By Deane Barker on March 7, 2005

Joe and I got to talking about this little-known HTML tag today. It’s an odd-bird — one of the few HTML tags that provides semantic meaning, as if it would be more at home in XML. I found this explanation, which is what Joe and I suspected:

The devisors of HTML hoped that this would be used to enclose addresses so that addresses could be recognised as such by indexing and cataloguing software.

What other intra-BODY HTML tags are meant to provide semantic meaning rather than formatting? An argument could be made for the set of TABLE tags, but they’re really formatting-related. ACRONYM provides formatting too, since it’s intended to expose a defintion on mouseover (along with DFN, for that matter). So do the defintion list tags: DL, DT, and DD.

Here are a few I found that fit into the same group as ADDRESS — tags that do nothing really special in the context of displaying HTML in a browser, but provide value when indexed or processed through some system that knows what they mean:

How many of these have you heard of? I couldn’t see that any of them have been deprecated as of HTML 4. The HTML spec refers to them as “phrase elements.”

Phrase elements add structural information to text fragments.

I’m guessing that Google is using them in some form. Does anyone have any resources to back this guess up?

Several months ago, I wished for this:

Lets make up an XML spec for information about your business. […] You could have fields for your business phone number, fax number, general email, directions on how to get to your office, stock ticker symbol, customer service phone number, etc. […] Now, lets all put this file in the root of our Web site and call it “info.xml.” That way we all know where it is, and we can all retrieve it.

Consistent use of the ADDRESS tag would handle at least part of this.

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  1. INS and DEL are also interesting – they can supposedly be used to mark changes within a document. How cool would that be in a wiki?

  2. “An argument could be made for the set of TABLE tags, but they’re really formatting-related.”

    Tables are not formatting-related. They are for data. There are very few formatting-related elements, including i, b and maybe a couple of others, I’m not sure. The rest are all for structure and semantics.

  3. Actually nearly all HTML tags are there to define structure (i.e. what type of information it is (such as a paragraph, heading etc) and table tags are most definately not formatting related! They are there so tabular information can be represented properly.

    hemebond – i and b are depreciated and your best bet is “strong” and “em” (em for emphasis) which achieve semantically correct mark-up and usually the same visual results.

    The issue of tables for layout is a large one. It causes major problems for people with disabilities as the way they render table based pages makes them almost impossible to use!

    It’s a shame that the CSS & div based model is not as robust as it should be though. But hey, now you can get fined for not having an accesible website so it’s not some that can be ignored!

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