HTML vs HTML5 vs XHTML: Understanding the Difference


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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.


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.
  • HTML doesn’t allow JavaScript to run in the browser. HTML5 solved this problem by introducing the JS Web Worker API. Now, because of the native support of JavaScript, web pages can be better designed by using front-end scripts to enhance the user experience.
  • 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.


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.


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.

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39 Comments, RSS

  1. Avatar

    Elaine Butcher November 5, 2018 @ 1:57 pm

    Is html5 different from HTML?

    • Avatar

      Gavin November 6, 2018 @ 2:32 am

      Yes, HTML5 is the newest version of HTML. It comes with a lot of new features than HTML. HTML5 supports both audio and video whereas HTML doesn’t. HTML is more complex in comparison to HTML5. Now you can draw shapes like triangle, circle etc. in designing with the use of HTML5. HTML5 give more flexibility to the developers.

  2. Avatar

    Darren Hardy November 5, 2018 @ 1:58 pm

    What is html5 and its uses?

    • Avatar

      Leigh Pittman November 6, 2018 @ 2:33 am

      HTML5 is the latest version of HTML (hypertext markup language) which introduces some outstanding features for designers. HTML5 focused to improve the language with support for latest multimedia features. HTML5 supports audio and video to play your media without any complexity. HTML5 code is simple, easy to read and elegant to use. It uses local storage instead of cookies. Using HTML5, you can easily create interactive websites, fun loving games etc. It supports all browsers.

  3. Avatar

    Mohammed Mannan November 5, 2018 @ 1:58 pm

    Why is html5 used?

    • Avatar

      Stacey Hammond November 6, 2018 @ 2:35 am

      Whenever technology updated, new features came into the game and change the whole game. HTML was doing well but when developers feel the need to have new elements in the website, they started using other developer studio or browsers plugins which were also not so efficient to use. That was the time when HTML5 born as a game changer. HTML5’s new DOCTYPE declaration, cross-browser compatibility, clean markup, and improved code made it popular among the developers.

  4. Avatar

    Paul Parker November 5, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

    What is difference between HTML and CSS?

    • Avatar

      Lois Barnes November 6, 2018 @ 2:35 am

      HTML and CSS have the crucial difference as HTML is a markup language which is used to create web pages or web documents whereas CSS controls over the styling and design of the web pages. CSS can be used in HTML files but HTML can’t be used in CSS style sheets. Both HTML and CSS differs in many ways like the ease of use, code structure, syntax, and features like attributes.

  5. Avatar

    Shaun Rhodes November 5, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

    What is the difference between HTML and HTM?

    • Avatar

      Olga Duncan November 6, 2018 @ 2:37 am

      There is no difference in both. Both are file name extensions for HTML file. When web servers were in UNIX systems with the limitations of using an extension in the file name. That time 3-letter filename was strict, so people were using ‘.htm’ but now there is no such kind of limits. Developers can use ‘.htm’ and ‘.html’ both to save file.

  6. Avatar

    David Pearman November 5, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

    What is SVG in html5?

    • Avatar

      Myrtle Miller November 6, 2018 @ 2:38 am

      SVG is for Vector graphics in HTML5. SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics. This is useful for vector type diagrams like two-dimensional graphs, boxes, circles, pie charts etc. SVG elements can be directly embedded into HTML pages when you are using HTML5. There are simple tags for every diagrams or shape. SVG images contain the smallest size to be saved.

  7. Avatar

    Bernard Maxwell November 5, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

    Is html5 a programming language?

    • Avatar

      Viola Lynch November 6, 2018 @ 2:38 am

      As we can notice by its name, this is a markup language but HTML5 is now used to create apps, 3D game development and for websites also. It provides support in tools like browser also. Being at the bottom of the heap we can see that HTML5 is in the race of programming languages but still the fact is it’s a markup language only, not programming language.

  8. Avatar

    Edith Tennant November 5, 2018 @ 2:01 pm

    What is difference between HTML CSS and Javascript?

    • Avatar

      Cassandra Ball November 6, 2018 @ 2:40 am

      A website can have two type of information: Static and Dynamic. Static is that where you write once and same is displayed whenever you check that. Whereas dynamic changes from time to time without the developer effort.
      HTML is used to create the basic structure of the website. CSS is used for styling and to give an attractive look and interactive feel to the web pages like font color, style, and background images etc. JavaScript add responsiveness to your website like a chat-box pops up when you click on help option in a website.

  9. Avatar

    Ian Plater November 5, 2018 @ 2:01 pm

    How do I edit a HTM file?

    • Avatar

      Ruth Washington November 6, 2018 @ 2:40 am

      When you finished with your programs and you want to edit something in HTM file, simply double-click on it to open it from where you saved and then right click on the page to view page source. Here you will find your file and you can edit it by using any plain text editing software like notepad.

  10. Avatar

    Charles Wood November 5, 2018 @ 2:02 pm

    Is HTML 5 backward compatible?

    • Avatar

      Terry Cox November 6, 2018 @ 2:41 am

      Sadly, the answer is No for this. Some of the features support old browser but audio, video, canvas tag, semantic elements etc. are not backward compatible at all. Browsers are also updating with latest versions but as of now, I recommend you to use a web browser which supports HTML5 like Internet Explorer 11.

  11. Avatar

    Michael Sawicki November 5, 2018 @ 2:03 pm

    Is HTML hard to learn?

    • Avatar

      Jonathan Harry November 8, 2018 @ 12:35 am

      Not, at all. HTML is very simple and straightforward markup language to learn. There is each sentence contains some tags which clearly identifies about the content. HTML has its symbols and tags like paragraphs, lists, headings, and graphics etc. You can easily learn HTML from online resources. There are lots of tutorials and videos available on the internet which provides you in-depth knowledge of HTML.

  12. Avatar

    Timothy Morton November 5, 2018 @ 2:07 pm

    Which is better web designer or web developer?

    • Avatar

      Jimmy Tate November 8, 2018 @ 12:41 am

      Both fields are best at their place. A designer’s job is creative which uses both imagination and intuition. They create designs to give the look to a web. Whereas the developer builds the backend of the web. A Developer needs to work on the functionality of the website and designer needs to give it an interactive and user-friendly design.

  13. Avatar

    Stuart MacKenzie November 5, 2018 @ 2:08 pm

    How can I create a website using HTML code?

    • Avatar

      Rosanna Fitt November 8, 2018 @ 12:43 am

      By this simple and basic example, you will understand it better to create a website in HTML.
      1. Open Notepad or Notepad++
      2. Type the below code (Add < in front of all the lines; we removed it because it was breaking styling of the comments) !DOCTYPE html>
      title>Page Title
      h1>My First Heading
      p>My first paragraph.

      You can use other heading tags, font and text editing tags. Also, you can insert image and a link to another page in your code.

  14. Avatar

    Alex November 7, 2018 @ 12:57 pm

    Is xhtml still used?

    • Avatar

      Geneva Payne November 8, 2018 @ 2:51 pm

      Yes, XHTML is still being used by the developers for some kind of purposes but there is no benefit of working in XHTML. HTML5 is now available which has XML syntax as XHTML5. It is simpler and less confusing markup language. If you are using JavaScript, it is better to use HTML5, because it doesn’t need namespaces.

  15. Avatar

    Frederick Harrison November 7, 2018 @ 12:58 pm

    What is dhtml and its features?

    • Avatar

      Stuart Rice November 8, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

      DHTML stands for Dynamic HTML. This is the combination of HTML, JavaScript, VB Script, and CSS. DHTML uses features of all these three languages. DHTML is entirely client-side technology. Its main features include:
      • Dynamic building of web pages without no-plugin.
      • DHTML can be used to create animations, games, applications, and a new way of navigation in websites.
      • Dynamic styling which allows the user to change web page’s styles.

  16. Avatar

    Mayson Hampton November 7, 2018 @ 12:59 pm

    What are the advantages of flash?

    • Avatar

      Alfred Daniels November 8, 2018 @ 2:54 pm

      If you are using animated and interactive content on your website then you will require flash. Flash supports games and vector graphics. Flash doesn’t need any plug-in like media player and quick time so it is originally used as a video and animation tool. The important feature of Flash is that it is browser independent. This makes it more usable.

  17. Avatar

    Eliot Trevino November 7, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

    What is the difference between XML and SGML?

    • Avatar

      Jordan Little November 8, 2018 @ 2:56 pm

      Both are markup languages. When you understand the use of these languages, you will see how they are distinct from each other.
      SGML is Standard Generalized Markup Language and it is the parent of markup family. SGML is for encoding paper documents while XML (Extensible Markup Language) is derived SGML. XML is simple to use and SGML is complex. XML is designed to work with limited bandwidth and subset of SGML.

  18. Avatar

    Spencer Spencer November 7, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

    Difference between HTML, XHTML, DHTML and XML

    • Avatar

      Douglas Woods November 8, 2018 @ 2:57 pm

      HTML – HTML is used to build static web pages (no animation and non-interactive).
      XHTML – It’s a family of markup languages that is extended version of HTML.
      DHTML – DHTML uses a collection of technologies to create attractive and animated websites.
      XML – XML defines a set of rules for encoding documents in a format which can be readable by both human and machines.

  19. Avatar

    Toby Wood November 7, 2018 @ 1:04 pm

    Which should I learn, XHTML or HTML 5?

    • Avatar

      Robin Strickland November 13, 2018 @ 3:21 am

      XHTML is a family of markup languages that is extended version of HTML. HTML5 is the latest version in this family. HTML5 code is simple, easy to read and elegant to use. It uses local storage instead of cookies. XHTML is an easier context in which to learn the principles of accessibility. Still, not all web browsers support HTML5. There is no issue with start any of them. But this will be better to start with XHTML and then jump to HTML5. For future perspectives, Developers need to know both languages.

  20. Avatar

    Rukmangadhasai August 25, 2019 @ 4:17 am

    What was the attribute used to make an web application compatible in mobile devices?