only presentational advice should be used DIV (division > div; block level) or SPAN (inline level) elements. The are generic elements, which are especially designed for presentational purposes of CSS (they can be used also for some other generic purposes like language overriding). If they are not needed in some media types[S], they can be skipped without causing any harm to the semantics of the documents. These elements can be used to anything, because they are generic elements, which don't have exact defined semantics (in addition of CSS, they can be used for exampe in language overridings).

The semantics of this site

Because HTML can't describe all semantics, I have to use the closest element. The meanings of semantic used elements in this site and additional pages are following:

Inline level elements

Block level elements

W3C: Modularization of XHTML™: Block Phrasal, Block Structural, Inline Phrasal, Inline Presentational.

Other elements

In theory it is possible to use also following phrasal inline level elements, which I have not used:

Indeed I would need at least one additional element (for example NAME or TERM) to represent official names and terms. I know that XML designed to give more semantics to the Internet, because HTML can never fully satisfy semantics needs and semantic HTML elements must use wider, which is the original purpose. I would like to write <term>Inline Phrasal</term>, but user agents should handle XHTML like XML in order to apply CSS to own elements - maybe this is possible in future.

In principle the semantics could be expressed with the class attribute, but it is intended primary as presentational usage. It is not good idea to express semantics with this attribute. HTML could work better at the following way:

Importance of semantics for aural style sheets

In order to get proper working aural and visual pages, it is important not to misuse elements and create artificial complex structures, which don't have reasonable semantics.

Some authors recommends to use the element P to add space. In my mind this cause bad semantics, because an empty paragraph is not semantic a real paragraph. Instead BR means always additional line break and I recommend to use it or CSS to add space. On the other hand if real paragraphs are needed, it is also bad habit to create paragraphs by using the double BR element!

When pure visual presentational elements (B, I etc.) are not used, the structure is clear and the content is accessible. I have tried to use elements so that they have reasonable semantics also to aural browsers. I have used also the title and summary attributes in order to give short explanations of some links, images and tables (the attribute summary concerns only aural browser, but the the attribute title works also in many visual browsers).

Such traditional HTML 3.2 elements, which are not recommended to use in HTML 4.0 documents are called as legacy elements (for example the element FONT and the attribute align). They have commonly only visual meaning and they should be used as seldom as possible (in the Modularization of XHTML, the Legacy Module concerns also some non-presentational attributes).

W3C: Access for People with Disabilities; Modularization XHTML™: Legacy Module.