FrontPage helped bring WYSIWYG publishing to the World Wide Web. Since those early beginnings, however, the web has changed; countless new technologies have emerged, evolved, and slipped into obscurity. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has led the way in defining the web’s technological common ground, referred to as web standards. Websites that conform to W3C web standards are referred to as standards-compliant.
Over the next several articles, I’ll be helping you update your website; migrating away from legacy code and components to newer solutions, based on web standards.
In this article, we’ll start the migration process by cleaning up the code so that it’s more in alignment with web standards and start moving style and formatting out of the web pages and into a cascading style sheet (CSS).
Before we begin, I strongly encourage you to make a backup copy of your website.
Browsers read the DOCTYPE declaration on a page to determine which version of HTML (or XHTML) the page uses. Expression Web uses the DOCTYPE declaration for validation and IntelliSense code completion. Adding a DOCTYPE declaration to your website’s pages makes it easier to create and maintain valid code throughout your project.
If your project contains no FrontPage web components, set the DOCTYPE to XHTML Transitional. If your project does contain FrontPage web components, you’ll experience fewer problems if you set the DOCTYPE to HTML 4.01 Transitional.
To set the DOCTYPE for a single page, from the Expression Web Code view:
Repeat this procedure to set the DOCTYPE for every page in your project.
Now that the existing pages all have DOCTYPE declarations, this would be an excellent time to set the DOCTYPE for the entire project so that any new documents you add to the site are created with the correct DOCTYPE declaration. Click Tools, and then click Page Editor Options. Select the Authoring tab and set the Document Type Declaration.
Once you've set the DOCTYPE declaration on a page and while you're still in Code view, right-click on the page and select Reformat HTML. This will tidy up the code formatting and attempt to validate the page against the declared DOCTYPE. If there are any code errors, Expression Web will highlight them in yellow. DOCTYPE validation errors are displayed with a squiggly red underline.
Go through the code and clear up what you can. When you hover your mouse cursor over an error, a tooltip displays with details about the error to help you find a solution.
External style sheets are separate files from content pages that will be linked from each of your project’s web pages. This allows you to create a single style definition that controls the appearance of every instance of a style throughout your website.
Overall, cascading style sheets provide greater flexibility, easier maintenance, and true separation of content from presentation.
Each page must include a link to your CSS within the <head> section of the page. You can add this link manually in Code view: <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="mycss.css">; or you can add it from the Format menu by clicking CSS Styles, and then clicking Attach CSS Style Sheet in Design view.
Here’s a quick refresher for CSS style definitions. A CSS style definition has three parts:
The properties and values are contained within curly braces, and properties are separated by semi-colons.
A selector can be:
Class selectors in a CSS begin with a period (for example, .codeview, .caption, and .uitext). Classes can be used with several different elements on a page. For example, the .uitext class can be applied to single or multiple words, entire paragraphs, headings, or specific sections on a page.
Once you’ve created the CSS, you can quickly apply styles in Design view using the Apply Styles task pane. (If the Apply Styles task pane isn’t visible, click Task Panes, and then click Apply Styles.) The Apply Styles task pane shows all the available styles in a document. To apply the formatting to different areas of the page, select the text you want to format and then click a style in the Apply Styles task pane.
In Code view, you’ll see that CSS class and ID attributes have been added to the HTML tags for many formatted sections of text. If you prefer to code by hand in Code view, note that the “.” and “#” characters are omitted from the HTML attributes.
Once you’ve applied CSS styles to each content element in your site, it’s a good idea to go through each of the pages in Code view, clearing out any leftover presentation formatting, such as <font> tags (especially those with attributes, such as <font face=”Tahoma”> or <font color=”#007F00”>).
A special note about MsoNormal.
Copying and pasting content directly from Microsoft Word into FrontPage or Expression Web generates Office-specific markup, characteristically set off with an MsoNormal attribute. That markup may be valid (depending on the DOCTYPE declaration) but it adds unnecessary clutter and maintenance headaches.
Tip: Copy the affected text directly from Word into Notepad and then paste it into the web page. This will strip all inline, Office-specific formatting out of the content, to which you can then apply CSS styles.
Now that we’ve shifted the appearance of page elements out of the HTML page and into the CSS, the tags have semantic value—they actually describe what’s contained within them. Semantic content markup offers tremendous benefits in accessibility alone. For example, because the formatting and appearance of a standards-compliant web page are handled by the CSS, instead of by inline formatting, visually impaired users no longer have to sit through the screen reader’s tedious and time-consuming itemization of every table element and transparent GIF used in the non-compliant page’s layout tables.
Another great benefit to semantic content markup is that it can significantly improve search engine optimization. Standards-compliant web pages contain a bare minimum of markup, so when a search engine crawls your site, it encounters a much higher content-to-markup ratio, resulting in more accurate search engine results and higher page ranking.
One final note about semantic markup: <i> and <b> tags are considered display tags; they change only the appearance of the enclosed content. Use style definitions in your CSS for elements such as code examples or UI text that should be displayed in italics or bold.
In cases where your intent is to change the meaning of an element, use the standards-compliant <em> (meaning “emphasis”) and <strong> tags instead. Though these tags also correctly apply the desired formatting, their purpose is to provide semantic value, which—among other things—helps screen readers and other accessibility tools correctly interpret and present content enclosed in these tags.
DOCTYPE declarations and the separation of content from presentation are fundamental aspects of a standards-compliant website. More importantly, making these changes provides several important benefits: your website is much easier to maintain and extend in a standards-compliant editor such as Expression Web; you can add and expand accessibility features; and your site’s search engines results should improve.
In my next article, we’ll examine FrontPage web components and ways to replace them with standards-compliant alternatives.
The MIX website at http://www.visitmix.com was recently redeployed and was developed with, but of course, Expression Web.
Here’s a random image that I love ( and don’t understand ) from the website:
But enough of that silliness, here’s the official announcement:
Today we are announcing an update to MIX Online at visitmix.com.
MIX Online is a community site for web designers and developers who are building and believe in the innovative web. In the past, the site has given a varied perspective of what is happening on the web, a view into our conference called MIX, and interviews with amazing people with incredible ideas and stories on how designers and developers can take advantage of the web. MIX Online has always been a year-round companion to the event.
MIX Online moves forward by taking more of a scenario focus around emerging web trends. For example, Microformats is an interesting movement in the web community and we want to introduce you to it and give you some practical guidance around it. MIX Online will continue to showcase our traditional blog, but we are renaming it under the heading “Opinions” that provides a more natural conversation with our small team. Also, MIX Online now provides practical articles with each scenario that are written by people in the community, not always Microsoft’s perspective. Best of all, MIX Online is providing freely downloadable, open source, and immediately useable prototypes. You are encouraged to use these prototypes for your own projects, but to also submit code to the prototype project on CodePlex to share with the community.
Please check it out at www.visitmix.com and be sure to register for the MIX conference at www.visitmix.com/2009 .
Erik Saltwell, Group Program Manager for Expression Web, used Expression Web 2 to build a Google gadget that displays the “Ted spread”:
The money blog on the NPR website has blogged about it: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2008/10/your_own_ted_spread_reader.html
What’s the Ted spread? Erik explained it to me this morning but you’re really better off reading about it here:
The RIA Development Center website (sponsored by Microsoft) just published a detailed review of the PHP features in version 2 of Expression Web, including the built-in development server for previewing your PHP pages in any browser, previewing PHP includes in the design surface of Expression Web, byte order mark preferences, PHP IntelliSense (auto complete features in Code view), PHP snippets, PHP code coloring and preferences, and more. Here’s a direct link to the article:
And if you haven’t already read it, our own Tyler Simpson (Development and Test Manager) co-authored an article earlier this year for the Expression newsletter to introduce readers to the PHP features in Expression Web 2. Check it out:
Microsoft has released a free BETA version of the Web Platform Installer which corrals together all the free components you need for developing web applications on Windows Vista. To download the installer, go here: http://www.microsoft.com/web/channel/products/WebPlatformInstaller.aspx .
The first screen of the BETA installer lets you select Complete, ASP.NET Developer, or Your Choice:
If you select Your Choice and click Next, you can select just the options you want. You can also select a profile in the Recommendations list on the Web Server tab to distill the options down to the profile that fits your development the best, including ASP.NET Developer, PHP Developer, or Classic ASP Developer: