… in at least one common scenario. Here’s a summary:
- Problem: Empty textareas written
<textarea />break both Firefox and IE6.
- Solution: Remove all mention of XHTML from your documents and XSLT stylesheets, and continue using XHTML-like XML without pain.
For details and explanation, read on.
For your delectation, one small piece of hard-won, expensive knowledge: if you supply XHTML (ie. a document root “html” in the XHTML 1.0 namespace) to Xalan for processing by an XSLT stylesheet, it will treat it as XML, and print it as XML. There is nothing you can do to make it print it as HTML 4.01 (in other words, Appendix C of the XHTML spec is ignored). On the other hand, if you supply XHTML-like XML (ie. a well-formed XML document with a document root “html” in no namespace at all) to Xalan, it will happily parse it, and will print it as HTML 4.01. This is a crucial thing to know if you are trying to build (X)HTML from some input source to send to browsers that are expecting HTML formatting conventions, such as IE6 and, in some circumstances, even Firefox.
Forgive the ASCII-art – here’s a diagram of the render pipeline I was attempting:
XHTML template + custom tags + field binding specs | | XSLT (1) V XHTML template + field binding specs | | XSLT (2) V XML field -------> XSLT stylesheet -------> XHTML for display values | | V User Agent
Transformation 1 expanded application-specific tags, generating boilerplate for page headers/footers etc. Transformation 2 turned the XHTML template with
lshift:field binding attributes into an XSLT stylesheet that was prepared to accept an XML document containing field details and that would in turn emit an XHTML document based on the original template, with the field values from the source XML document spliced in.
The two major problem elements are empty
<script> tags and empty
<textarea> tags. If IE6 sees a script tag that looks like “
<script />“, it (correctly, for HTML!) interprets this as an unclosed script tag, and processes the rest of the document as if it were a script. Firefox decides the page author has made an understandable mistake and displays the document as (probably) intended. You can work around the problem, often, by supplying some non-empty text to go in the otherwise empty script tag: a single semicolon will do. This can be automated as part of transformation 2 in the diagram above.
Textareas are more of a problem. Supplying any content for the element obviously has a different meaning to supplying no content for the element – and if either Firefox or IE see “
<textarea />“, they interpret the entire remainder of the document as the content of the textarea, since HTML formatting conventions require that empty textareas are to be written “
After several hours spent breaking myself on the rocks of XHTML-in-the-real world trying to get Xalan to print empty scripts and textareas according to HTML convention, a good night’s sleep and some prompting by my colleague
mikeb focussed me on the differences between the system I was trying to get working and the working example HTML I had been following. Close examination and a couple of small experiments showed the significant difference to be the lack of a namespace in the working HTML-like XML. Presto: I removed all mention of XHTML from my documents and stylesheets and everything worked as if by magic.
To sum up: Just Say No to using the XHTML namespace with Xalan. You’re welcome to continue using something that looks remarkably like XHTML – just make sure it isn’t in a namespace. Xalan seems to have poorly-documented magic in it in this area.
On the other hand, if you can guarantee that whatever you’re targetting truly can read XHTML properly, then go for it – of course, that excludes almost all browsers in the market…
Footnote 1: You can make Firefox interpret
<textarea /> sensibly, but it is dependent on the fine alignment of a number of variables and major planets. Setting the correct content-type is also important.
Footnote 2: HTML, an SGML application, apparently (according to hearsay on the internet) interprets
<tag>> according to some strict reading of the specification.
Footnote 3: An optimist might have expected
<xsl:output method="html"/> to help. It doesn’t. You need both the html output-method and non-namespaced XHTML-like XML in order to get the desired