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Creating Well Formed XHTML

HTML (or XHTML) has some inherent difficulties in creating well formed documents. While XHTML has been written to XML specifications, many browsers do not understand HTML that has been written to be well formed.

Many tags do not have matching end tags, such as dt and li. These tags need an end tag. Most browsers will not have difficulties with this. So be sure to use them.

There are several tags in HTML that are singleton tags. For these tags, you need to add a trailing slash in the tag. However, you must make sure to put a space after the tag name and any attributes, as many browsers will get confused by the final slash. For example
and not

One of the most common errors to well formed HTML is unquoted attributes. This is important to do because browsers can get confused between different attributes.

But it's a good habit to get into and will keep your documents well formed. Make sure that all <, >, and & characters are escaped. This means you should use the character codes <, > and & in your HTML.

What Does it Mean for a Document to be Well Formed?

When you start writing XML, you will hear over and over the two terms "well formed" and valid. They are not the same thing. You can have a well formed XML document that is not valid, and a valid document that is not well formed. Basically, a well formed document is one that meets the minimum criteria for XML processors and validators to read the document.

An XML document consists of text, but the text forms two different things: markup - The tags, comments, character, and entity references. character data - the information and text within the document

When writing well formed XML documents, there are some specific rules you should follow: the XML declaration must come first in every document comments are not valid within a tag comments may not contain two hyphens in a row, other than the beginning and end of the comment tags must have an end tag, or be closed within the singleton tag itself, all attributes of tags must be quoted, preferably double quotes unless the attribute itself contains a double quote every XML document must contain one element that completely contains all the other elements

You will find that most of the rules that apply to well formed XML also apply to HTML, well XHTML that is.

This is because XHTML is HTML that is rewritten to XML specifications.

With XHTML, if you find a need for a new markup tag, you simply define it in an XHTML module and use it in your page as you would any other HTML tag. You can also use XHTML to markup the code as appropriate for the (XHTML compatible) browser that is viewing it.