What are the HTML basics?

 

The DOCTYPE

When I first started researching HTML5 a few months ago, one of the main things I struggled to find was the doctype. A simple thing, you’d think it would be everywhere, but after much frustration, I finally found it buried within w3.org and here it is:

<!DOCTYPE html>

I was also curious why they chose to “html” rather than “html5?, it seemed like the logical way to tell a browser that the current document was written in HTML5, and offered a good template for the future. But I found that <!DOCTYPE html5> triggers Quirks Mode in IE6, and when taking backwards compatibility into consideration <!DOCTYPE html> is a pretty good choice (in my opinion).

Overall, I really like the new DOCTYPE; it’s small, meaningful, and maybe we’ll actually be able to remember this one by heart and not have to paste it from site to site.

New Elements you should know

At first glance, with HTML5, the new elements immediately jump out and command attention. The W3C really listened to the community and planned for the future when architecting the abundance of new elements available. We have everything from basic structural elements like <header> and <footer>to others like <canvas> and <audio> that tap into, what seems to be, a very powerful API which allows us the freedom to create more user-friendly applications while further distancing ourselves from reliance on Flash for saving data and intense animation.

The new structural elements
  • <header>
    The header element contains introductory information to a section or page. This can involve anything from our normal documents headers (branding information) to an entire table of contents.
  • <nav>
    The nav element is reserved for a section of a document that contains links to other pages or links to sections of the same page. Not all link groups need to be contained within the <nav> element, just primary navigation.
  • <section>
    The section element represents a generic document or application section. It acts much the same way a <div> does by separating off a portion of the document.
  • <article>
    The article element represents a portion of a page which can stand alone such as: a blog post, a forum entry, user submitted comments or any independent item of content.
  • <aside>
    Aside, represents content related to the main area of the document. This is usually expressed in sidebars that contain elements like related posts, tag clouds, etc. They can also be used for pull quotes.
  • <footer>
    The footer element is for marking up the footer of, not only the current page, but each section contained in the page. So, it’s very likely that you’ll be using the <footer> element multiple times within one page.

When you take a look at these new elements, it looks like they’re just replacing our common DIV IDs; and in a way, it’s true. But, the diagram below shows that elements like <header> and <footer> can be used more than once on a single page where they behave more like classes and normal HTML elements that you can use over and over again to retain a semantic structure.

 

Elements like <header> and <footer> are not just meant to represent the top and bottom of the current document, but they also represent the <header> and <footer> of each document section, much the way we use <thead> and <tfoot> in data tables.

The benefits of using these structural elements is mainly due to the fact that they are extremely well defined and provide a great way to semantically structure your document. However, these elements do need to be used with some careful thought because they can, very easily be overused.

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