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The role of ‹div› tags

From: HTML5 First Look

Video: The role of ‹div› tags

The addition of so many semantic tags like the section, nav, article, and aside tags has inevitably lead to some discussion over the role of div tags in HTML5. Over the years, the div tag has evolved into becoming the default container tag for almost all sections of content. Paired with the class and id attribute div tags are used to structure and identify headers, footers, articles, sidebars, and navigation in most web sites. Now that we have elements designed to explicitly represent various content types, how does that change how the div tag is used, or could it signify that we shouldn't even use it at all? A quick look at the HTML5 specification tells us this about the div tag.

The role of ‹div› tags

The addition of so many semantic tags like the section, nav, article, and aside tags has inevitably lead to some discussion over the role of div tags in HTML5. Over the years, the div tag has evolved into becoming the default container tag for almost all sections of content. Paired with the class and id attribute div tags are used to structure and identify headers, footers, articles, sidebars, and navigation in most web sites. Now that we have elements designed to explicitly represent various content types, how does that change how the div tag is used, or could it signify that we shouldn't even use it at all? A quick look at the HTML5 specification tells us this about the div tag.

The div element has no special meaning at all. It represents its children. It can be used with the class, language, and title attributes to markup semantics common to group of consecutive elements. Even more telling is this note. Authors are strongly encouraged to view the div element as an element of last resort, for when no other element is suitable. Use of the div element instead of more appropriate elements leads to poor accessibility for readers and poor maintainability for authors.

Now, the first thing to remember is the specifications are used as guidelines. Just because the HTML5 specification downgrades the use of divs over more semantic tags, doesn't mean that authors are going to do that. Their code may not be as meaningful or well structured as others, but a page structured with divs would still render just fine. Instead of going out of your way to not use div tags, you should instead understand when it's appropriate to use the new elements and let that drive your decision.

Here are a few things to consider. Only use section tag and article tags when you want to create a new titled section in your document. If you skipped the movie on the outline algorithm, be sure to go back and watch it. Every time you use a section or article tag, you create a new titled element in your document outline. If the section of content you're creating doesn't warrant this level of specificity, consider using a div. Second, the aside tag is used for related content.

Many people point to the aside tag as a replacement for the sidebar div and in some ways it is. However, semantically the use of the aside tag implies a relation to the content it is contained within. There are several instances where you may need to group content unrelated to the current section. This could be for layout purposes or to ensure that the content is grouped away from the remainder of the section. In those cases, a div tag is more appropriate than an aside tag.

Next headers and footers should use the appropriate tags. If a section requires header or footer content, make sure that you use those tags instead of a div. The thing to remember here is that headers and footers cannot themselves contain headers and footers of their own. If you need to organize the content inside these regions, the div tag could be a good option. Also, don't use nav around every group of links. The nav element is sectioning content and as such also creates new elements in the document outline.

This may be desirable for your main navigation, but might not be what you need for links inside footers, blog rolls, or other sublinking groupings. Usually, you can identify the link group through the use of its parent list tag, but when you need more structure, the div tag is a good alternative choice. Finally, divs can still be used to group any related content. You want to wrap the entire page in a tag to control layout? You want to make sure several paragraphs are rendered as a column or that a series of images relate to each other? Then the div tag is still the best choice for adding structure in many of those cases.

So in reality, the div tag will likely remain a very important part of your page structure. Just make sure when planning your documents that other, more semantic tags aren't more appropriate before using the div tag to group content.

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This video is part of

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HTML5 First Look

50 video lessons · 73808 viewers

James Williamson
Author

 
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  1. 3m 56s
    1. Welcome
      1m 1s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 50s
    3. Who is this course for?
      1m 5s
  2. 21m 12s
    1. Exploring prior standards
      4m 26s
    2. Why do we need HTML5?
      3m 32s
    3. HTML5 timeline
      4m 24s
    4. Current HTML5 support
      4m 25s
    5. What HTML5 is (and what it isn't)
      4m 25s
  3. 27m 49s
    1. HTML5 vs. HTML4
      3m 25s
    2. New structural tags
      6m 1s
    3. New content tags
      4m 7s
    4. New application-focused tags
      5m 32s
    5. Deprecated elements
      4m 28s
    6. API overview
      4m 16s
  4. 22m 29s
    1. Content models
      5m 33s
    2. Understanding the outline algorithm
      3m 21s
    3. The role of ‹div› tags
      4m 20s
    4. Using ID and class attributes
      2m 6s
    5. DOCTYPE declarations
      4m 16s
    6. Character encoding
      2m 53s
  5. 41m 27s
    1. Basic page structure
      3m 40s
    2. Structuring top-level elements
      7m 30s
    3. Structuring interior content
      8m 42s
    4. Building headers
      9m 11s
    5. Checking document outlines
      5m 46s
    6. Ensuring cross-browser structure
      6m 38s
  6. 27m 53s
    1. New input types
      5m 57s
    2. Setting form autofocus
      2m 53s
    3. Using placeholder data
      4m 4s
    4. Marking required fields
      3m 24s
    5. Working with number inputs
      5m 49s
    6. Using date pickers
      5m 46s
  7. 1h 1m
    1. Canvas overview
      6m 21s
    2. Adding canvas content
      8m 58s
    3. Drawing in the canvas environment
      12m 9s
    4. Drag-and-drop API overview
      6m 18s
    5. Offline applications overview
      7m 11s
    6. Video overview
      5m 45s
    7. Encoding video
      8m 23s
    8. Adding video
      5m 58s
  8. 57m 33s
    1. Geolocation API overview
      5m 50s
    2. Web storage API overview
      5m 40s
    3. WebSockets overview
      4m 16s
    4. CSS3 overview
      6m 38s
    5. Enhancing typography with CSS3
      7m 42s
    6. Using @font-face
      7m 11s
    7. Styling HTML5 with CSS3
      10m 23s
    8. Using CSS3 transitions
      9m 53s
  9. 5m 6s
    1. Final thoughts
      3m 49s
    2. Goodbye
      1m 17s

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