Make WordPress Core

Opened 6 months ago

Last modified 12 days ago

#59883 new enhancement

Remove support for HTML4 and XHTML

Reported by: dmsnell's profile dmsnell Owned by:
Milestone: Awaiting Review Priority: normal
Severity: normal Version: 6.5
Component: HTML API Keywords: dev-feedback has-dev-note 2nd-opinion
Focuses: Cc:

Description (last modified by dmsnell)


WordPress still officially supports HTML4 and XHTML, but the browsers it serves and the broader web effectively don't. Let's remove support so that we can modernize the code we write and simplify Core's HTML-handling functionality.


This came up recently in #58664 and in an exploration rewriting esc_attr().

In various places WordPress maintains the appearance of supporting HTML4, for example:

  • wp_kses_named_entities() rejects valid named character references like ⇵ and in turn corrupts documents containing these entities.
  • script and style tags conditionally add type attributes that never need to be printed
  • widgets selectively render <nav> and strip tags out of the $title for a page when TITLE elements can contain no tags anyway. This leads to corruption in the page title for removing what WordPress thinks are tags but aren't.
  • various places run kses as if serving XHTML, adding needless invalid syntax like the self-closing flag on void elements, e.g. <img />, <br />, <meta />

The appearance of serving HTML4 or XHTML stems from the fact that it's very rare to serve actual XHTML content, and perhaps impossible to serve HTML4 content, to any supported browser or environment.

  • browsers ignore any <xml> or <!DOCTYPE> declaration specifying HTML4 or XHTML. They interpret a page as HTML5 regardless. You can confirm this by visiting a page with the &lang; named character reference. If interpreted as HTML4 it will transform into the U+2329 code point, but if interpreted as HTML5 will transform into the U+27E8 codepoint .
  • the only way to serve a page as XHTML is to send the HTTP header Content-type: application/xhtml+xml or to serve the page with the .xml file extension in the URL (e.g. serve index.xml instead of index.html or index.php or /index or /). It's not enough to send a <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="application/xhtml+xml"> tag; it must come through the HTTP headers.

Because of this behavior in browsers, WordPress sends content that it thinks is one thing but is received as another. Removing official support means that we can start to remove those places that purport to send HTML4 or XHTML content when that assumption is wrong and can lead to data corruption, let alone needless syntax noise.

WordPress still serves XML content in RSS feeds; this proposal does not recommend removing support for generating the XML feeds, but it may extend to the escaping and rendering of embedded HTML within those feeds, since an RSS reader is unlikely to and should not be interpreting embedded HTML as HTML4 and should be supporting embedded HTML5 as any web browser would. As an embedding, the content rendered into the feed remains separate from the surrounding RSS XML container.

Action plan

Removing support for HTML4 and XHTML doesn't require any immediate action because HTML5 parsers compliantly parse HTML4 and XHTML up to their conflicting rules, such as with the &lang; named character reference. Since WordPress is already "broken" in this sense today, removing support does not imply that these are new bugs; rather it acknowledges that we missed updating WordPress once HTML4 and XHTML properly disappeared.

In future work it opens up opportunities to modernize WordPress:

  • we don't need to handle complicated corner cases where pre-HTML5 renders require special cases.
  • we can remove code meant for backwards compatibility which no longer provides that support.
  • we can update Core functions such as _wp_kses_named_entities() to prevent them from corrupting data based on inaccurate parsing rules from the past.
  • we can define a body of support and scope for what WordPress will and won't attempt to clean up. Functions like force_balance_tags() and encoding functions attempt to normalize and sanitize HTML but just as often further break that HTML when passing it through to the browser would have a deterministic and safe resolution.
  • we can eliminate wrapping script output with CDATA escaping which is only needed for XML compatibility.
  • we can use HTML5 form validation by default in more places instead of requiring an opt-in.

The HTML API is providing WordPress the ability to have a smarter Core HTML system that won't be confused by rare or unexpected inputs and leans heavily on a spec-compliant "garbage-in garbage-out" approach. This dramatically simplifies HTML processing code without opening unsafe avenues; this is because HTML5 defines how to handle abnormal inputs.

Weston queried the HTTP Archive and found up to potentially two sites among millions that are serving XHTML content through the inclusion of proper HTTP headers.

Linked Issues

  • #60320 the CDATA wrappers around inline JavaScript break non-JavaScript SCRIPT contents.
  • wpcs-docs#136 XHTML and HTML conflicts

Change History (7)

#1 @westonruter
6 months ago

  • Description modified (diff)

#2 @westonruter
6 months ago

  • Description modified (diff)

This ticket was mentioned in Slack in #core by dmsnell. View the logs.

4 months ago

#4 @dmsnell
4 months ago

  • Description modified (diff)

#5 @dmsnell
7 weeks ago

  • Description modified (diff)

This ticket was mentioned in Slack in #core by dmsnell. View the logs.

6 weeks ago

#7 @jonsurrell
12 days ago

This has implications for #61170.

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