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Differences from HTML4

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This document is obsolete.

For the current specification, see: Differences from HTML4

Global overview

HTML5 is different from HTML4 in a way that it addresses both document and application semantics making it more suitable for the web applications created today. HTML5 also reflects implementations better where they differ from HTML4 to ensure the language is implementable and compatible with the web. Inspired by the forward compatible error handling in CSS HTML5 defines detailed processing models where necessary to ensure that implementations become interoperable and that the language stays extensible in the future.

HTML5 also integrates a new version of DOM Level 2 HTML so the element-specific APIs are defined along with the rest of the language. Because the language is mostly defined in terms of the DOM it's very easy to get an XML serialization as well. This XML serialization is called XHTML5 and is basically an update to XHTML1.x.


Writing HTML5
HTML5 specifies its own syntax rules authors have to follow. HTML5 documents can be written in a way that looks exactly like XHTML although this does not imply that parsing such a document with an HTML parser will give the same result as parsing it with an XML parser.
Parsing HTML5
HTML5 defines its own parsing rules (including "error correction") for text/html resources and no longer pretends that HTML is an application of SGML.

Elements and Attributes

New elements

Document Structure



In addition to the above the input element's type attribute can now have the following new values which enables a bunch of new native controls:

  • datetime
  • datetime-local
  • date
  • month
  • week
  • time
  • number
  • range
  • email
  • url

New Attributes

An overview of all elements from HTML4 that got new attributes in HTML5.

Element Attributes
a media?, ping
area ping
base target
button autofocus, form, replace, template
fieldset disabled, form
form data, replace
input autocomplete, autofocus, form, inputmode, list, min, max, pattern, step, replace, required, template
li value (no longer deprecated)
meta charset
ol start (no longer deprecated)
select autofocus, data, form
script async, defer
style scoped
textarea autofocus, form, inputmode, required

HTML4 didn't have a concept of an attribute that applies to every element. HTML5 calls such attributes global attributes. The following attributes from HTML4 are made global attributes:

  • class
  • dir
  • id
  • lang
  • title

The following new attributes are global attributes:

  • contenteditable
  • contextmenu
  • draggable
  • tabindex

HTML5 also has global attributes that also can be applied on elements from other vocabularies (when namespaced):

  • repeat (Web Forms 2)
  • repeat-start (Web Forms 2)
  • repeat-min (Web Forms 2)
  • repeat-max (Web Forms 2)

Changed Elements

These elements have new meanings in HTML5 which are incompatible with HTML4. The new meanings better reflects the way they are used on the Web or gives them a purpose so people can start using them.

The a element without an href attribute represents a "placeholder link".
The address element is now scoped by the new concept of sectioning.
The b element now represents a span of text to be stylistically offset from the normal prose without conveying any extra importance, such as key words in a document abstract, product names in a review, or other spans of text whose typical typographic presentation is emboldened.
The hr element now represents a paragraph-level thematic break.
The i element now represents a span of text in an alternate voice or mood, or otherwise offset from the normal prose, such as a taxonomic designation, a technical term, an idiomatic phrase from another language, a thought, a ship name, or some other prose whose typical typographic presentation is italicized. Usage varies widely by language.
The browser should not transfer focus from the label to the control unless such behaviour is standard for the underlying platform user interface.
The menu element is redefined to be useful for actual menus.
The small element now represents small print (for side comments and legal print).
The strong element now represents importance rather than strong emphasis.

Dropped Elements

That these elements are dropped means that authors are no longer allowed to use them. User agents will still have to support them and HTML5 will probably get a rendering section in due course that says exactly how. (isindex for instance is already supported by the parser.)

  • acronym (use abbr instead)
  • applet (use object instead)
  • basefont
  • big
  • center
  • dir
  • font (allowed when inserted by WYSIWYG editors)
  • frame
  • frameset
  • isindex
  • noframes
  • noscript (only dropped in XHTML5)
  • s
  • strike
  • tt
  • u

Dropped Attributes

Some attributes for elements included in HTML4 are not allowed in HTML5:

Element Attributes
a rev, charset
area nohref
head profile
html version
link rev, target, charset
map name
meta scheme
object archive, standby
param valuetype
script charset
table summary
td, th headers, axis

In addition, HTML5 has none of the presentational attributes that were in HTML4 (including those on <table>). Any attributes defined on elements that are not in HTML5 are (obviously) also not in HTML5.


HTML5 introduces a number of APIs that should help in creating web applications. These can be used together with the new elements introduced for applications:

Character Encoding

The character encoding can be declared using the meta element, but the syntax of the meta element has changed. In HTML 4.01 and earlier, the meta element was:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">

In HTML5, the syntax was simplified to remove the unnecessary markup, yet still remain compatible with the encoding detection implemented in most existing browsers.

<meta charset="UTF-8">

HTML 4 Algorithm

Source 5.2.2 Specifying the character encoding, HTML 4.01 Specification.

  1. An HTTP "charset" parameter in a "Content-Type" field.
  2. A META declaration with "http-equiv" set to "Content-Type" and a value set for "charset".
  3. The charset attribute set on an element that designates an external resource.

HTML 5 Algorithm

The exact algorithm that browsers must follow in order to determine the character encoding is specified in HTML 5. The basic algorithm works as follows:

  1. If the transport layer specifies an encoding, use that, and abort these steps. (e.g. The HTTP Content-Type header).
  2. Read the first 512 bytes of the file, or at least as much as possible if less than that.
  3. If the file starts with a UTF-8, UTF-16 or UTF-32 BOM, then use that and abort these steps.
  4. Otherwise use the special algorithm to search the first 512 bytes for a meta element that declares the encoding. The algorithm is relatively lenient in what it will detect, though since it doesn't use the normal parsing algorithm, there are some restrictions.