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The terms HTML, HTML5 and XHTML are frequently used in web design. Most people who are new to web design, often find these terms confusing and don’t know which language of these three to learn. The confusion is understandable because all of them are markup languages and essentially serve the same purpose. To clear out the confusion, let’s take a look at their differences in detail.
Markup Languages: What Are They?
Markup Languages are the most basic tools required to create a webpage. Each webpage has some text, images or any other sort of structured data that has to be displayed to the user. The markup of a website is the way in which the textual or visual information is presented to the user. In designing a webpage, we may need different fonts for different words, different colors for different types of text, and so on. What we also need is a universality in the markup, that is, the webpage needs to look the same irrespective of the browser it is viewed in. This makes it necessary to have a common markup language through which web pages can present information to the user.
Markup Languages basically use tags to determine the presentation format of the data. Tags are used to represent data in a structured and organized way. Common examples of tags include header tags, body tags, and so on. The most common markup language for web pages is HTML, which was designed by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.
HTML, which stands for HyperText Markup Language, was the first internet-based markup language used for web pages. However, HTML quickly evolved, and with the release of subsequent versions of it, became a sort of standard for markup languages. Although HTML is more of a standard than a single language, versions up-to HTML4 are commonly referred to as HTML itself. This is because of the need to differentiate it from the major changes brought in by HTML5, which is the next and latest version of HTML.
However, before the release of HTML5, the World Wide Web Consortium (also known as W3C) started developing an extension of HTML based on the XML format to solve some browser compatibility issues. XML is another standard of markup language that is very similar to HTML, but is somewhat stricter than HTML in error handling and formatting. The resulting language was named XHTML, which stands for eXtensible HyperText Markup Language. This was very similar to HTML4 but introduced some stricter rules.
Difference between HTML vs XHTML vs HTML5
Now that we’ve looked at the history of these languages and their purpose, let’s explore some of their differences in greater detail.
HTML vs HTML5
HTML5 was developed by a group known as WHATWG and was designed to improve upon the previous HTML versions and solve some cross-browser compatibility issues. We’ll use ‘HTML’ to refer to the pre-HTML5 versions of HTML. The key differences between HTML and HTML5:
- HTML5 offers better support for various forms of media, such as audio and video, by providing tags for them. HTML didn’t have these tags and relied on third-party plugins.
- HTML5 includes new input attributes, such as email, URLs, date and time, search, etc.
- HTML5 is device independent and has better browser compatibility than previous HTML versions.
- HTML5 has better parsing (parsing is the processing of text) rules and allows for greater flexibility in parsing than HTML.
- HTML5 also makes it easy to find the location without any third-party plugins.
- HTML5 also has native support for vector graphics, so, there is no need of third-party software such as Adobe Flash.
In short, HTML5 is just a better version of HTML with added features and functionalities.
HTML vs XHTML
XHTML was developed as an extension to HTML. There aren’t many differences between HTML4 and XHTML, and XHTML is basically a stricter version of HTML4. The main differences between HTML and XHTML are:
- HTML4 allows some elements to omit the end tag. End tags are added when closing a certain part of the text, such as a paragraph. They are usually symbolized with a backslash (for example, opening tag of a paragraph is <p> while end tag is </p>). XHTML requires that all elements include the end tag.
- HTML4 allows overlapping of certain elements. XHTML doesn’t allow any elements to overlap.
- Attribute values (such as font size) have to be quoted in XHTML, even if they are numeric. HTML doesn’t have include quoted values for attributes.
- Attributes cannot be minimized in HTML.
- There is a small difference in the way empty elements are handled.
While the above are the more important differences, there are also some very subtle differences, but they are really rare to run into. You can always check out the documentation of XHTML for more information. The takeaway is that XHTML was designed to solve some problems in HTML, by incorporating some features of XML.
HTML5 vs XHTML
Since XHTML and HTML are largely the same, the differences between XHTML and HTML5 are the same as the ones between HTML4 and HTML5. However, the following are some of the subtler differences between HTML5 and XHTML:
- While XHTML is case sensitive, HTML5 is not (HTML is also case insensitive).
- HTML5 has a much simpler doctype than XHTML and HTML (Doctypes tell the browser how to interpret the data).
- HTML5 is compatible with all browsers while XHTML isn’t.
- HTML5 is more lenient, following the footsteps of HTML4, than XHTML.
- HTML5 is better suited for mobile devices such as tablets and phones, while XHTML is better suited for computer screens.
In conclusion, all three are markup languages with just some features present in each which aren’t present in the others. While XHTML was designed to be a better version of HTML4 by incorporating some features of XML, HTML5 turned out to be far better than the both and is by far the most widely used markup language today because of the addition of many important features. The main takeaway is that all of them are just different versions of the HTML standard of markup languages, but with different syntactic styles and features. If you are a beginner at web design, HTML4 and XHTML aren’t recommended, and it would make sense to learn HTML5 first because of it’s enhanced compatibility and widespread usage.