[whatwg] Including HTML more directly into SVG

Tab Atkins Jr. jackalmage at gmail.com
Mon Sep 10 16:59:47 PDT 2012

This is a continuation of a discussion started in the #whatwg IRC
room, so I'll start somewhat abruptly.

1. Check out <http://www.xanthir.com/etc/railroad-diagrams/example.html>.
 See all those boxes full of text in the diagrams?  Looks simple,
right?  Just a box filled with text, with a border and background set
on it.  Wrong!  SVG doesn't have any primitives like that.  Instead,
you have to position the text, measure its dimensions (or, like I've
done, guess at the dimensions based on the font-size and such), then
create and position an *independent* <rect> element behind it, so that
it *looks* like there's a box with text inside of it.

This would be a lot easier if I could somehow invoke the CSS box model
inside of SVG, but the <text> element doesn't allow that.

Closely related to this, SVG doesn't do automatic linebreaking at all.
 If you want text to break, you have to do it manually, not only
determining the break points but also manually setting the
line-spacing separation for each individual line.  Again, it would be
cool to invoke the CSS box model here, so we get full-power inline

2. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the product I'm about to
describe, so I can't link to it, but there is an a11y tool that lets
low-vision users interact better with SVG diagrams.  They can print
out an SVG, attach it over a pressure-sensitive touchpad, then bring
up the diagram on the screen as well.  Using the touchpad, they can
then zoom/pan the SVG, or even ask the computer to read out text at
the location they've pressed.  Unfortunately, the textual semantics in
SVG are pretty impoverished right now; there *aren't* any semantics,
besides "here is text".  It seems pretty obvious that you'd sometimes
want to, say, emphasize a span of text inside a larger text block in a
diagram, but right now the only way to do that is by using  <tspan
style="font-style:italic;> and hoping that the reader supports enough
CSS to guess that italicized text should be emphasized.  It would be
pretty nice if you could use <em> or the other textual HTML elements
here, for the same reason it's nice to use them in HTML rather than
relying on visual presentation.

3. Related to the above, it seems useful to be able to embed "special"
elements like <input type=date>, <video>, or <details> into SVG, for
the same reasons you'd include them in HTML.

Right now, all three of the above *could* be done by using the
<foreignContent> element.  This is a horrible solution, though.  To
use <foreignContent>, you need to specify a width and height (and
we're back to measuring or guessing at the dimensions...) and specify
a namespace.  This is a lot of weight to put into a document when all
you want to do is include some simple text.

Another solution could be SVG inventing their own elements for these
kinds of things.  For example, #1 could be solved with an <svg:span>
or <svg:p> element.  Having duplicate elements in multiple namespaces
is regarded as an antipattern, however.  Having elements which are
duplicates save for their tagname is just as bad - less "chameleon
namespace" problems, more gratuitous and needless naming differences
between components of the web platform.

My preferred solution is to simply include HTML directly into SVG.
This solves #1 perfectly - all that needs to be done is to specify the
SVG rendering model in terms of the CSS box model (it's simple, just a
slight diff on position:absolute), then <span> or <p> works great.
This solves #2 as well - you get <em> and the gang coming along for
free, not to mention the block-level elements like <hn>, lists, etc.,
all of which can reasonable be used inside of something which is
mostly SVG, like a diagram.  Finally, it solves #3 just as cleanly, by
letting us just use the languages together in a nice, friendly way
without duplication or lots of boilerplate wrapper.

This requires some minor parsing changes in HTML.  Specifically, in
(section "The rules for parsing tokens in foreign content"),
the rule that makes any HTML element pop the stack of open elements
until it closes the SVG element would need to be removed.  I'm aware
that this was put in place to avoid breaking a few pages that,
seemingly for no reason, include an <svg> tag at the start of their
page with no matching </svg>, as including the HTML directly in the
<svg> element would suppress their rendering.  However, with my
suggested change, these pages would continue working, albeit probably
with a slightly different rendering.

If this is unacceptable, it's acceptable to me to require a small,
simple wrapper element that accomplishes the same thing as
<foreignContent>, but automatically places its contents in the HTML
namespace and auto-sizes itself, and have the parser key off of that.
This should be avoided if possible, though, as it's annoying for
authors with no direct benefit to them.


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