The End of Transitional XHTML

July 16th, 2007

You may not realise this, but if you’re still putting …

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "">

in the header of your HTML files then you’re bang out of order.

The Code Recommendations laid down by the World Wide Web Consortium (or W3C) in Dec 1999 declared an end to the constricting HTML 3 standard — the one that used all those <font> tags and stuff — in favour of HTML 4.01 which was based on the Semantic Mark-Up principle. In other words, HTML would now be portable across different environments and ready for the environments still to come.

Of course, the folks at the W3C are realists. They knew that there would be obstacles to overcome before the fully Semantic web became a reality: old equipment, die-hard users, MicroSoft, etc. and so they made allowances in 4.01, deprecating the old HTML 3 Visual Formatting code but allowing HTML4.01 to have two doctypes — Strict (the semantic ideal) and Transitional (the buggy, half-way house, darn ugly reality).

And they introduced XHTML, similar to HTML 4, but refined to operate with XML or eXtensible Mark-up Language, with a stipulation that XHTML 1.1 — the accessible coder’s Nirvana — would be in place as the only way to fly by April 2001.

So that’s it. Any webpage created since April 2001 (and in fact any webpage around today) should be in XHTML 1.1 STRICT! The transitional type died more than SIX YEARS AGO!

Private hobby coders may be forgiven for having let this pass them by: most hobby coding software, if it includes doctypes at all, usually opts for TRANSITIONAL as standard.

But professional web designers are a different case and yet new websites appear everyday coded by would-be professionals either using the TRANSITIONAL doctype or no doctype at all.

“Big deal!” I hear you cry. “Get a life, loser!” you continue.

I think you’re missing the point. For the internet and its applications to work seamlessly — and that means so that YOUR pages can be seen by the biggest number of people — XHTML 1.1 Strict (and its successors) must be used. Not only does that mean that it can be understood by the biggest number of browsers across the biggest number of platforms, it also means it is accessible to members of one of the biggest audiences around and the one whose numbers can only grow: the less-able and the less-young. That’s not just important from a moral standpoint, in markets like Europe and elsewhere it’s a legal REQUIREMENT!

And a final word for those claiming that the STRICT doctype locks out users of other non-standard, aging browsers. I made an interesting discovery while recoding the TIME magazine international websites a while back. We had to have the sites run on Internet Explorer 5 on a Mac running OS9 because that was the set-up that most of our offices used. Try as I might using the Transitional doctype, I could not get this arcane botch job to work. Then I tried Strict and to my surprise, everything clicked into place. It seems that the Mircosoft Mac boys (and girls) had the the Strict doctype in mind when they wrote their crazy piece of s**tware!

By the way. I may sound like a total geek but really I’m not. I’ve even seen a naked lady!

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