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Web Authoring FAQ's

Contents of Faq's

  1. Getting Started
  2. Web Publishing
  3. Web Design
  4. Hyperlinks
  5. Other Media
  6. Presentational Effects
  7. HTML Forms
  8. HTML Frames

1. Getting Started

1.2. Where can I find a list of all the current HTML tags?

The current W3C Recommendation is HTML 4.0. HTML 4.0 extends HTML 3.2 to include support for frames, internationalization, style sheets, advanced tables, and more. HTML 4.0 is not well supported by current browsers, but many of its features can be used safely in non-supporting browsers.

Recommended materials on HTML 4.0:

Recommended materials on HTML 3.2:

Some materials on browser-specific versions of HTML:

1.3. How do I get a so-and-so character in my HTML?

The safest way to do HTML is in (7-bit) US-ASCII, and expressing characters from the upper half of the 8-bit code by using HTML entities. See the answer to "Which should I use, &entityname; or &#number; ?"

Working with 8-bit characters can also be successful in many practical situations: Unix and MS-Windows (using Latin-1), and also Macs (with some reservations).

The available characters are those in ISO-8859-1, listed at <URL:HTMLHelp>. On the Web, these are the only characters widely supported. In particular, characters 128 through 159 as used in MS-Windows are not part of the ISO-8859-1 code set and will not be displayed as Windows users expect. This includes the em dash, en dash, curly quotes, bullet, and TM symbol; neither the actual character nor &#nnn; is correct. (See the last paragraph of this answer for more about those characters.)

On platforms whose own character code isn't ISO-8859-1, such as MS DOS, Macs, there may be problems: you'd have to use text transfer methods that convert between the platform's own code and ISO-8859-1 (e.g Fetch for the Mac), or convert separately (e.g GNU recode). Using 7-bit ASCII with entities avoids those problems, and this FAQ is too small to cover other possibilities in detail. Mac users - see the notes at the above URL.

If you run a web server (httpd) on a platform whose own character code isn't ISO-8859-1, such as a Mac, or IBM mainframe, it's the job of the server to convert text documents into ISO-8859-1 code when sending them to the network.

If you want to use characters outside of the ISO-8859-1 repertoire, you must use HTML 4.0 rather than HTML 3.2. See the HTML 4.0 Recommendation at <URL:W3> and the Babel site at <URL:Babel> for more details. Another useful resource for internationalization issues is at <URL:flavell>.

1.4. Should I put quotes around attribute values?

It depends. It is never wrong to use them, but you don't have to if the attribute value consists only of letters (A-Za-z), digits, periods and hyphens. This is explained in the HTML 2.0 specs.

Be careful when your attribute value includes double quotes, for instance when you want ALT text like "the "King of Comedy" takes a bow" for an image. Humans can parse that to know where the quoted material ends, but browsers can't. You have to code the attribute value specially so that the first interior quote doesn't terminate the value prematurely. There are two main techniques:

Both these methods are correct according to the spec and are supported by current browsers, but both were poorly supported in some earlier browsers. The only truly safe advice is to rewrite the text so that the attribute value need not contain quotes, or to change the interior double quotes to single quotes, like this: ALT="the 'King of Comedy' takes a bow".

1.5. How can I include comments in HTML?

A comment declaration starts with "<!", followed by zero or more comments, followed by ">". A comment starts and ends with "--", and does not contain any occurrence of "--" between the beginning and ending pairs. This means that the following are all legal HTML comments:

But some browsers do not support the full syntax, so we recommend you follow this simple rule to compose valid and accepted comments:

An HTML comment begins with "<!--", ends with "-->" and does not contain "--" or ">" anywhere in the comment.

See <URL:HTML Help> for a more complete discussion.

1.6. How can I check for errors?

The easiest way to catch errors in your HTML is through the use of a program called a validator. A validator is a program which knows all the rules in HTML, reads your source document and outputs a list of mistakes.

While checking for errors in the HTML, it is also a good idea to check for hypertext links which are no longer valid. There are several link checkers available for various platforms which will follow all links on a site and return a list of the ones which are non-functioning.

You can find a list of validators and link checkers at <URL:HTML Help>. Especially recommended is the use of an SGML-based validator such as the WDG HTML Validator <URL:HTML Help> or W3C HTML Validation Service <>.

1.7. What is a DOCTYPE? Which one do I use?

According to HTML standards, each HTML document begins with a DOCTYPE declaration that specifies which version of HTML the document uses. The DOCTYPE declaration is useful primarily to SGML-based tools like HTML validators, which must know which version of HTML to use in checking the document's syntax. Browsers generally ignore DOCTYPE declarations.

See <URL:HTML Help> for information on choosing an appropriate DOCTYPE declaration.

2. Web Publishing

2.1. Where can I put my newly created Web pages?

Many ISPs offer web space to their dial-up customers. Typically this will be less than 5MB, and there may be other restrictions; for example, many do not allow commercial use of this space.

There are several companies and individuals who offer free web space. This usually ranges from 100KB up to 1MB, and again there are often limitations on its use. They may also require a link to their home page from your pages. The following page has pointers to several lists of free web space providers: <URL:Yahoo Free Pages>.

There are also many web space providers (aka presence providers) who will sell you space on their servers. Prices will range from as little as $1 per month, up to $100 per month or more, depending upon your needs. Non-virtual Web space is typically the cheapest, offering a URL like: For a little more, plus the cost of registering a domain name, you can get virtual web space, which will allow you to have a URL like

If you have some permanent connection to the Internet, perhaps via leased line from your ISP then you could install an httpd and operate your own Web server. There are several Web servers available for almost all platforms.

If you just wish to share information with other local users, or people on a LAN or WAN, you could just place your HTML files on the LAN for everyone to access, or alternatively if your LAN supports TCP/IP then install a Web server on your computer.

2.2. Where can I announce my site?

2.3. Is there a way to get indexed better by the search engines?

Yes. Use a meaningful <TITLE> and headings (<H1>, <H2>, and so on). The indexing programs of some search engines (including AltaVista and Infoseek) will also take into account the following tags in the <HEAD> part of your documents:

<META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="keyword keyword keyword keyword">
<META NAME="description" CONTENT="description of your site">

Both may contain up to 1022 characters, but no markup other than entities. If you use a keyword too often in the <META NAME="keywords"> tag, the indexing program may ignore your keywords list altogether. At this writing, "too often" means "more than 7 times" to some popular engines, but that may change in the future as indexing programs are changed to defend against "cheaters."

Search Engine Watch at <URL:> is a Web site dedicated to search engines and strategies for Web page authors.

2.4. How do I prevent my site from being indexed by search engines?

See <URL:WebCrawler>.

2.5. How do I redirect someone to my new page?

The most reliable way is to configure the server to send out a redirection instruction when the old URL is requested. Then the browser will automatically get the new URL. This is the fastest and most efficient way, and is the only way described here that can convince indexing robots to phase out the old URL. For configuration details consult your server admin or documentation (with NCSA or Apache servers, use a Redirect statement in .htaccess).

If you can't set up a redirect, there are other possibilities. These are inferior because they tell the search engines that there's still a page at the old location, not that the page has moved to a new location. But if it's impossible for you to configure redirection at your server, here are two alternatives:

2.6. How do I password protect my web site?

Password protection is done through HTTP authentication. The configuration details vary from server to server, so you should read the authentication section of your server documentation. Contact your server administrator if you need help with this.

For example, if your server is Apache, see <URL:Apache>.

2.7. How do I hide my source?

You can't. The source is necessary for the browser to display your document. You have to send the complete, unencrypted source to the browser. Even if a particular browser doesn't have a "View source" option, there are many that do, and you can always retrieve the document by hand (using telnet) to get its source. Or check the browser's cache.

You can of course put a hundred empty lines above the actual source. Then newbies who don't see the scrollbars will think there is nothing there.

2.8. How do I detect what browser is being used?

Many browsers identify themselves when they request a document. A CGI script will have this information available in the HTTP_USER_AGENT environment variable, and it can use that to send out a version of the document which is optimized for that browser.

Keep in mind not all browsers identify themselves correctly. Microsoft Internet Explorer, for example, claims to be "Mozilla" to get at Netscape enhanced documents.

And of course, if a cache proxy keeps the Netscape enhanced document, someone with another browser will also get this document if he goes through the cache.

For these reasons and others, it is not a good idea to play the browser guessing game.

2.9. How do I get my visitors' email addresses?

You can't. Although each request for a document is usually logged with the name or address of the remote host, the actual username is almost never logged as well. This is mostly because of performance reasons, as it would require that the server uses the ident protocol to see who is on the other end. This takes time. And if a cache proxy is doing the request, you don't get anything sensible.

But just stop to think for a minute... would you really want every single site you visit to know your email address? Imagine the loads of automated thank you's you would be receiving. If you visited 20 sites, you would get at least 20 emails that day, plus no doubt they would send you invitations to return later. It would be a nightmare as well as an invasion of privacy!

In Netscape 2.0, it was possible to automatically submit a form with a mailto as action, using JavaScript. This would send email to the document's owner, with the address the visitor configured in the From line. Of course, that can be "". This was fixed by Netscape 2.01.

The most reliable way is to put up a form, asking the visitor to fill in his email address. To increase the chances that visitors will actually do it, offer them something useful in return.


3. Web Design

3.1. How do I include one file in another?

HTML itself offers no way to seamlessly incorporate the content of one file into another.

True dynamic inclusion of one HTML document (even in a different "charset") into another is offered by the OBJECT element, but due to shortcomings of browser versions in current use, it seems unwise to rely on this yet for essential content. The same can be said for IFRAME.

Two popular ways of including the contents of one file seamlessly into another for the WWW are preprocessing and server-side inclusion.

Preprocessing techniques include the C-preprocessor and other generic text manipulation methods, and several HTML-specific processors. But beware of making your "source code" non-portable.

The HTML can only be validated after pre-processing, so the typical cycle "Edit, Check, Upload" becomes "Edit, Preprocess, Check, Upload" (here, "Check" includes whatever steps you use to preview your pages: validation, linting, management walk-through etc.; and "upload" means whatever you do to finally publish your new pages to the web server).

A much more powerful and versatile pre-processing technique is to use an SGML processor (such as the SP package) to generate your HTML; this can be self-validating.

Examples of server-side inclusion are Server Side Includes "SSI" (Apache, NCSA and some other web servers) and "ASP"; processing occurs at the time the documents are actually retrieved. A typical inclusion looks like

<!--#include virtual="/urlpath/to/myfile.htm" -->

but be sure to consult your own server's documentation, as the details vary somewhat between implementations. The whole directive gets replaced by the contents of the specified file.

Using server-side inclusion (a potentially powerful tool) merely as a way to insert static files such as standard header/footers has implications for perceived access speed and for server load, and is better avoided on heavily loaded servers. If you use it in this way, consider making the result cacheable (e.g., via "XBitHack full" on Apache; setting properties of the "Response" object in ASP). Details are beyond the scope of this FAQ but you may find this useful:

Proper HTML validation of server-side inclusion is only possible after server-side processing is done, e.g. by using an on-line validator that retrieves the document from the server.

3.2. Which should I use, &entityname; or &#number; ?

In HTML, characters can be represented in three ways:

  1. a properly coded character, in the encoding specified by the "charset" attribute of the "Content-type:" header;
  2. a character entity (&entityname;), from the appropriate HTML specification (HTML 2.0/3.2, HTML 4.0 etc.);
  3. a numeric character reference (&#number;) that specifies the Unicode reference of the desired character. We recommend using decimal references; hexadecimal references are less widely supported.

In theory these representations are equally valid. In practice, authoring convenience and limited support by browsers complicate the issue.

HTTP being a guaranteed "8-bit clean" protocol, you can safely send out 8-bit or multibyte coded characters, in the various codings that are supported by browsers.

A. HTML 2.0/3.2 (Latin-1)

By now there seems no convincing reason to choose &entityname; versus &#number;, so use whichever is convenient.

If you can confidently handle 8-bit-coded characters this is fine too, probably preferred for writing heavily-accented languages. Take care if authoring on non-ISO-8859-based platforms such as Mac, Psion, IBM mainframes etc., that your upload technique delivers a correctly coded document to the server. Using &-representations avoids such problems.

B. A single repertoire other than Latin-1

In such codings as ISO-8859-7 Greek, koi8-r Russian Cyrillic, and Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) codings, use of coded characters is the most widely supported and used technique.

Although not covered by HTML 3.2, browsers have supported this quite widely for some time now; it is a valid option within the HTML 4.0 specification--use a validator such as the WDG HTML Validator at which supports HTML 4.0 and understands different character encodings.

Browser support for coded characters may depend on configuration and font resources. In some cases, additional programs called "helpers" or "add-ins" supply virtual fonts to browsers.

"Add-in" programs have in the past been used to support numeric references to 15-bit or 16-bit code protocols such as Chinese Big5 or Chinese GB2312.

In theory you should be able to include not only coded characters but also Unicode numeric character references, but browser support is generally poor. Numeric references to the "charset-specified" encoding may appear to produce the desired characters on some browsers, but this is wrong behavior and should not be used. Character entities are also problematical, aside from the HTML-significant characters &lt;, &amp; etc.

C. Internationalization per HTML 4.0

Recent versions of the popular browsers have support for some of these features, but at time of writing it seems unwise to rely on this when authoring for a general audience. If you'd like to explore the options, you can find comprehensive background documentation and some practical suggestions at

3.3. Should I use lower case or upper case for tags?

Tags are case insensitive, so it doesn't matter. This is just a matter of style. (You may have noticed that this FAQ is not absolutely consistent in capitalization.) Many people prefer upper case, as it makes the tags "stand out" better amongst the text.

Attribute names can also be upper or lower case, as you prefer. But some attribute values are case sensitive. For example, <OL TYPE=A> and <OL type=A> are the same, but <OL TYPE=a> is different from both of them. (For clearer communication, it's worth getting the terminology right. In this example, OL is the element, TYPE is the attribute name, and A and a are the attribute values. The tag is <OL TYPE=A>.)

Entity names like &nbsp; are sometimes incorrectly referred to as tags. They are all case sensitive. For example, &Eacute; and &amp;eacute; are two different and valid entities; &NBSP; is invalid.

3.4. For what screen size should I write?

HTML does not depend on screen size. Normally, the text will be wrapped by the browser when the end of its display area is encountered. (Note that graphical browsers are often used with windows that are smaller than the full area of the screen.)

Preformatted lines (text within <PRE> elements) should only ever exceed 70 characters if the nature of the content makes it unavoidable. Longer lines will cause ugly line breaks on text-mode browsers, and will force horizontal scrolling on graphical browsers. Readers strongly dislike horizontal scrolling, except where they can realise that the nature of the content made it inevitable.

Images cannot be wrapped, so you have to be careful with them. It seems that 400 or 500 pixels is a reasonable width; anything above 600 will mean a certain percentage of users will have to scroll to see the rightmost bit. This percentage increases with your image width. Keep in mind that not everyone runs his browser at full screen!

(WebTV users have no ability to scroll horizontally, so anything beyond 544 pixels will be compressed by their browser. Some other devices may be even more limited.)

3.5. Why does my page display fine in browser X but incorrectly or not at all in browser Y?

There are several possibilities.

First, you may have some incorrect HTML. Browsers vary in their ability to guess what you meant. For instance, Netscape is much more fussy about tables than MS Internet Explorer, so a page with incorrect tables may look fine in MSIE but not display at all in Netscape. See the answer to "How can I check for errors?" for tips on finding your HTML errors. (In fact, even correct nested tables may not display correctly in Netscape. See "Can I nest tables within tables?" below for what you can do about that.)

Second, you may have valid HTML that different browsers interpret differently. For instance, it is not clear from the spec what should be done with a string of &nbsp; characters. Some browsers will collapse them for rendering as a single space; others will render one space per &nbsp;.

Other possibilities are a bug in one or the other browser, or different user option settings.

See also the ansewrs to "Why are my hyperlinks coming out all wrong or not loading?" and "Why are my images coming out all wrong or not loading?"

3.6. How do I freeze the URL displayed in a visitor's browser?

This is a "feature" of using frames: The browser displays the URL of the frameset document, rather than that of the framed documents. (See the answer to the question "How do I specify a specific combination of frames instead of the default document?").

However, this behavior can be circumvented easily by the user. Many browsers allow the user to open links in their own windows, to bookmark the document in a specific frame (rather than the frameset document), or to bookmark links. Thus, there is no reliable way to stop a user from getting the URL of a specific document.

Furthermore, preventing users from bookmarking specific documents can only antagonize them. A bookmark or link that doesn't find the desired document is useless, and probably will be ignored or deleted.

3.7. How do I make a table which looks good on non-supporting browsers?

See Alan Flavell's document on tables for a good discussion at <URL:Flavell>.

3.8. Can I nest tables within tables?

Yes, a table can be embedded inside a cell in another table. Here's a simple example:

        <td>this is the first cell of the outer table</td>
        <td>this is the second cell of the outer table,
            with the inner table embedded in it<br>
            <td>this is the first cell of the inner table</td>
            <td>this is the second cell of the inner table</td>

The main caveat about nested tables is that Netscape has problems with them if you don't close your TD and TR tags meticulously. You're best advised to include every </TD> and </TR>, even though the HTML spec doesn't require them; otherwise Netscape users may not be able to view your page.

3.9. How do I center a table?

The "correct" way of doing it is <TABLE ALIGN=CENTER>, but this doesn't work in several popular browsers. Put <CENTER>; around the entire table for these browsers.

This causes some problems with browsers that do support CENTER but not tables, such as Lynx. In these browsers, the contents of the cells are now displayed centered, which is not what is intended. To avoid this, you can put the cell's contents in <P ALIGN=left> or <DIV ALIGN=left> depending on the amount of text in the cell.

4. Hyperlinks

4.1. Should I end my URLs with a slash?

The trailing slash is used to distinguish between directory and file URLs. A file URL is an URL for a file, and a directory URL refers to a directory. For example, the URL for the WDG's HTML reference is and the URL for the overview of HTML 3.2 elements is

If you request a directory URL without the trailing slash, the browser will actually ask for a FILE with that name. This file doesn't exist on the server, so the server sends back a message saying that the browser should ask for the directory. It uses a redirection message for this. The browser then sends another request, this time for the directory, and finally gets what was asked for in the first place. This wastes time and network resources.

When you write a document, all directory URLs should end with a slash. Since you already know you are linking to a directory, why force the user to make that second request, when it could have been done using only one?

And by the way, it is NOT the browser which appends the slash. The browser cannot know if what you are asking for is a file or directory, not even when the final part of the URL does not have an extension. is a perfectly valid URL, has no extension in the final part, yet refers to a file and not a directory.

The only apparent exception is when you refer to an URL with just a hostname. Since it is obvious that when you use you actually want the main index "/" from our server, you do not have to include the / in this case. It is regarded as good style to do so, however.

For a full discussion of the proper form of URLs, see RFC 1738 at <URL:cis> and, for relative URLs, RFC 1808 at <URL:cis>.

4.2. How do I create a link that opens a new window?

<A TARGET="_blank" HREF=...> opens a new, unnamed window.

<A TARGET="foobar" HREF=...> opens a new window named "foobar", provided that a window or frame by that name does not already exist.

Note that links that open new windows can be annoying to your readers if there is not a good reason (from the reader's perspective) for them.

4.3. How do I get a button which takes me to a new page?

This is best done with a small form:

<INPUT TYPE=submit VALUE="Text on button" NAME=foo>

If you want to line up buttons next to each other, you will have to put them in a one-row table, with each button in a separate cell.

Note that search engines might not find the target document unless there is a normal link somewhere else on the page.

A go-to-other-page button can also be coded in JavaScript, but the above is standard HTML and works for more readers.

4.4. How do I get a back button on my page?

In HTML, this is impossible. Going "back" means that you go to the previous page in your history. You might be able to create a link to the URL specified in the "HTTP_REFERER" environment variable in your document, but that only creates a link to a new location in your history. Even worse, the information in that variable can be plain wrong. Some browsers incorrectly send the variable when you use a bookmark or type in an URL manually, and some don't send that variable at all. This would result in an empty link.

A JavaScript could use "history.back()" to do this, but this only works in Netscape 2 or higher and MSIE 3 or higher, and even then only if the user has not disabled JavaScript.

For a more detailed explanation, please see Abigail's "Simulating the back button" at <URL:Abigail>.

4.5. How do I create a link that sends me email?


Use a mailto: link, for example

Send me email at
<A HREF=""></A>.

4.6. How do I specify a subject for a mailto: link?

You can't, not in any reliable way. The methods that are frequently posted don't do the job on all browsers (or even all popular browsers), and many of them have an important drawback: if your visitors are using an older browser such as Netscape 1.22, their mail will be lost.

If you really need a subject, you can do it by providing a form on your page, which submits data to a CGI program that emails the form data to you with your desired subject line. However, the form must have an input field for the visitor's email address, and you must hope that the visitor enters it correctly.

Here are some other ways to transmit subject-type information:

4.7. How do I eliminate the blue border around linked images?

<IMG ... BORDER=0>

4.8. How do I turn off underlining on my links?

If you want to turn off link underlining when you're looking at pages in your browser, check your browser's configuration options. In Netscape 3, for example, see Options | General Preferences | Appearance; in Netscape 4 it's Edit | Preferences | Appearance | Colors; in Internet Explorer see View | Options | General.

If you want to prevent links on your page being underlined when your visitors see them, there's no way in HTML to accomplish this. You can suggest this presentation using style sheets by defining

a:link, a:visited, a:active {text-decoration: none}

4.9. How can I have two sets of links with different colors?

You can suggest this presentation using style sheets. In your style sheet, define something like this:

a:link        {color: blue;   background: white}
a:visited     {color: purple; background: white}
a:active      {color: red;    background: white}    {color: yellow; background: black} {color: white;  background: black}  {color: red;    background: black}

Then use CLASS="foo" to identify the links of the second color in your HTML, like this:

<A CLASS="foo" HREF=...>...</A>

4.10. Why are my hyperlinks coming out all wrong or not loading?

Most likely you forgot to close a quote at the end of the HREF attribute. Alternatively, perhaps you used a ">" character somewhere else inside a tag. Although this is legal, several older browsers will think the tag ends there, so the rest is displayed as normal text.

This especially happens if you use comment tags to "comment out" text with HTML tags. (See the answer to "How can I include comments in HTML?") Although the correct syntax is <!-- --> (without "--" occurring anywhere inside the comment), some browsers will think the comment ends at the first ">" they see.

Validators will show you any syntax errors in your markup, but checkers such as Weblint and HTMLchek can show you where you are liable to provoke known browser bugs. See also the answer to "How can I check for errors?"

4.11. Why does my link work in Internet Explorer but not in Netscape?

Is there a space, #, ?, or other special character in the path or filename? Spaces are not legal in URLs. If you encode the space by replacing it with %20, your link will work.

You can encode any character in a URL as % plus the two-digit hex value of the character. (Hex digits A-F can be in upper or lower case.) According to the spec, only alphanumerics and the special characters $-_.,+!*'() need not be encoded.

You should encode all other characters when they occur in a URL, except when they're used for their reserved purposes. For example, if you wanted to pass the value "Jack&Jill" to a CGI script, you would need to encode the "&" character as "%26", which might give you a URL like the following: Note that the "?" and other "&" character in this URL are not encoded since they're used for their reserved purposes.

See section 2.2 of RFC 1738 at <> for the full story.

5. Other Media

5.1. How do I let people download a file from my page?

Once the file is uploaded to the server, you need only use an anchor reference tag to link to it. An example would be:

<a href="../files/">Download Foo Now! (100kb ZIP)</a>

It is possible that the server might need to be configured for some different file types. (See the next Q&A.)

5.2. Why did my link to a _______ file only download a bunch of characters instead?

If you are trying to link to a particular type of file and it is not returning your desired response, chances are that the server needs to have the type configured. Talk to your system administrator about getting them to add the content type. Here is a list of common types that often need configuring:

Content Type Description
Application/msword Microsoft Word Document
application/octet-stream Unclassified binary data (often used for compressed file or executable)
application/pdf PDF Document
application/wordperfect6.0 WordPerfect 6.0 Document
application/zip ZIP archive
audio/x-wav WAV audio format
audio/midi MIDI audio format
audio/x-pn-realaudio RealAudio
image/gif GIF image format
image/jpeg JPEG image format
image/png PNG image format
text/html HTML document
text/plain Plain text
video/mpeg MPEG video format
video/quicktime QuickTime video format
video/x-msvideo AVI video format

Another method of ensuring that your file is properly sent to the client is to compress it into a standard compression format. Virtually all servers are set to handle the .zip extension and it is widely recognized by users.

Some servers (NCSA, Apache, and others) can be configured to support user-configured content types. Details are server dependent, so consult your server admin or documentation.


5.3. How do I force a download?

You can't, because the Web doesn't work that way.

Here's the explanation. When someone downloads a document, the server tells the browser what type of file it is. The browser then displays it or picks the appropriate helper application. If the server doesn't know the file type, it tells the browser that the file is "text/plain", or just plain text (true for most servers). You may need to ask your server admin to configure this particular file with the MIME type you want.

"Forcing" a download is not what you are supposed to do. After all, what is more convenient than having the proper application started when I download a particular file? Browsing through a download directory can be quite a pain. And most browsers allow the user to download to disk if they want to.

If the file must be saved to disk, if there is absolutely NO other way to handle it, the MIME type should be "application/octet-stream".

5.4. How do I make animated GIFs?

Check out the following resources:

5.5. Why am I getting a colored whisker to the left or right of my image?

This is the result of including "white space" (spaces and newlines) before or after an IMG inside an anchor. For example:

<A HREF=...>
<IMG SRC=...>

will have white space to the left and right of the image. Since many browsers display anchors with colored underscores by default, they will show the spaces to the left and right of the image with colored underscores.

Solution: don't leave any white space between the anchor tags and the IMG tag. If the line gets too long, break it inside the tag rather than outside it, like this:

<A HREF=...><IMG

Style checkers such as Weblint will call attention to this problem in your HTML source.

5.6. Why are my images coming out all wrong or not loading?

Most likely you forgot to close a quote at the end of the SRC attribute. Alternatively, perhaps you used a ">" character in an ALT text or somewhere else inside a tag. Although this is legal, several older browsers will think the tag ends there, so the rest is displayed as normal text.

This especially happens if you use comment tags to "comment out" text with HTML tags. (See the answer to "How can I include comments in HTML?") Although the correct syntax is <!-- --> (without "--" occurring anywhere inside the comment), some browsers will think the comment ends at the first ">" they see.

Validators will show you any syntax errors in your markup, but checkers such as Weblint and HTMLchek can show you where you are liable to provoke known browser bugs. See also the answer to "How can I check for errors?"

5.7. Can I put markup in ALT text?

No. Character entities (&copy;, &#nnn; and such) are permitted, though.

If you want to know how to write good ALT texts without markup, please see Alan Flavell's essay on choosing ALT texts at <URL:flavell>.

5.8. How do I get an audio file to play automatically when someone visits my site?

Most browsers support the EMBED element for this, provided that the user has a suitable plug-in for the sound file. You can reach a slightly wider audience if you use BGSOUND as well. To avoid problems with browsers that support both, place the BGSOUND in a NOEMBED container:

<EMBED SRC="your_sound_file" HIDDEN=true AUTOSTART=true>
<NOEMBED><BGSOUND SRC="your_sound_file"></NOEMBED>

For more on the EMBED element, see <URL:Developer Netscape>. See <URL:MSDN> for more information on BGSOUND. Note that these elements are proprietary and not in any HTML standard. (The HTML standard way of doing this is not well supported.)

Be aware that some users find it annoying for music to automatically start playing. They may not have the volume set properly on their speakers, or they may be listening to something else. As a courtesy to your users, you may prefer to offer the sound file as a link:

<A HREF="your_sound_file">Listen to my sound! (5 kB MIDI)</A>

5.9. How can I strip all the HTML from a document to get plain text?

One of the easiest ways is to open a document in a graphical browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, select all the text and copy it to the clipboard. Most browsers also have a "save as" function which will allow you to save the file as plain text.

Lynx users can use "lynx -dump http://..." on the command line to print to file and append a list of referenced URLs as footnotes. If you want the output file without the footnotes, use the "p" command to "print" to a text file.

You can use 1st Page to strip all HTML tags. Goto Tools -> Strip All Tags from the 1st Page menus.

6. Presentational Effects

6.1. How can I make a custom rule?

Your best option is likely a centered IMG with a line of "--" characters as ALT text:

<P ALIGN=center><IMG SRC="custom-line.gif" ALT="--------------------"></P>

For an experimental but somewhat more graceful approach, read about CSS1 and the Decorative HR at <URL:flavell>.

6.2. How can I make a list with custom bullets?

There are several methods, none completely satisfactory:

6.3. Where can I get a "hit counter"?

A hit counter is a small script or program that increases a number every time a document is accessed from the server.

Why do you want one? If you believe that it will tell you how many times your documents have been accessed, you are mistaken. No counter can keep track of accesses from browser caches or proxy caches. Some counters depend on image-loading to increment; such counters ignore accesses from text-mode browsers, or browsers with image-loading off, or from users who interrupted the transfer. Some counters even require access to a remote site, which may be down or overloaded, causing a delay in displaying your documents.

Most web servers log accesses to documents stored on the server machine. These logs may be processed to gain information about the *relative* number of accesses over an extended period. There is no reason to display this number to your viewers, since they have no reference point to relate this number to. Not all service providers allow access to server logs, but many have scripts that will output information about accesses to a given user's documents. Consult your sysadmin or service provider for details.

Counter services and information are available from Yahoo's list of counters: @ Yahoo Access Counts/

Log analysis tools and scripts are at @Yahoo analysis tools/A>

<URL:Markwelch Counters> is another good source for counter information.

6.4. How do I display the current date or time in my document?

With server-side includes. Ask your webmaster if this is supported, and what the exact syntax is for your server. But this will display the local time on the server, not for the client. And if the document is cached, the date will of course be incorrect after some time. JavaScript can be used to display the local time for the client, but again, as most people already have one or more clocks on their screen, why display another one?

If you plan on putting the current date or time on your pages, using a CGI, JavaScript or VBScript, take an extra breath and consider that it will take resources, add time to the loading of the page, and prevent good caching. If you find that you really have a need to use it, for instance to inform readers of the up-times of an FTP server, then by all means do so. If, on the other hand, your only reason is 'it looks cool!' - then reconsider.

6.5. How do I get scrolling text in the status bar?

This is not an HTML question; it's done with JavaScript. Check any page which has this feature, and copy the script from the source.

This script has two big problems. One, usually it uses the decrement operator (c--) at some point. The "--" sequence in a comment actually closes it on some browsers, so your code may "leak" on those browsers. The same goes for ">".

Second, keep in mind that many people consider this even worse than <BLINK>, and that it also suppresses the status information which normally appears there. It prevents people from knowing where a link goes to.

6.6. How do I right align text or images?

You can use the ALIGN=right attribute on paragraphs, divisions, and headers, just as you use ALIGN=center to create centered paragraphs and such. This will right align your text (ragged left).

Perhaps what you really want is justified text, in which the left and right edges are both aligned so that all lines are the same length. (This is sometimes incorrectly called "right justify".) There's no way to justify text in HTML 3.2, but it can be done in a CSS1 style sheet with "text-align: justify". (Before you do that, a caveat: though justified text may look pretty, human factors analysis shows that ragged right is actually easier to read and understand.)

For images, you can use <IMG ALIGN=right SRC="..." ALT="..."> before the running text. The image will float at the right margin, and the running text will flow around it. Remember to use <BR CLEAR=right> or <BR CLEAR=all> to mark the end of the text that is to be affected in this way.


6.7. How can I specify fonts in my Web pages?

If you want others to view your web page with a specific font, the most appropriate way is to suggest the font rendering with a style sheet. See:

The FONT element can also be used to suggest a specific font. Use of the FONT element brings numerous usability and accessibility problems, see:

More information about the FONT element can be found at:

Either way, authors run the risk that a reader's system has a font by the same name but which is significantly different. (e.g., "Chicago" can be a nice text font, or a display font with letters formed by "bullet holes", or a dingbat font with building images for creating skylines).

Also, authors are limited to choosing a font (or a group of similar fonts) that are commonly available on many systems. If a reader does not have the font installed on their system, they will see a default font. Some browsers may use a less legible substitute font than their normal default font in cases where "the specified font wasn't found".

6.8. How do I indent the first line in my paragraphs?

Use a style sheet with the following ruleset:

P { text-indent: 5% }

See <URL:HTML Help> for more information on style sheets.

6.9. How do I indent a lot of text?

Use a style sheet to set a left margin for the whole document or part of it:

  /* Entire document */
  BODY { margin-left: 20% }

  /* Part of a document with CLASS="foo" */
  .foo { margin-left: 15% }

See <URL:HTML Help> for more information on style sheets.

6.10. How do I do a page break?

Page breaks are offered in Cascading Style Sheets, Level 2, but they are not well supported by browsers. See <> for information on CSS2 page breaks.

In general, page breaks are not appropriate on the Web since what makes a nice page break for you with your font and font size may be a poor page break for me with my font and font size.

If you need to produce a nicely formatted printed copy of your HTML documents, you might also consider using special purpose tools rather than your browser's Print function. For example, html2ps generates nicely formatted PostScript output from HTML documents, and HTML Scissor uses special HTML comments for suggesting page breaks.

6.11. How do I have a fixed background image?

Use a style sheet with the following ruleset:

body { color: black; background: white url(foo.gif) fixed }

Note that while Internet Explorer 3+ respects the fixed property, Netscape does not.

6.12. How do I have a non-tiled background image?

Use a style sheet with the following ruleset:

body { color: black; background: white url(foo.gif) no-repeat }

7. HTML Forms

7.1. How do I use forms?

Information relating to the use of forms is available at <URL:jkorpela>.

7.2. Why won't my form email the user's data to me?

Forms that use ACTION="mailto:..." are unreliable. They may work for some of your users, but they will fail for others who have different software configurations.

The only reliable solution is to use a CGI (or other server-side) program to process your forms and mail the results to you. If you can run CGI programs on your server, see the list of prewritten scripts at <URL:CGI Resources>. If you can't run CGI programs on your own server, see the list of remotely hosted form-to-email services at <URL:CGI Resources>.

7.3. How do I make a form so it can be submitted by hitting ENTER?

The short answer is that the form should just have one <INPUT TYPE=TEXT> and no TEXTAREA, though it can have other form elements like checkboxes and radio buttons. For a more detailed answer, see <URL:flavell>.

7.4. How can I make a form with custom buttons?

Rather than a normal submit button (<INPUT TYPE=submit ...>), you can use an image of a custom submit button. Use <INPUT NAME=foo TYPE=image SRC="">. There is no way to do this for the reset button.

Most browsers will also send the x and y coordinates of the location where the user clicked on the image to the server. They are available as "foo.x=000&foo.y=000" in the CGI input.

7.5. Can I have two or more Submit buttons in the same form?

Sure. This is part of HTML 2.0 Forms support (some early browsers did not support it, but browser coverage is now excellent).

You will need to give your Submit buttons a Name attribute, and, optionally, a Value attribute. In order to determine which button was used, you will want to use distinctive Names, or Values, or both. Browsers will display the Value, in addition to sending it to the server, so choose something that's meaningful to the user.


<INPUT TYPE=SUBMIT NAME=join VALUE="I want to join now"> -or-
<INPUT TYPE=SUBMIT NAME=info VALUE="Please send full details">

If you're unsure what results you're going to get when you submit your form, NCSA has a standard script which you can use. Code this, for example (assuming method "post"):

<form method="post" action="">

and then go through the motions of submitting your form. The NCSA server decodes the form input, and displays the result to you.

7.6. How can I allow file uploads to my web site?

First of all, the RFC for this is located at <URL:ics>.

File upload is handled by the Perl5 library available from <URL:cshl>.

These things are necessary for Web-based uploads:

Not all browsers support form-based file upload, so try to give alternatives where possible.

8. HTML Frames

8.1. How do I update two frames at once?

There are two basic techniques for updating multiple frames with a single link: The HTML-based technique links to a new frameset document that specifies the new combination of frames. The JavaScript-based solution uses the onClick attribute of the link to update the additional frame (or frames).

The HTML-based technique can link to a new frameset document with TARGET="_top" (replacing the entire frameset), but there is an alternative if the frames to be updated are part of a nested frameset. In the initial frameset document, use a secondary frameset document to define the nested frameset. For example:

<FRAMESET COLS="*,3*">                    
    <FRAME SRC="contents.html" NAME="Contents">
    <FRAME SRC="frameset2.html" NAME="Display">

A link can now use TARGET="Display" to replace simultaneously all the frames defined by frameset2.html.

The JavaScript-based solution uses the onClick attribute of the link to perform the secondary update. For example:

   onClick="top.Frame2.location='URL2';">Update frames</A>

The link will update Frame1 with URL1 normally. If the reader's browser supports JavaScript (and has it enabled), then Frame2 will also be updated (with URL2).

8.2. How do I get out of a frameset?

If you are the author, this is easy. You only have to add the TARGET attribute to the link that takes readers to the intended 'outside' document. Give it the value of _top.

It is in current implementations not possible to display a frame in the full browser window, at least not very easily. You would have to read source to determine the URL of the current frame, and then request that URL manually.

I would recommend that authors who want to offer readers this option add a link to the document itself in the document, with the TARGET attribute set to _top so the document displays in the full window if the link is followed.

8.3. Is there a way to prevent getting framed?

"Getting framed" refers to the technique of using an existing frameset to display someone else's document against his wishes into the current display. This can happen quite easily if one of the documents in the frames uses a link that does not use the TARGET attribute, as the destination of that link will be displayed in the current frame.

To avoid "framing" other people's documents, you must add TARGET="_top" to all links that lead to documents outside your intended scope.

Unfortunately, there is no way to specify that a particular document should be displayed in the full browser window, rather than in the current frame. The only workaround is to configure the server to send out Window-Target: _top in its HTTP responses, but this is not something that all authors can do.

The HTML specifications say that META can be used to mimic HTTP responses in HTML. However, inserting <META HTTP-EQUIV="Window-target" CONTENT="_top"> in the document does not work as expected.

Another attempt is to use <BASE TARGET="_top"> in the document, but this only specifies the default target frame for links in the current document, not for the document itself.

If the reader's browser has JavaScript enabled, the following script will automatically remove any existing framesets:

<SCRIPT TYPE="text/javascript">
if (top.frames.length!=0)
// -->

An alternative is

<SCRIPT TYPE="text/javascript">
function breakOut() {
    if (self != top)"my URL","_top","");
// -->
<BODY onLoad="breakOut()">

8.4. How do I specify a specific combination of frames instead of the default document?

This is unfortunately not possible. When you navigate through a site using frames, the URL will not change as the documents in the individual frames change. This means that there is no way to indicate the combination of documents that make up the current view.

The author can provide and link to multiple frameset documents, one for each combination of frame content. These frameset documents can be generated automatically, possibly even being created on the fly by a CGI program.

8.5. Why do my links open new windows instead of updating an existing window?

If you use a name that does not point to a currently available frame, then a new browser window will be opened, and this window will be assigned the name you used.

In HTML 4.0, the TARGET attribute value is case-insensitive, so that abc and ABC both refer to the same frame/window, and _top and _TOP both have the same meaning. However, most browsers treat the TARGET attribute value as case-sensitive and do not recognize ABC as being the same as abc, or _TOP as having the special meaning of _top.

8.6. How do I remove the border around frames?

Removing the border around frames involves both not drawing the frame borders and eliminating the space between the frames. The two major frames-capable browsers use different proprietary attributes to achieve this.

Netscape 3.0 only recognizes the BORDER attribute on FRAMESET. [What about later versions of Netscape? What do they do?] It can be set to 0, in which case the border will not be shown, and the spacing will be set to zero.

Microsoft Internet Explorer recognizes the FRAMEBORDER and FRAMESPACING attributes on FRAMESET, but in some versions also on FRAME for individual frames. Both attributes must be set to 0.

So, the most widely supported way to display borderless frames is <FRAMESET ... BORDER=0 FRAMEBORDER=0 FRAMESPACING=0>.

Note that these attributes are proprietary and not part of the HTML 4.0 specification. Also, removing the border around a frame makes it impossible to resize it, as this border is also used in most GUIs to change the size of the window.

8.7. How do I change the title of a framed document?

The title displayed is the title of the frameset document - the HTML document containing the <FRAMESET> and <FRAME> elements - rather than the titles of any of the pages within frames. To change the title displayed, link to a new frameset document using TARGET="_top" (replacing the entire frameset).

8.8. How do I make sure my framed documents are displayed inside their frameset?

When the sub-documents of a frameset state are accessed directly, they appear without the context of the surrounding frameset.

If the reader's browser has JavaScript support enabled, the following script will restore the frameset:

<SCRIPT TYPE="text/javascript">
if (parent.location.href == self.location.href) {
    if (window.location.replace)
        // causes problems with back button, but works
        window.location.href = 'frameset.html';
//  -->

A more universal approach is a "restore frames" link:

<A HREF="frameset.html" TARGET="_top">Restore Frames</A>

Note that in either case, you must have a separate frameset document for every content document. If you link to the default frameset document, then your reader will get the default content document, rather than the content document he/she was trying to access. These frameset documents should be generated automatically, to avoid the tedium and inaccuracy of creating them by hand.

Note that you can work around the problem with bookmarking frames by linking to these separate frameset documents using TARGET="_top", rather than linking to the individual content documents.

8.9. Are there any problems with using frames?

The fundamental problem with the design of frames is that framesets create states in the browser that are not addressable. Once any of the frames within a frameset changes from its default content, there is no longer a way to address the current state of the frameset. It is difficult to bookmark - and impossible to link or index - such a frameset state. It is impossible to reference such a frameset state in other media. When the sub-documents of such a frameset state are accessed directly, they appear without the context of the surrounding frameset. Basic browser functions (e.g., printing, moving forwards/backwards in the browser's history) behave differently with framesets.

Furthermore, frames focus on layout rather than on information structure, and many authors of framed sites neglect to provide useful alternative content in the <NOFRAMES> element. Both of these factors cause accessibility problems for browsers that differ significantly from the author's expectations and for search engines.

For further discussion, see <URL:HTML Help>

8.10. Why aren't my frames the exact size I specified?

Netscape Navigator seems to round pixel-based frame dimensions to the nearest whole percentage, and to use those percentage-based dimensions when laying out the frames. Thus, frames with pixel-based dimensions will be rendered with a slightly different size than that specified in the frameset document. There is no way to prevent this behavior.

To accomodate this, you should design your site to accomodate variations in the browser's presentation. This is a good idea in general, but especially so in this situation.

Maintained by Nick Grant < >

Copyright 2000 Nick Grant. All Rights Reserved.