FEBRUARY 2000 IN
RICK ASTER’S WORLD

XHTML: The Next Step for HTML

Now that the World Wide Web Consortium has adopted XHTML as a standard, people are wondering, what is XHTML? and does it matter?

The simple answer is that XHTML is the next step in the evolution of HTML, the language that describes the elements of web pages. XHTML is intended to do the exact same thing that XTML does. Actually, it is only a minor revision to the HTML 4.0 standard, which is the web standard that, more than anything else, has defined the direction of web browser development for the last three or four years. Although there are still no web browser programs that are completely compatible with HTML 4.0, they have been getting closer and closer with each successive release. The XHTML 1.0 spec essentially just revises the HTML 4.0 spec to make it compatible with XML. In technical terms, they say that XHTML implements HTML as an XML application.

Why does XML compatibility matter? XML is simpler and more powerful than HTML. While it can define web pages, the way HTML does, it is general enough that it can also be used for databases, electronic transactions, document design, and various other forms of electronic communication. It has already become the effective standard for electronic data interchange applications, spawning countless industry-specific standards that are built in XML.

Much of what goes on on the Web is already database-oriented. Consider, for example, that about half of the most-visited web sites, Amazon.com, Yahoo!, and many more, are essentially nothing more than database interfaces. XML promises to make such web sites easier to develop and easier for you to search and analyze.

The XHTML standard is a small step in that direction. It also happens to be the cleanest, most precise HTML spec ever written. So while HTML 4 may be the closest thing to a standard for web pages right now, expect that to give way to XHTML over the next year or two. When you’re browsing the web, you won’t see the difference — except that your browser program may crash a little less often. But this transition to XHTML will set the stage for differences you will be able to see in the future, as web pages begin to take advantage of the additional features of XML.


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