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Since our last survey, there have been several important developments related to markup technologies. The W3C effectively declared XHTML2 dead, and HTML5 has gained considerable mindshare among developers. In addition to the questions related to general markup practice we asked in the first survey, we also asked a number of questions in relation to HTML5, both in this section, and in the Scripting and API section of the survey.

As we noted last year,

Given that this survey asked developers what their practices are, there’s the chance that they’ll provide answers about what they think they should be doing, rather than what they actually are doing, even though it is an anonymous survey. Verifying how closely the responses match the actual practices by developers would in any case be difficult.

We asked respondents two sets of questions – one related to language features they use, the other markup practices (for example how frequently they validate).

Language Features

What versions of HTML/XHTML do respondents use?

Since version 1, XHTML has been considered by many web developers to be “the future of HTML”. There has also long been a group of developers who were sceptical of the value of XHTML syntax. In HTML5, while both HTML and XHTML syntax are permissible, it could be argued that HTML syntax is being given predominance by the developers of the language. But just how much is this reflected in current developer practice?

When asked which syntax they used, well over half of respondents relied either exclusively (34%) or mostly (32%) XHTML, as opposed to 42.4% and 29.7% in the previous survey.

Those who use HTML syntax exclusively grew from 5.9% to 9.8%, while the number who used mostly HTML also rose, a little, from 15.9% to 16.4%.

It would seem that HTML5 and its privileging of HTML syntax over XHTML is having some impact on developer practice year on year. But, XHTML continues to be the preferred syntax for respondents by some way.

Markup Count %
Exclusively HTML 138 9.84%
Exclusively XHTML 476 33.95%
Mostly HTML, sometimes XHTML 230 16.41%
Mostly XHTML, sometimes HTML 451 32.17%
XML 5 0.36%
Other 19 1.36%
Markup Count %
Exclusively HTML 73 5.92%
Exclusively XHTML 523 42.38%
Mostly HTML, sometimes XHTML 196 15.88%
Mostly XHTML, sometimes HTML 367 29.74%
XML 9 0.73%
Other 10 0.81%

What doctypes do respondents declare?

A little later in the section we asked which doctypes developers declare in their documents. Here we definitely see a significant leap in the adoption of HTML5, up from just 1% in late 2008, to 12.6% in this survey, passing HTML 4 strict and transitional, and XHTML 1.1. Both versions of HTML 4 held almost exactly level with last year’s results. Transitional doctypes continue to be the most commonly used.

Doctype Count %
none 25 1.78%
HTML 4.01 strict 117 8.35%
HTML 4.01 transitional 162 11.55%
HTML 4.01 frameset 1 0.07%
XHTML 1.01 strict 353 25.18%
XHTML 1.01 transitional 396 28.25%
XHTML 1.01 frameset 5 0.36%
XHTML 1.1 56 3.99%
HTML 5 177 12.62%
Other 11 0.78%
Doctype Count %
none 21 1.70%
HTML 4.01 strict 106 8.59%
HTML 4.01 transitional 142 11.51%
HTML 4.01 frameset 3 0.24%
XHTML 1.01 strict 384 31.12%
XHTML 1.01 transitional 425 34.44%
XHTML 1.01 frameset 1 0.08%
XHTML 1.1 53 4.29%
HTML 5 16 1.30%
Other 10 0.81%

Do you use HTML5 markup (for example section, header, nav elements)?

To dig a little deeper into the use of HTML5, we asked whether respondents use HTML5 markup. 65% said never, but nearly 21% said sometimes, and 7.35% answered yes. Clearly, this audience is at least experimenting with HTML5, and interest in the language it is fair to say is up considerably from the last survey.

Answer Count %
Yes 103 7.35%
Sometimes 294 20.97%
Never 914 65.19%

We followed up by asking those who said they used HTML5 which features of HTML5 they use. 11.3% of all respondents referred to structural elements like section, header, nav and footer. 3.6% mentioned video, 2.5% canvas and 1.6% audio. In the JavaScript section we also investigate API related aspects of HTML5.

We also asked respondents the extent to which they have adopted the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative’s Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA), extensions to HTML which make for more accessible web applications. Less than 1% said always, a further 9.3% said sometimes, but on the whole, WAI-ARIA has some way to go to gain widespread adoption. It’s worth noting that ARIA’s profile for this survey is not dissimilar to HTML5’s profile in the last survey.

Do you use WAI-ARIA (for example the role attribute) in your markup

Answer Count %
Always 9 0.64%
sometimes 130 9.27%
never 1170 83.45%

Markup Practices

How often do respondents validate their markup?

Perhaps practices have changed a little since late 2008, perhaps respondents this time were more honest, or perhaps its not statistically significant, but the amount of validating respondents claim to do of their pages fell somewhat in this survey. 32.6% said they always validate their pages (down from 36.8%), 33.3% said frequently (up from 32.5%), sometimes held more or less steady (23.11% as opposed to 22.5), while 4.5% of respondents said they never validate (up from 3.2%).

Question 10: How often do you validate your markup?

Frequency Count %
Always 457 32.6%
Frequently 467 33.31%
Sometimes 324 23.11%
Never 63 4.49%
Frequency Count %
Always 454 36.79%
Frequently 401 32.50%
Sometimes 278 22.53%
Never 41 3.32%

Tables for layout

A number of questions we worded a little differently from the last survey, and in this instance a change of wording seems to have produced a dramatic result. Last year when asked “do you use tables for layout”, 84.76% answered no. This year, when the option was “never on pain of death”, only 60.2% have this answer. Meanwhile, last year 10.3% answered yes, while this year, three times that number, 31% responded “Only if I really have to”. A new option “Yes, often they’re much easier for layout than CSS” gave those who actually prefer using tables a specific response to choose. Only 2.6% gave this answer, suggesting that tables as a preferred layout technique over CSS at least among our respondent are a very small group, but still many will use tables when it makes life a little easier (we suspect laying out form elements may be one area where tables are widely used, and may ask about that specifically next year).

Still the dramatic change in response from such a minor change is interesting – perhaps the light heartedness in the answers had something to do with this.

Do you use tables for layout?

Answer Count %
Never, on pain of death 844 60.2%
Yes, often they’re much easier for layout than CSS 36 2.57%
Only if I really really have to 435 31.03%
Answer Count %
No 1046 84.76%
Yes 127 10.29%

Presentational HTML

As with last year’s survey, we asked respondents which presentational HTML (if any) they used. The percentage of those using none rose to 34.3% from 30.6%, but it still means two thirds of respondents use some form of presentational HTML. 5% of respondents still use the font element, and interestingly, the least used element or atribute we asked about was u, at 4%, despite this being still part of HTML5.

Which presentational HTML elements and attributes do respondents use?

Feature Count %
None 481 34.31%
font 71 5.06%
b 213 15.19%
i 171 12.2%
border 165 11.77%
width 288 20.54%
u 56 3.99%
height 245 17.48%
cellspacing 259 18.47%
cellpadding 219 15.62%
center 112 7.99%
Feature Count %
None 378 30.63%
font 70 5.67%
b 218 17.67%
i 187 15.15%
border 146 11.83%
width 284 23.01%
u 79 6.40%
height 238 19.29%
cellspacing 243 19.69%
cellpadding 209 16.94%
center 122 9.89%

Extended Semantics

Again this year, we asked respondents about their use of microformats and RDFa. Microformats continue to be the far more widely adopted of the two, with 43% (up from 41.5%) reporting using microformats, while 16%, down from 18.7% responded “what are microformats?”

RDFa usage was up, from 3.4% to 5.6%, and the number of those expressing ignorance of RDFa fell from 44% to 30.8%, but RDFa does still have a long way to go to catch up with thelevel of use microformats have for extending the semantics of web content.

Do you use microformats in your markup?

Answer Count %
Yes 484 34.52%
No 602 42.94%
What are microformats? 224 15.98%
Answer Count %
Yes 429 34.76%
No 512 41.49%
What are microformats? 231 18.72%

Do you use RDFa in your markup?

Answer Count %
Yes 79 5.63%
No 802 57.2%
What’s RDFa? 432 30.81%
Answer Count %
Yes 42 3.40%
No 586 47.49%
What’s RDFa? 544 44.08%

The big story in markup is the rise of HTML5 in the last year or so. While this might elicit little surprise, given how much interest, indeed hype has been associated with HTML5, as we’ll see elsewhere in the survey, there’s not always a correlation between hype and developer adoption (for instance, NoSQL appears to be making little headway with our respondents as yet).


Next, we’ll see how respondents are using CSS and other presentational technologies.

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