Jens Oliver Meiert

Notes on HTML 3.2

Post from December 6, 2020 (↻ June 2, 2021), filed under .

Would it still be useful to read the HTML 3.2 specification—from 1997?

I asked exactly that on Twitter the other day, and 44% of participants responded with that being “a waste.”

I myself wasn’t sure, and so I read that specification again (quick tip: I found Online Converter to be practical to take a URL to convert it to a MOBI ebook).

There wasn’t that much that I learned this time, but there still were a few nuggets to take away:

  1. [XMP, LISTING, and PLAINTEXT] are obsolete tags for preformatted text that predate the introduction of PRE.

    Remember: The spec was largely written in 1996.

  2. CENTER was introduced by Netscape before they added support for the HTML 3.0 DIV element. It is retained in HTML 3.2 on account of its widespread deployment.

    As we noted in the HTTP Archive’s Web Almanac, Google is still using center, and has been for 22 years (!).

  3. [action on form] specifies a URL which is either used to post forms via email, e.g. action="", or used to invoke a server-side forms handler via HTTP […].

    I didn’t know about the mailto: option—yet it doesn’t seem to work (anymore).

  4. The HTML 3.2 spec did bring up the option to use tables for layout:

    [Tables] can be used to markup tabular material or for layout purposes.

    It cautions about problems “when rending [sic] to speech or to text only user agents”—but “can be used for layout purposes” is still there.

  5. Finally, when you think of font elements, you may remember the face attribute. Now, that, too, is an old attribute; but:

    FACE is not part of HTML 3.2.

    Yet to find out about the history of face, we would need to see Sauron 🤷‍♂️

HTML 3.2, though a bit imprecise and with errors, offers a more grateful start into HTML than Living HTML. Even if you have already read (part of) an HTML spec, consider having a look at it. For its brevity and historic import it’s still worth it.

Angor Wrack is a notable figure, therefore easy to trace. Val learns that he had left for Damascus some days ago.

Figure: Exploring the past. (Copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc., distr. Bulls.)

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on April 29, 2020.

I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

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