ISSUE-140 Change proposal from Noah Mendelsohn

This document contains a change proposal from Noah Mendelsohn for HTML working group ISSUE-140, which relates to conformance terminology. The changes are based on the Common infrastructure section of the HTML5 Editors' draft dated 14 January, 2011. Suggested additional text is marked like this, and proposed deletions like this. Commentary on the proposed changes is marked like this. For brevity, sections in which no changes are proposed have been removed.

This proposal is offered from Noah Mendelsohn as an individual contributor to the W3C. It has not been discussed by and would not necessarily meet with approval from other TAG members.

2 Common infrastructure

2.2 Conformance requirements

All diagrams, examples, and notes in this specification are non-normative, as are all sections explicitly marked non-normative. Everything else in this specification is normative.

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in the normative parts of this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC2119. For readability, these words do not appear in all uppercase letters in this specification. [RFC2119]

Requirements phrased in the imperative as part of algorithms (such as "strip any leading space characters" or "return false and abort these steps") are to be interpreted with the meaning of the key word ("must", "should", "may", etc) used in introducing the algorithm.

This specification describes the conformance criteria for user agents (relevant to implementors) and documents (relevant to authors and authoring tool implementors).

Conforming HTML5 documents are those that comply with all the conformance criteria for documents. For readability, some of these conformance requirements are phrased as conformance requirements on authors; such requirements are implicitly requirements on documents: by definition, all documents are assumed to have had an author. (In some cases, that author may itself be a user agent — such user agents are subject to additional rules, as explained below.)

For example, if a requirement states that "authors must not use the foobar element", it would imply that documents are not allowed to contain elements named foobar.

Note: the conformance requirements for documents include syntax (the <table> element is conforming as a child of <body>, but not as a child ot <title>), and semantics (the <table> elements denotes a multi-dimensional data table, not a piece of furniture).

The other proposed changes could probably stand without the note above, but I think the note is useful, and I do talk about both syntax and semantics in the additions relating to applicable specifications. The terminology change from "conforming document" to "conforming HTML5 document" is to set the stage for terminology used when applicable specifications are employed (see below).

User agents fall into several (overlapping) categories with different conformance requirements.

Web browsers and other interactive user agents

Web browsers that support the XHTML syntax must process elements and attributes from the HTML namespace found in XML documents as described in this specification, so that users can interact with them, unless the semantics of those elements have been overridden by other specifications.

A conforming XHTML processor would, upon finding an XHTML script element in an XML document, execute the script contained in that element. However, if the element is found within a transformation expressed in XSLT (assuming the user agent also supports XSLT), then the processor would instead treat the script element as an opaque element that forms part of the transform.

Web browsers that support the HTML syntax must process documents labeled with an HTML MIME type as described in this specification, so that users can interact with them.

User agents that support scripting must also be conforming implementations of the IDL fragments in this specification, as described in the Web IDL specification. [WEBIDL]

Unless explicitly stated, specifications that override the semantics of HTML elements do not override the requirements on DOM objects representing those elements. For example, the script element in the example above would still implement the HTMLScriptElement interface.

Non-interactive presentation user agents

User agents that process HTML and XHTML documents purely to render non-interactive versions of them must comply to the same conformance criteria as Web browsers, except that they are exempt from requirements regarding user interaction.

Typical examples of non-interactive presentation user agents are printers (static UAs) and overhead displays (dynamic UAs). It is expected that most static non-interactive presentation user agents will also opt to lack scripting support.

A non-interactive but dynamic presentation UA would still execute scripts, allowing forms to be dynamically submitted, and so forth. However, since the concept of "focus" is irrelevant when the user cannot interact with the document, the UA would not need to support any of the focus-related DOM APIs.

User agents with no scripting support

Implementations that do not support scripting (or which have their scripting features disabled entirely) are exempt from supporting the events and DOM interfaces mentioned in this specification. For the parts of this specification that are defined in terms of an events model or in terms of the DOM, such user agents must still act as if events and the DOM were supported.

Scripting can form an integral part of an application. Web browsers that do not support scripting, or that have scripting disabled, might be unable to fully convey the author's intent.

Conformance checkers

Conformance checkers must verify that a document conforms to the applicable conformance criteria described in this specification. Automated conformance checkers are exempt from detecting errors that require interpretation of the author's intent (for example, while a document is non-conforming if the content of a blockquote element is not a quote, conformance checkers running without the input of human judgement do not have to check that blockquote elements only contain quoted material).

Conformance checkers must check that the input document conforms when parsed without a browsing context (meaning that no scripts are run, and that the parser's scripting flag is disabled), and should also check that the input document conforms when parsed with a browsing context in which scripts execute, and that the scripts never cause non-conforming states to occur other than transiently during script execution itself. (This is only a "SHOULD" and not a "MUST" requirement because it has been proven to be impossible. [COMPUTABLE])

The term "HTML5 validator" can be used to refer to a conformance checker that itself conforms to the applicable requirements of this specification.

XML DTDs cannot express all the conformance requirements of this specification. Therefore, a validating XML processor and a DTD cannot constitute a conformance checker. Also, since neither of the two authoring formats defined in this specification are applications of SGML, a validating SGML system cannot constitute a conformance checker either.

To put it another way, there are three types of conformance criteria:

  1. Criteria that can be expressed in a DTD.
  2. Criteria that cannot be expressed by a DTD, but can still be checked by a machine.
  3. Criteria that can only be checked by a human.

A conformance checker must check for the first two. A simple DTD-based validator only checks for the first class of errors and is therefore not a conforming conformance checker according to this specification.

Data mining tools

Applications and tools that process HTML and XHTML documents for reasons other than to either render the documents or check them for conformance should act in accordance with the semantics of the documents that they process.

A tool that generates document outlines but increases the nesting level for each paragraph and does not increase the nesting level for each section would not be conforming.

Authoring tools and markup generators

Authoring tools and markup generators must generate conforming HTML5 documents. Conformance criteria that apply to authors also apply to authoring tools, where appropriate.

Authoring tools are exempt from the strict requirements of using elements only for their specified purpose, but only to the extent that authoring tools are not yet able to determine author intent. However, authoring tools must not automatically misuse elements or encourage their users to do so.

For example, it is not conforming to use an address element for arbitrary contact information; that element can only be used for marking up contact information for the author of the document or section. However, since an authoring tool is likely unable to determine the difference, an authoring tool is exempt from that requirement. This does not mean, though, that authoring tools can use address elements for any block of italics text (for instance); it just means that the authoring tool doesn't have to verify that when the user uses a tool for inserting contact information for a section, that the user really is doing that and not inserting something else instead.

In terms of conformance checking, an editor has to output documents that conform to the same extent that a conformance checker will verify.

When an authoring tool is used to edit a non-conforming document, it may preserve the conformance errors in sections of the document that were not edited during the editing session (i.e. an editing tool is allowed to round-trip erroneous content). However, an authoring tool must not claim that the output is conformant if errors have been so preserved.

Authoring tools are expected to come in two broad varieties: tools that work from structure or semantic data, and tools that work on a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get media-specific editing basis (WYSIWYG).

The former is the preferred mechanism for tools that author HTML, since the structure in the source information can be used to make informed choices regarding which HTML elements and attributes are most appropriate.

However, WYSIWYG tools are legitimate. WYSIWYG tools should use elements they know are appropriate, and should not use elements that they do not know to be appropriate. This might in certain extreme cases mean limiting the use of flow elements to just a few elements, like div, b, i, and span and making liberal use of the style attribute.

All authoring tools, whether WYSIWYG or not, should make a best effort attempt at enabling users to create well-structured, semantically rich, media-independent content.

Some conformance requirements are phrased as requirements on elements, attributes, methods or objects. Such requirements fall into two categories: those describing content model restrictions, and those describing implementation behavior. Those in the former category are requirements on documents and authoring tools. Those in the second category are requirements on user agents. Similarly, some conformance requirements are phrased as requirements on authors; such requirements are to be interpreted as conformance requirements on the documents that authors produce. (In other words, this specification does not distinguish between conformance criteria on authors and conformance criteria on documents.)

Conformance requirements phrased as algorithms or specific steps may be implemented in any manner, so long as the end result is equivalent. (In particular, the algorithms defined in this specification are intended to be easy to follow, and not intended to be performant.)

User agents may impose implementation-specific limits on otherwise unconstrained inputs, e.g. to prevent denial of service attacks, to guard against running out of memory, or to work around platform-specific limitations.

There is no implied relationship between document conformance requirements and implementation conformance requirements. User agents are not free to handle non-conformant documents as they please; the processing model described in this specification applies to implementations regardless of the conformity of the input documents.

For compatibility with existing content and prior specifications, this specification describes two authoring formats: one based on XML (referred to as the XHTML syntax), and one using a custom format inspired by SGML (referred to as the HTML syntax). Implementations must support at least one of these two formats, although supporting both is encouraged.

The language in this specification assumes that the user agent expands all entity references, and therefore does not include entity reference nodes in the DOM. If user agents do include entity reference nodes in the DOM, then user agents must handle them as if they were fully expanded when implementing this specification. For example, if a requirement talks about an element's child text nodes, then any text nodes that are children of an entity reference that is a child of that element would be used as well. Entity references to unknown entities must be treated as if they contained just an empty text node for the purposes of the algorithms defined in this specification.

2.2.2 Extensibility

ISSUE-41 (Decentralized-extensibility) blocks progress to Last Call

HTML has a wide number of extensibility mechanisms that can be used for adding semantics in a safe manner:

Vendor-specific proprietary user agent extensions to this specification are strongly discouraged. Documents must not use such extensions, as doing so reduces interoperability and fragments the user base, allowing only users of specific user agents to access the content in question.

If such extensions are nonetheless needed, e.g. for experimental purposes, then vendors are strongly urged to use one of the following extension mechanisms:

For markup-level features that can be limited to the XML serialization and need not be supported in the HTML serialization, vendors should use the namespace mechanism to define custom namespaces in which the non-standard elements and attributes are supported.

For markup-level features that are intended for use with the HTML syntax, extensions should be limited to new attributes of the form "x-vendor-feature", where vendor is a short string that identifies the vendor responsible for the extension, and feature is the name of the feature. New element names should not be created. Using attributes for such extensions exclusively allows extensions from multiple vendors to co-exist on the same element, which would not be possible with elements. Using the "x-vendor-feature" form allows extensions to be made without risk of conflicting with future additions to the specification.

For instance, a browser named "FerretBrowser" could use "ferret" as a vendor prefix, while a browser named "Mellblom Browser" could use "mb". If both of these browsers invented extensions that turned elements into scratch-and-sniff areas, an author experimenting with these features could write:

<p>This smells of lemons!
<span x-ferret-smellovision x-ferret-smellcode="LEM01"
      x-mb-outputsmell x-mb-smell="lemon juice"></span></p>

Attribute names beginning with the two characters "x-" are reserved for user agent use and are guaranteed to never be formally added to the HTML language. For flexibility, attributes names containing underscores (the U+005F LOW LINE character) are also reserved for experimental purposes and are guaranteed to never be formally added to the HTML language.

Pages that use such attributes are by definition non-conforming.

For DOM extensions, e.g. new methods and IDL attributes, the new members should be prefixed by vendor-specific strings to prevent clashes with future versions of this specification.

For events, experimental event names should be prefixed with vendor-specific strings.

For example, if a user agent called "Pleasold" were to add an event to indicate when the user is going up in an elevator, it could use the prefix "pleasold" and thus name the event "pleasoldgoingup", possibly with an event handler attribute named "onpleasoldgoingup".

All extensions must be defined so that the use of extensions neither contradicts nor causes the non-conformance of functionality defined in the specification.

For example, while strongly discouraged from doing so, an implementation "Foo Browser" could add a new IDL attribute "fooTypeTime" to a control's DOM interface that returned the time it took the user to select the current value of a control (say). On the other hand, defining a new control that appears in a form's elements array would be in violation of the above requirement, as it would violate the definition of elements given in this specification.

When adding new reflecting IDL attributes corresponding to content attributes of the form "x-vendor-feature", the IDL attribute should be named "vendorFeature" (i.e. the "x" is dropped from the IDL attribute's name).

When vendor-neutral extensions to this specification are needed, either this specification can be updated accordingly, or an extension specification can be written that overrides the requirements in this specification. When someone applying this specification to their activities decides that they will recognize the requirements of such an extension specification, it becomes an applicable specificationfor the purposes of conformance requirements in this specification .

The conformance terminology for documents depends on the nature of the changes introduced by such applicable specificactions, and on the content and intended interpretation of the document. Applicable specifications MAY define new document content (e.g. a foobar element), MAY prohibit certain otherwise conforming content (e.g. prohibit use of <table>s), or MAY change the semantics, DOM mappings, or other processing rules for content defined in this specification. Whether a document is or is not a conforming HTML5 document does not depend on the use of applicable specifications: if the syntax and semantics of a given conforming HTML5 document document is unchanged by the use of applicable specification(s), then that document remains a conforming HTML5 document. If the semantics or processing of a given (otherwise conforming) document is changed by use of applicable specification(s), then it is not a conforming HTML5 document. For such cases, the applicable specifications SHOULD define conformance terminology.

Note: As a suggested but not required convention, such specifications might define conformance terminology such as: "Conforming HTML5+XXX document", where XXX is a short name for the applicable specification. (Example: "Conforming HTML5+AutomotiveExtensions document").

Note: a consequence of the rule given above is that certain syntactically correct HTML5 documents may not be conforming HTML5 documents in the presence of applicable specifications. (Example: the applicable specification defines <table> to be a piece of furniture — a document written to that specification and containing a <table> element is NOT a conforming HTML5 document, even if the element happens to be syntactically correct HTML5.)

Note: Someone could write a specification that defines any arbitrary byte stream as conforming, and then claim that their random junk is conforming. However, that does not mean that their random junk actually is conforming for everyone's purposes: if someone else decides that that specification does not apply to their work, then they can quite legitimately say that the aforementioned random junk is just that, junk, and not conforming at all. As far as conformance goes, what matters in a particular community is what that community agrees is applicable.

User agents must treat elements and attributes that they do not understand as semantically neutral; leaving them in the DOM (for DOM processors), and styling them according to CSS (for CSS processors), but not inferring any meaning from them.

When support for a feature is disabled (e.g. as an emergency measure to mitigate a security problem, or to aid in development, or for performance reasons), user agents must act as if they had no support for the feature whatsoever, and as if the feature was not mentioned in this specification. For example, if a particular feature is accessed via an attribute in a Web IDL interface, the attribute itself would be omitted from the objects that implement that interface — leaving the attribute on the object but making it return null or throw an exception is insufficient.