Plain English version of the details section of AllowAriaReferHidden

(Latest revision as of 19:55, 20 March 2012)

7 User interaction

7.1 The hidden attribute

All HTML elements may have the hidden content attribute set. The hidden attribute is a boolean attribute. When specified on an element, it indicates that the element is not yet, or is no longer, directly relevant to the page's current state, or that it is being used to declare content to be reused by other parts of the page as opposed to being directly accessed by the user. User agents should not render elements that have the hidden attribute specified.

In the following skeletal example, the attribute is used to hide the Web game's main screen until the user logs in:

  <h1>The Example Game</h1>
  <section id="login">
    <!-- calls login() once the user's credentials have been checked -->
    function login() {
      // switch screens
      document.getElementById('login').hidden = true;
      document.getElementById('game').hidden = false;
  <section id="game" hidden>

The hidden attribute must not be used to hide content that could legitimately be shown in another presentation. For example, it is incorrect to use hidden to hide panels in a tabbed dialog, because the tabbed interface is merely a kind of overflow presentation — one could equally well just show all the form controls in one big page with a scrollbar. It is similarly incorrect to use this attribute to hide content just from one presentation — if something is marked hidden, it is hidden from all presentations, including, for instance, screen readers.

Elements that are not themselves hidden must not hyperlink to elements that are hidden. The for attributes of label and output elements that are not themselves hidden must similarly not refer to elements that are hidden. In both cases, such references would cause user confusion.

Elements and scripts may, however, refer to elements that are hidden in other contexts.

For example, it would be incorrect to use the href attribute to link to a section marked with the hidden attribute. If the content is not applicable or relevant, then there is no reason to link to it.

It would be fine, however, to use the ARIA aria-describedby attribute to refer to descriptions that are themselves hidden. While hiding the descriptions implies that they are not useful alone, they could be written in such a way that they are useful in the specific context of being referenced from the images that they describe.

Similarly, a canvas element with the hidden attribute could be used by a scripted graphics engine as an off-screen buffer, and a form control could refer to a hidden form element using its form attribute.

Elements in a section hidden by the hidden attribute are still active, e.g. scripts and form controls in such sections still execute and submit respectively. Only their presentation to the user changes.

The hidden IDL attribute must reflect the content attribute of the same name.