Why W3C standards?

Front page | Bob's approach to cross-browser websites

This page is aimed at website authors and encourages you to adhere strictly to the web standards as maintained and published by the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C for short.

The W3C has been the standards authority since 1992 and, whilst some browser manufacturers haven't always felt obliged to stick to the standards either because they knew better or just because they produced buggy code, their recommendations have mostly and increasingly been catered for and adhered to ever since.

Let me begin by putting the question why NOT adhere to the standards?. Here are some excuses the author has heard...

"They don't work in old browsers"

This is a myth, a fallacy. This website is coded as XHTML 1.0. It works in browsers as old as Netscape 3 (1996) as well as in browsers as new as Mozilla Firefox v1 (2005). It's true that there are differences in presentation between the different browsers and Netscape 3 actually has an error in that it shows the line <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> at the top of each page. This isn't really an argument for not applying the standards though, code any non-trivial webpage any way you like, you'll still get differences between the browsers, especially old ones.

It would be true to say that merely coding to the latest standards is no guarantee that your site will 'work in all the browsers'. It would be equally true to say that merely coding for, say, Internet Explorer v4 is also no guarantee of cross browser compatibility. Cross browser compatibility requires effort regardless of what standards you apply but, if everyone adopts the same standards, eventually we will simply code to the standards.

"My 'plain old HTML' works just fine"

So you've tested your 'plain old HTML' in EVERY combination of operating system and browser have you? What about the new ones that are coming onto the market every day? What about the users who've taken advantage of the accessibility features of new browsers? And, of course, you've made no use of images, sound, Flash, Java, fonts, ActiveX, frames or JavaScript!

"They're too much trouble"

If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right! What are you, some sort of sloppy amateur?

If you were going to publish a printed book, wouldn't you go to a lot of trouble to ensure that its contents were accurate and reliable, spelt correctly, readable, bound properly, complied with the law and so on? Of course you would otherwise that book would remain a permanent testament to your slovenliness.

When you publish a website, the chances are that you have a much wider audience than you would for a book. Do you really want the whole world to notice how sloppy you are?

So what are the advantages in supporting the agreed standards?


The W3C is comprised of a large number of bodies with fulltime, professional, interests in the web and its development. They have the capacity to think through all the angles that you don't have time for. If your site validates to their standards, it is much more likely that it will be acceptable to the largest number of internet users.

Validation to published standards can be carried out automatically ensuring that most, if not all, of your typos will be corrected before exposure to your worldwide audience. You never make typos? You're unique!

If you're being paid to produce a website, there is, at least, an implied term in that contract that the code you produce will be of merchantable quality. Having it validated to the internationally agreed and published standards is a very simple way of demonstrating that it is of such quality.

Improve the web

Producing a rich, accessible, website requires a lot of effort. One of the elements of the difficulty can be removed if we all agree to adopt common standards.

Style sheets

It's often assumed that the only use for a web page is to present an image on a computer monitor but this is simply not true. Web pages are regularly printed on paper, scanned by computer programs or even read aloud by screen readers.

In the days before cascading style sheets (CSS) were available, authors carefully arranged the text of their sites to create the "right" visual image. This entails much use of embedded tables and font specification all of which serves to obscure the clarity of the published work. Numerous scripts and executable programs were produced whose sole function is to strip out all the extraneous markup leaving the user with the original, clear, text.

Use of style sheets gives the opportunity to separate style from content so that both components can be properly exploited. Style sheets provide mechanisms for providing different presentation on screen and on paper. Style sheets make sense! Producing a scrambled mess of markup in order only to produce what you consider to be the "right" visual image on screen does not.

Last updated ... 2005-06-09    [Valid XHTML 1.0!]