W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-gl@w3.org > July to September 1998

CSS vs Tables For Achieving Complex Visual Layout

From: T. V. Raman <raman@Adobe.COM>
Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 18:50:18 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <13750.38618.149381.8542@labrador>
To: WAI GL <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>, Charles McCathieNevile <charlesn@sunrise.srl.rmit.edu.au>
Cc: w3c-css-wg@w3.org, raman@Adobe.COM
This message addresses the importance of transitioning the
WWW to using CSS for complex visual layout rather than
continuing down the current hack of abusing tables.

(Tim, I'm copying you --I'm sure you'll find the attached
HTML from the CNN site appalling given your original vision
for the WWW).
(Jim (Gettys) -- thought you'd love the band-width numbers)
 Dave (Ragget)-- I'm copying you on this since I'm
sure you'd be appalled by how your table spec is being
abused. I'm copying you also because whenever we have
discussed in the past, we have always gone away with the
understanding that over time the WWW will migrate to using
CSS for achieving the kind of visual effects shown here
using tables.

I'm highlighting this issue because of late
I've seen assertions of the form
"table models will be accessible via the DOM",
"screenreaders can rearrange table content"
being used to justify not moving to  CSS but  instead
remaining with tables  for achieving this form of
visual presentation. I think believing the
above would be a serious mistake --both for accessibility,
and more importantly, from the point of view of making the
WWW scalable and universally accessible from different kinds of devices
--especially mobile devices.

The simple misuse of band-width referred to in my first
point below would itself be a show stopper --
12,600+ bytes of raw HTML (not counting gifs)
with the content request -- the forecast about 10,000 bytes
into the data stream
Hello WAI GL team--

When talking about tables in the access guidelines,
it might be useful to refer to popular (mis)uses of tables on
mainstream WWW sites that causes untold pain today and will
continue to do so in the future --
irrespective of what  information 
is gleened via the DOM.

As an example, I'd suggest looking at the CNN weather page--
I'll inflict the html source on this list at the end of this
message -- the rest of this message annotates the appended
HTML with the points I think that are important to focus on.

1) The attached 557 line  12,600+ bytes 
of html (the byte count does not include the size of the
embedded gifs) is the response for asking what the weather
forecast was for Mountain View.
The content you care about -- the forecast --is about 10,000
bytes into the data stream.

Content wise, all it gives you is expected highs and lows, and
wind speed etc for the next four days.

Access aside, it's a ludicrous use of band-width --but
that's another rant for another day.

2) Note the multiple table instances for the various
   navigation bars.

3) To locate the actual content look for the appropriate
   comment.  In fact the only way you can make sense of this
   tag soup is to read the comments --who said HTML was not
   a programming language-- or in other words, give the
   world enough angle-brackets, and they will figure out a
   way to implement a Turing machine.

4) The actual content of the forecast itself 
is a nested table with one of the inner tables giving the
content you asked for.

5) Notice that in that "content table", individual cells
achieve further visual alignment and layout by using <BR>
tags e.g.  the temperature in Fahrenheit and the Celsius
equivalent are lined up this way--

6) Sunny weather is indicated by sunny.gif --accompanied by
    an alt tag-- but it also has the word "sunny" in the
    content -- and given the complex visual layout that is
    being attempted, you get very confused about what the
    "sunny" applies to.

7) And lots more ...

In fact studying the HTML in this attachment shows up why we
really need to 
drive the WWW towards achieving multicolumn layout via CSS
rather than via tables.

The reason is obvious, exposing the table model in this HTML
document fully via the DOM will get us no closer to making
the content any better accessible on alternative displays
and media --
the model that you would get from the DOM for this HTML will
just have no meaningful data binding between the model and
the content.



<HTML>
  <HEAD>
    <TITLE>CNN - Weather - Mountain View, CA</TITLE>
    <META NAME="description" CONTENT="4 day weather forecast for Mountain View, CA.">
    <META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="weather forecast Mountain View, CA">
    <SCRIPT LANGUAGE="javascript" SRC="/virtual/weather/vector.js">
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          <IMG SRC="/WEATHER/images/1998/usforecas.gif" ALT="Weather" WIDTH="460" HEIGHT="50" BORDER="0" HSPACE="0" VSPACE="0">
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                    <TR>
                      <TD>
                        <FONT SIZE="5" FACE="helvetica, arial"><STRONG>Mountain View, CA Forecast</STRONG></FONT>
                      </TD>
                    </TR>
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                  <TABLE WIDTH=240>
	<TR>
		<TD COLSPAN=4 BGCOLOR="#666699">
			<STRONG><FONT SIZE="3" COLOR="#FFFFFF" FACE="helvetica, arial">FOUR-DAY FORECAST</FONT></STRONG>
		</TD>
	</TR>
	<TR ALIGN=CENTER VALIGN=TOP>
		<TD BGCOLOR="#FFCC66">
			<FONT SIZE="2" FACE="helvetica, arial">
			  <STRONG>Wed.</STRONG><BR>
				<IMG ALT="cloudy" SRC="/WEATHER/images/9712/conds/cloudy.gif" WIDTH=24 HEIGHT=27><BR>
				cloudy<BR>
				<BR>
				HIGH<BR>
				73 F<BR>
22 C<BR>
				<BR>
				LOW<BR>
				61 F<BR>
16 C
			</FONT>
		</TD>
		<TD BGCOLOR="#FF9966">
			<FONT SIZE="2" FACE="helvetica, arial">
				<STRONG>Thu.</STRONG><BR>
				<IMG ALT="p/cloudy" SRC="/WEATHER/images/9712/conds/partly.cloudy.gif" WIDTH=24 HEIGHT=27><BR>
				p/cloudy<BR>
				<BR>
				HIGH<BR>
				77 F<BR>
25 C<BR>
				<BR>
				LOW<BR>
				62 F<BR>
16 C
			</FONT>
		</TD>
		<TD BGCOLOR="#FFCC66">
			<FONT SIZE="2" FACE="helvetica, arial">
				<STRONG>Fri.</STRONG><BR>
				<IMG ALT="p/cloudy" SRC="/WEATHER/images/9712/conds/partly.cloudy.gif" WIDTH=24 HEIGHT=27><BR>
				p/cloudy<BR>
				<BR>
				HIGH<BR>
				77 F<BR>
25 C<BR>
				<BR>
				LOW<BR>
				62 F<BR>
16 C
			</FONT>
		</TD>
		<TD BGCOLOR="#FF9966">
			<FONT SIZE="2" FACE="helvetica, arial">
				<STRONG>Sat.</STRONG><BR>
				<IMG ALT="p/cloudy" SRC="/WEATHER/images/9712/conds/partly.cloudy.gif" WIDTH=24 HEIGHT=27><BR>
				p/cloudy<BR>
				<BR>
				HIGH<BR>
				80 F<BR>
26 C<BR>
				<BR>
				LOW<BR>
				63 F<BR>
17 C
			</FONT>
		</TD>
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                          <STRONG>RADAR</STRONG><BR>
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			<STRONG>SATELLITE</STRONG><BR>
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			<STRONG>TEMPERATURE</STRONG><BR>
			<A HREF="/WEATHER/NAmerica/region_map.html"><IMG ALT="thumbnail map" SRC="/WEATHER/cnn.data/namerica_highs.icon.gif" WIDTH=100 HEIGHT=75 BORDER=0><BR>
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			<A HREF="/WEATHER/NAmerica/us.reg/mov.temp.html">QT Movie: Temps</A><BR>
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			<STRONG>FORECAST</STRONG><BR>
			<A HREF="/WEATHER/NAmerica/today.html"><IMG ALT="thumbnail map" SRC="/WEATHER/cnn.data/namerica_forecast_1.icon.gif" WIDTH=100 HEIGHT=75 BORDER=0><BR>
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			<A HREF="/WEATHER/NAmerica/tomorrow.html">Tomorrow</A><BR>
			<A HREF="/WEATHER/NAmerica/us.reg/mov.forecast.html">QT Movie: Forecast</A>
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	<TD BGCOLOR="#666699">
		<STRONG><FONT SIZE="3" FACE="helvetica, arial" COLOR="#FFFFFF">CURRENT CONDITIONS</FONT></STRONG><BR>
		<FONT SIZE="2" FACE="helvetica, arial" COLOR="#FFFFFF"> 5 p.m. (local), Jul. 22</FONT>
	</TD>
</TR>
<TR>
	<TD BGCOLOR="#FFCC66">
		<FONT SIZE="3" FACE="helvetica, arial">
			<IMG ALT="sunny" SRC="/WEATHER/images/9712/conds/sunny.gif" WIDTH=24 HEIGHT=27 ALIGN=RIGHT>
			<STRONG>sunny</STRONG><BR>
			<BR>
			<STRONG>Temp:</STRONG>  70 F, 21 C<BR>
			<BR>
			<STRONG>Rel. Humidity:</STRONG>  67%<BR>
			<BR>
			<TABLE CELLPADDING=0 CELLSPACING=0 BORDER=0>
				<TR>
					<TD><FONT SIZE="3" FACE="helvetica, arial"><STRONG>Wind:</STRONG>  NNW at </FONT></TD><TD><FONT SIZE=3 FACE="helvetica, arial">16 mph</FONT></TD>
</TR>
<TR>
<TD ALIGN=RIGHT><FONT SIZE=3 FACE="helvetica, arial">(</FONT></TD><TD><FONT SIZE=3 FACE="helvetica, arial">25 kph)</FONT></TD>
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			<TABLE CELLPADDING=0 CELLSPACING=0 BORDER=0>
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					<TD><FONT SIZE="3" FACE="helvetica, arial"><STRONG>Pressure:</STRONG>  n/a</FONT></TD>
				</TR>
			</TABLE>

                          <BR>
                          <STRONG>Sunrise:</STRONG>  6:04 a.m.<BR>
<STRONG>Sunset:</STRONG>  8:25 p.m.  

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		&#149; <A HREF="http://cnn.com/TRAVEL/CITY.GUIDES/US/california/">Travel: California</A><BR>
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                  <font color="#FFFFFF" face="helvetica, arial"><b>Four-day forecasts for 6,100 cities worldwide</b></font>
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                <TABLE WIDTH=460 CELLPADDING=2 CELLSPACING=3 BORDER=0><TR><TD COLSPAN=2 BGCOLOR="#000000"><FONT SIZE="2" FACE="helvetica,arial,sans-serif" color="#FFFFFF"><b>FOUR-DAY FORECASTS FOR 6100 CITIES WORLDWIDE</b></FONT></TD></TR>
<TR><TD WIDTH=230>
<IMG SRC="/WEATHER/images/9805/uscities.gif" ALT="US cities" WIDTH="89" HEIGHT="18" BORDER="0" HSPACE="0" VSPACE="0"></TD><TD WIDTH=230><IMG SRC="/WEATHER/images/9805/worldcities.gif" ALT="World cities" WIDTH="108" HEIGHT="17" BORDER="0" HSPACE="0" VSPACE="0"></TD></TR>
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15" BORDER="0" HSPACE="5" VSPACE="0"><FONT FACE="Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif" COLOR="#000000" SIZE="2">Or, browse the text listing:<br>
		<A HREF="/WEATHER/cities/states.list.html">Complete listing of U.S. states</A><BR>
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