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Re: A possible presentational hints proposal for CSS 2.1

From: Coises <Randy@Coises.com>
Date: Wed, 09 Oct 2002 14:12:51 -0700
To: www-style@w3.org
Cc: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Message-ID: <vbv8quo8ha693b1jaqv1ri1l7r2kat7blr@4ax.com>

[Mon, 7 Oct 2002 21:48:06 +0000 (GMT)] Ian Hickson:
>The working group are currently considering various proposals for changing
>the handling of presentational hints in CSS 2.1, based on feedback given
>in this forum.
>It should be borne in mind that the intention is to discourage the use of
>presentational markup on the long run.

I believe the section under consideration is the wrong place to pursue that
goal.  Certainly, reducing the precedence of "non-CSS presentational hints"
to be just weaker than (rather than just stronger than) non-!important user
style sheet rules (as in the previous version of this section in the CSS
2.1 proposal) wouldn't discourage the use of presentational markup --- it
would discourage the use of user style sheets in contexts where pages
containing presentational markup might be encountered.

The wording suggested here won't discourage page authors from using
presentational markup, either.  It will, however, create a compatibility
problem between CSS and any XML-based document language which contains
constructions having default presentational effects that cannot be
described by a fixed set of CSS rules (and hence cannot be implemented
through the user agent default style sheet).  The implementation of such
constructions would either have to violate this section, or else bypass CSS
properties entirely (thus making it impossible for authors or users to
override the default presentation).

I note that the considerations which led me to introduce this issue before:
   From: Coises <Randy@Coises.com>
   To: www-style@w3.org
   Subject: CSS 2.1 WD and non-CSS presentational hints
   Date: Mon, 05 Aug 2002 06:08:42 -0700
   Message-ID: <cksskuoj9mrdph3h2mhc4h8ot7tp6sdb80@4ax.com>
   Archive: http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-style/2002Aug/0020.html
are *formal* considerations which apply to any construction in any document
language which has default effects on presentation that cannot be
represented --- or can be represented only with great difficulty --- by a
fixed set of style rules.  Whether it is a "presentational attribute" (in
whatever sense one might choose to give to that term) doesn't matter.

>The text below is written so that it could be placed directly into
>CSS 2.1 section 6.4.4, "Precedence of non-CSS presentational hints".

> The UA may choose to honor presentational attributes from the markup
> language. If so, these attributes are translated to the corresponding
> CSS rules with specificity equal to 0, and are treated as if they
> were inserted at the start of the author style sheet. They may
> therefore be overridden by subsequent style sheet rules. In a
> transition phase, this policy will make it easier for stylistic
> attributes to coexist with style sheets.

Let's be clear what this is all about.

Under consideration are document language constructions that affect CSS
properties.  (If they don't affect CSS properties, assigning them a place
in the cascade is irrelevant.)  The CSS property values derived from such
constructions must have a place in the cascade.   If rules in the (real or
virtual) user agent default style sheet specify the effects of a particular
construction, their place in the cascade is already defined by earlier
sub-sections; the place of the "STYLE" attribute is also defined.  The
function of this section in the CSS 2 specification is to define the place
in the cascade to be assigned to the rules derived from any remaining
constructions which implicitly generate default values for CSS properties.

> For HTML, any attribute that is not in the following list should be
> considered presentational:

I think the language here is too indirect; "considered presentational" is
just asking for confusion.  What this text introduces is just a list of
HTML attributes the default effects upon CSS properties of which should be
defined in the user agent default style sheet; the default effects of the
remaining attributes, then, should be implemented as discussed in the
earlier paragraph.

Is it really necessary to enumerate all of these?  In the CSS 2 standard,
Appendix A, "Appendix A. A sample style sheet for HTML 4.0" (found at
<http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS2/sample.html>) contains only five rules that
use attribute selectors: 
     A[href]         { text-decoration: underline }
     BDO[DIR="ltr"]  { direction: ltr; unicode-bidi: bidi-override }
     BDO[DIR="rtl"]  { direction: rtl; unicode-bidi: bidi-override }
     *[DIR="ltr"]    { direction: ltr; unicode-bidi: embed }
     *[DIR="rtl"]    { direction: rtl; unicode-bidi: embed }
comprising only two different attributes.  All the other attributes (except
STYLE, which is a special case) either have no default effects on CSS
properties, or have effects that were not expected (at least by those who
wrote this appendix) to be described in user agent default style sheets.

To put this point another way:  There is no need to state that such
attributes as "alt" or "src" are not "presentational"; they have no effect
by default (that is, when no author or user style sheet selects for them)
on any rendering characteristics that are connected with CSS properties.

> For XHTML and other XML languages, no attribute should be considered
> presentational.

That is to say, the effects on CSS properties of all constructions
in XML-based document languages should be defined solely in terms
of the user agent default style sheet.

Is this consistent with all existing (or likely) XML-based document

Is it allowed to use CSS with anything other than HTML or an XML-based
document language?  If so... what about them?  Does the term "attribute"
even apply?

I'd like to suggest an alternative formulation, which follows.

--- Precedence of non-CSS presentational hints ---

The document language may include, and user agents may implement,
constructions expected to influence characteristics of document rendering
that can also be represented by the assignment of values to CSS properties.
User agents must represent such characteristics as CSS rules that apply
to the relevant node of the document tree (or behave as if they did).

Some of these rules may be included in the user agent default style sheet;
others may be generated specifically for each instance of a construction
that requires them.  In the latter case, the generated rules are considered
to be a part of the author style sheet; they are assigned a specificity of
zero and treated as if they preceded all other author style rules.

If the effect of the expected presentation of a language construct on a
particular CSS property cannot be described by a fixed (and reasonably
compact) set of CSS rules which are recognized by the implementation,
then the assignment of value to that CSS property which results from each
instance of the construct must be represented as a generated rule.

When the document language is a form of XML (including XHTML), the effects
of all other document language constructs on CSS properties should be
defined in the user agent default style sheet.

When the document language is HTML, in the interest of consistency it is
recommended that wherever possible, user agents define the presentation
expected for elements, the DIR attribute, and the HREF attribute of the A
tag in the user agent default style sheet.  The default presentation of all
other attributes should be implemented with generated rules (even though it
is possible to describe the effects of some attributes --- e.g.: ALIGN, but
not BACKGROUND --- using fixed sets of style rules that conform to the
present specification).
Randall Joseph Fellmy aka Randy@Coises.com
Received on Wednesday, 9 October 2002 17:13:24 UTC

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