Re: Erm, is HTML content or presentation based?

Daniel W. Connolly (
Mon, 07 Aug 1995 23:14:43 -0400

In message <>, R J Partington writes:
>(Forgive me if I make horrendous blunders... please...)
>Isn't HTML supposed to be content, rather than presentation, based?

[Mr. WWW FAQ Maintainer: would you please summarize this thread and
stick it in the FAQ? (is there a separate HTML FAQ?)]

You asked about HTML 3, and that's really Dave Raggett's baliwick,
but if you want my two cents, I've written a couple essays on
the subject:

Toward Closure on HTML
$Id: html-direction.html,v 1.3 1994/04/07 00:56:59 connolly Exp $


Toward a Formalism for Communication On the Web
$Id: html-essay.html,v 1.2 1994/02/15 20:07:12 connolly Exp $

I just resurrected them from the stock of stuff I brought from HaL.

Both documents start out strong and kinda disintegrate toward
the end, but you might find them valuable.

Some of the "juicy bits":

The Purpose of HTML

If we take a step back and look at the purpose and requirements and
such for HTML, I'd say the purpose of HTML is: to promote computer
mediated communication between parties on the internet by representing
information in terms of available hypermedia technology.

The idea is that I use the tools available on my box to capture my
ideas at a fairly high level, so that you can use the tools on your
box to filter/navigate/display the ideas. And even though your tools
and my tools are not exactly the same, there's a high degree of
confidence that the ideas get through in-tact.

The HTML DTD: Conforming, though Expedient

Design Constraints of the HTML DTD

Tim's original conception of HTML is that it should be about as
expressive as RTF. In contrast to traditional SGML applications where
documents might be batch processed and complex structure is the norm,
HTML documents are intended to be processed interactively. And the
widespread success of WYSIWYG word processors based on fairly flat
paragraph structure was proof that something like RTF was suitable for
a fairly wide variety of tasks.

As I learned a little about SGML, it was clear that the WWW browser
implementation of HTML sorely lacked anything resembling an SGML
entity manager. And there were some syntactic inconsitencies with the
SGML standard. And it didn't use the ID/IDREF feature where it should

Then, as I began to comprehend SGML with all its warts, (who's idea
was it to attach the significance of a newline character to the phase
of the moon anyway?) I was less gung-ho about declaring all the HTML
out there to be blasphemy to the One True SGML Way.

Thus I chose for my battle to find some formal relationship between
the SGML standard and the HTML that was "out there." The quest was:

Find some DTD such that the vast majority of HTML documents are
instances of that DTD, conversely, such that all its instances make
sense to the existing WWW clients.

Daniel W. Connolly "We believe in the interconnectedness of all things"
Research Scientist, MIT/W3C PGP: EDF8 A8E4 F3BB 0F3C FD1B 7BE0 716C FF21