[whatwg] XHTML Considered Harmful

J. Graham jg307 at hermes.cam.ac.uk
Tue Aug 30 02:18:51 PDT 2005

On Mon, 29 Aug 2005, Brad Neuberg wrote:

>> Most of these problems affect you, only if you were
>> forced to develop
>> XHTML pages (which you are most likely not).
> A very vociferous XHTML community has developed the
> last few years that essentially does force developers
> to use XHTML, at least publicly. Using XHTML is
> currently considered a best practice; I'm trying to
> voice that I believe it is not.

If you're referring to "XHTML-the-brand" (i.e. anything with an XHTML 
doctype sent as text/html), I'm sure you'll find widespread agreement here 
that such practice is, at best useless, and probably "harmful" (although I 
should parenthetically note that XHTML-the-brand was sold to the masses by 
Zeldman as the new markup of a CSS generation. Maybe without the marketing 
hook we'd still have a lot more people using nested tables and 1px spacer 
gifs). Indeed Ian wrote a well publicised document explaining why sending 
"XHTML" as text/html is "harmful" [1].

On the other hand I doubt that you'll get much agreement that XHTML is 
intrinsically a worse technology than HTML. I personally doubt it will 
ever be a success on the web because I think the monetary and social costs 
of switching organisations to an all-XML backend are immense (without 
knowing anything at all about the products I would bevery surprised if 
even the latest cool CMS's like Ruby on Rails and Django used even XML 
templating systems by default. But such a thing is really required for 
XHTML). Having said that, your dismissal of compond documents as "simply 
not well supported" ignores the fact that people are already using these 
technologies to good effect. Compare [2] and [3] the first of which uses 
XHTML+MathML and the second of which uses HTML+gifs to present documents 
containing a significant quantity of mathematics. Once you have the 
required fonts installed, the MathML document offers faster load times 
(one request rather than dozens), improved accessibility (equations scale 
with the text! A screenreader has a hope!) and an all round better user 
experience. Who is XHTML harming here?

Anyway, to conclude, if you have specific suggestions for features that 
will remove the need for horrible kludges like document.write that's 
probably more useful than a list of 8 general areas 4 of which are 
technical, 2 of which are critical of implementations and 2 merely 

[1] http://www.hixie.ch/advocacy/xhtml
[2] http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/archives/000635.html
[3] http://www.qinfo.org/people/nielsen/blog/?p=229

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