Optional HTML

Jens Meiert is a big fan of omitting optional HTML. He’s assembled a pretty exhaustive guide covering what can be omitted and when. From there he’s also linked to other posts where he’s run the tests and developed the metrics that illustrate the performance gains from leaving out optional HTML (everything from optional closing tags to quotes around single-word attributes).

The problem I have is that optional rules come with no small amount of caveats and contextual issues. As a developer, I want a readable, consistent code base. Quote your attributes, for example, always. I still write HTML in XHTML-strict style. I don’t want the ambiguity of some attributes being enclosed in quotation marks, and others not. Quote them all.

Plus there’s always the possibility of being burned by a change in content forcing a change in context, and therefore a different rule. For a dumb example,

<aside class=summary>A summary</aside>

That’s legal. But the second an additional class gets added, it’s not:

<aside class=summary review>A summary and review</aside>

By inserting quotation marks and reducing ambiguity from the get-go, later adjustments are potentially less error-prone, simply by a reduced cognitive load of changing the content while maintaining the operative rule:

<aside class="summary">A summary</aside>
<!-- becomes: -->
<aside class="summary review">A summary and review</aside>

Although as Jens himself notes in his guide’s appendices, it’s essential to validate.

A possible compromise: Write the verbose, strict style in HTML or any other language. Then leave it to a piece of tooling to remove the optional stuff. And even then, it’s essential to validate.