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HTML4, HTML5 or HXTML? A web development dilemma

Published on September 21, 2012
Tags: Web Development London

HTML, or hyper-text mark-up language, the building block of the web, has been evolving ever since its initial introduction. There have not been any major differences between different versions of HTML, each incarnation simply improving upon the previous one as new technologies and website requirements come into play.

However, with the introduction of HTML5, the playing field looks set to change. The majority of new browser releases now support HTML5 and it is being used increasingly regularly amongst web developers. But is it necessarily the best mark-up language to use in web development? We have taken a closer look at all three mark-up languages in order to form an opinion.
HTML4, it may surprise you, was first developed in 1990 - over twenty-two years ago. Syntax is generally very loose, with closing tags being optional and upper/lower-case syntax being entirely optional. This made it very difficult for browsers to accurately render pages and, as a result, many websites appear completely differently across different browsers and platforms. On the plus side, though, it is very easy to learn and adopt.
In order to counteract the negative downsides of HTML4, XHTML was introduced. Technically, XHTML is a dialect of XML, adapted for website markup. It standardises much of HTML, including stating that opening tags must be closed and certain tags cannot be nested within each other. These restrictions tend not to be prohibitive, but instead make for a more professionally coded website. XHTML is now the language of choice for most professional web developers for this reason.
HTML5 is a relatively new markup language, which is becoming more and more popular all the time. The updated markup language gives new functionality to web developers in terms of designing for the mobile web and even going so far as to replace Flash and other multimedia plugins with an inbuilt multimedia platform. It also supports geolocation and canvas imaging for graphic designers. The markup has been kept simple - even the DOCTYPE has been simplified to <!DOCTYPE html>. Compare this to the XHTML 1.0 Transitional DOCTYPE, which looks akin to this: <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> and you can see how the new markup language might be more convenient.
Older versions of HTML are also supported in HTML, and it is entirely up to you as to how strictly you write the code, rather than having to choose a level of strictness in XHTML. Combined with the addition of dynamic image creation, multimedia encoding and new accessibility attributes, it certainly seems as though the future is bright with HTML5. For this reason, we would recommend that new websites be developed using HTML5 as opposed to XHTML or, definitely, HTML4.

By Chelsey Evans

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