Current Events: The Official End to XHTML

Posted: July 06, 2009 Comments(7)

Late last week, the W3C released a seemingly “light on perceived emphasis” note announcing that the XHTML 2 working group is expected to disband at the end of 2009. The long running debate between XHTML and HTML has finally come to a close, and we’re all better off for it. Regardless of your opinion on the subject, you’re better off. Instead of two camps working toward separate goals, our efforts are now combined for the greater good and we’ll all benefit.

It’s been a long time coming

The debate has raged for quite some time, and many people have taken a stand on the matter, including myself. From the people I talked to, most had taken a stance on one side of the line, and been comfortable in doing so. Each camp had good reason behind its decision, but HTML 5 is now the official victor.

The response to the announcement has been very… interesting. There is quite a bit more misinformation out there than I had originally expected. I realize that not every developer writing markup is going to know the defining characteristics of such emerging technologies, but there are some misconceptions out there that just don’t fit. If you’re at all confused behind either technology, there is a ton of information out there, and I highly recommend you bookmark a few articles to read at your leisure over the coming weeks.

Reading a few of those articles should really help you to begin to understand the fundamental differences between HTML 5 and XHTML 2. They will also help you to recognize the similarities as well.

What it means to you

One of the most interesting pieces of commentary I’ve come across to date on the subject is the reactions posted to Mr. Zeldman’s XHTML DOA WTF. It’s obvious from that comment thread alone that there is far too much confusion surrounding this decision that has been made by the W3C. Many people don’t understand the true effect this has on our future work, and fail to see the benefit of such a decision being made. Also a very interesting read, specifically as a follow-up to Mr. Zeldman’s comment thread, is Comments on Comments on Zeldman’s XHTML [DOA] WTF.

A great way to continue the streak of knowledge is to check out a great resource that has bubbled up recently: An Unnofficial Q&A about the Discontinuation of the XHTML2 WG. Although unofficial, it is by far the most targeted Q&A I’ve seen so far. A big take home message in the Q&A is this:

Did the W3C kill XHTML2?
No, XHTML2 was already dead for all practical purposes due to its failure to be backwards compatible and its failure to deliver compelling new features. The W3C just announced they will take it off life support.

XHTML2 has indeed been dead for some time, the announcement only makes it as official as it could ever be.

It’s a great move for everybody

I’m a huge fan of HTML 5, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the announcement from the W3C last week. I’ll also go on record saying that although it was beyond the scope I had imagined, the reaction of many developers is completely expected. Unfortunately that’s a result of not enough self-education, and will eventually sort itself out. I will continue to prefer HTML as opposed to XHTML simply because I will continue to enforce the aspects of XHTML I really enjoyed in the HTML I’ve been writing and will continue writing. Another piece to take home from An Unnofficial Q&A about the Discontinuation of the XHTML2 WG is:

If I upgrade from XHTML-served-as-text/html to HTML5, do I need to revise all my empty tags?
No. HTML5 permits both the XHTML-style syntax (<br/>) and the HTML 4-style syntax (<br>) for void elements (elements that never take any content).

The syntax rules seem to be the most common denominator when it comes to XHTML fans. You can still write markup in a very strict way, but you’ll need to enforce it yourself as the rules themselves are more lenient.

Last, but absolutely not least, how can you not like this:

What’s the doctype for HTML5 documents?
Simply: <!DOCTYPE html>

There is quite a bit of great information in An Unnofficial Q&A about the Discontinuation of the XHTML2 WG and you should assign it to yourself as required reading this week, along with a number of other articles on HTML 5 and what it means to everyone, not just us writing the markup.

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  1. I’ve been working with my head down for what seems like months now… wait, no, it has been months. So I was a little late on hearing about this news and hadn’t really given it much thought.

    I’m glad everyone is now heading in the same direction and am looking forward to learning all that HTML 5 has to offer.

  2. I know this is a move in the right direction but i’m still upset that the w3c ended up in this position.

    They [w3c] claimed that xhtml was going to replace html, and a few years later they dump it…. Its like finding out that your wife is cheating on you… who the F do you trust?

  3. “You can still write markup in a very strict way, but you’ll need to enforce it yourself as the rules themselves are more lenient.”

    I can’t help but think this is a VERY poor move. As the web moves from “moderately-compliant” desktop browsers (IE) to “who-knows-what” mobile devices (of every shape and size), strict XHTML markup what what I was banking on to be the common denominator in multi-device usability.

    Checking my sites in the major browsers and two of the three platforms is a hassle however expanding that testing to all the handhelds is an impossibility. I’m sticking with XHTML 1.0 Strict until I can figure out where to turn.

    Thanks for your article,


  4. I think a lot of the XHTML camp were on board simply because it provided a hook for the emergent standards brigade back in the early 2000s (i.e. if you were anti tables for presentation you were also pro-XHTML).

    I went back to HTML4 ages ago, and HTML5 is very exciting: full of semantic and media possibilities and completely practical (as you say, how can you not love a simple DOCTYPE).

    Good news.

  5. Threating or not xHTML is something needed when making serious projects where mistakes aren’t allowed as well! I guess w3 will make something like “force” syntax to be strict in HTML 5 P.S.: Bumping 1+ year old thread lol

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