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HyperText Markup Language (HTML) 3.2

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Format Description Properties Explanation of format description terms

Identification and description Explanation of format description terms

Full name HyperText Markup Language (HTML) 3.2

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the standard markup language for creating web pages and web applications. This format description is for HTML version 3.2, standardized under the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The HTML 3.2 Reference Specification was published as a W3C Recommendation in January 1997. This was the first HTML specification published by W3C after taking over responsibility for the markup language from the HTML Working Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

The introduction to the specification includes, "HTML 3.2 is W3C's specification for HTML, developed in early `96 together with vendors including IBM, Microsoft, Netscape Communications Corporation, Novell, SoftQuad, Spyglass, and Sun Microsystems. HTML 3.2 adds widely deployed features such as tables, applets and text flow around images, while providing full backwards compatibility with the existing standard HTML 2.0." The Document Type Definition (DTD) included in the specification states, "HTML 3.2 aims to capture recommended practice as of early '96."

Several features proposed as extensions to HTML 2.0 through IETF RFCs were incorporated into HTML 3.2.

  • A standard markup for tables, using a subset of the proposal in RFC 1942 (May 1996).
  • An extension to the form feature to support uploading of files. See RFC 1867 (November 1995).
  • Support for a client-side mechanism for image maps, which allow users to access different documents by clicking different areas in an image. See RFC 1980 (August 1996).

Another feature new since HTML 2.0 was <DIV>, a grouping element with a CLASS attribute, intended to identify different kinds of containers, e.g. chapter, section, abstract, or appendix.

A new <APPLET> element was introduced to support the running of applets in the Java programming language (not to be confused with JavaScript) in boxes on an HTML page. This element is no longer supported by several browsers. It was deprecated in HTML 4.0, in favor of the more general <OBJECT> element. See <applet>: The Embed Java Applet element at MDN (formerly the Mozilla Developer Network) and Are applets now deprecated? from Stack Overflow.

Control of text flow was enhanced by the addition of adding a CLEAR attribute to the <BR> element. This technique for allowing an image to "float" with text wrapping round it was deprecated in later versions of HTML, along with many other presentational elements and attributes, in favor of using CSS to achieve the same effect.

Included in the DTD were "placeholder" elements <SCRIPT> and <STYLE>, intended to facilitate transition to the next version of HTML, which was expected to promote further separation of document structure from the layout to represent that structure. These tags would be used for "client-side" scripts and style sheet markup embedded in HTML documents rather than stored in linked external files. Browsers were instructed to avoid showing the contents of these element.

Production phase The primary use of HTML is as a final-state format for web pages made available on the Internet. Early HTML files were often created directly in a text editor. By the time the specification for HTML 3.2 was published, visual (WYSIWIG) editors were available.
Relationship to other formats
    Subtype of HTML_family, HTML File Format Family
    Has earlier version HTML_2, HyperText Markup Language (HTML) 2.0
    Has later version HTML_4_0, HyperText Markup Language (HTML) 4.0
    Defined via SGML, Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). ISO 8879:1986

Local use Explanation of format description terms

LC experience or existing holdings The Library of Congress home page archived on June 16, 1997 used HTML 3.2. By May 2000, HTML 4.0 Transitional was used. See also HTML_family.
LC preference See HTML_family.

Sustainability factors Explanation of format description terms


HTML 3.2, produced under the auspices of the W3C, is a non-proprietary format, openly developed and published, and freely implementable.


Version 3.2 of the HTML specification was published as a W3C Recommendation in January 1997.


HTML 3.2 was widely used in the late 1990s and pages using this version of HTML are still to be found on the Web. Some features permitted in HTML 3.2 are not supported in some browsers current as of March 2018. For example, the <ISINDEX> element is largely unsupported and the <APPLET> introduced in HTML 3.2 was already deprecated in favor of the <OBJECT> element in HTML 4.0. Obsolete tags can be identified at CanIUse or in the latest HTML 5.x specification.

See also HTML_family.

    Licensing and patents

No concerns. See W3C IPR Software Notice that was applicable from 1995 to 1998 and the revised W3C Software Notice and License introduced in August 1998. See HTML_family.


All HTML files can be opened and viewed in text editors. See also HTML_family.


See HTML_family.

External dependencies See HTML_family.
Technical protection considerations See HTML_family.

Quality and functionality factors Explanation of format description terms

Normal rendering

The character encoding specified for HTML 3.2 corresponds to ISO Latin-1 character set, comprising 191 graphic characters, including the alphabets of most Western European languages. Characters that could not be entered on a keyboard could be incorporated by using SGML-style entities. For example, a lower-case e with acute accent could be typed as &eacute; or &#233; (the equivalent code in ISO Latin-1 as a decimal number). For other textual characteristics of HTML documents, see HTML_family.

Integrity of document structure Like previous versions of HTML, HTML 3,2 included structural elements for paragraphs, headings, ordered and unordered lists. Also defined were "blockquote" blocks for wrapping a quotation from another source and two special list blocks, one for "menus" and another for "directories." HTML 3.2 also provided a <DIV> element that could be used, for example, to group paragraphs into a chapter.
Integrity of layout and display

See HTML_family.

Support for mathematics, formulae, etc. The HTML 3.2 specification includes no support for representing mathematics.
Functionality beyond normal rendering HTML was developed specifically to support linking among online resources. HTML 3.2 included support for forms that allowed users to enter data, for example, terms that could be used to query a database or user name and password to log in to a website. HTML 3.2 also introduced the ability to embed a Java applet in a rectangular area of a web page.

File type signifiers and format identifiers Explanation of format description terms

Tag Value Note
Filename extension See related format.  See HTML_family.
Internet Media Type See related format.  See HTML_family.
Magic numbers <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2 Final//EN">
The specification for HTML 3.2 requires that a conforming document start with a document type declaration that begins with '<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2 Final//EN">'. Note that lower case characters may be used.
Pronom PUID fmt/98
See http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/PRONOM/fmt/98.
Wikidata Title ID Q41676372
See https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q41676372

Notes Explanation of format description terms


The first formal standard for the HTML format was version 2.0, and published as RFC 1866 in November 1995 by the IETF. During 1995, the popularity of the web and conflicting ideas for new features, including from the emerging browser vendors, overwhelmed the IETF working group. A version 3.0 for HTML had been prepared as an IETF Internet Draft, but expired in September 1995 without moving to the IETF Standards track. A November 1995 meeting resulted in the forming of a new group under the auspices of the W3C, founded in 1994. The new group consisted largely of representatives from browser vendors. The IETF HTML Working group disbanded in December 1995 and the W3C became the home for HTML standardization. The version of HTML described in this document was HTML 3.2, issued as a W3C Recommendation, in January 1997.

The next version for HTML published was for HTML 4.0, issued as a W3C Recommendation in December 1997. See HTML_family for more details on the chronology of HTML versions.

Format specifications Explanation of format description terms

Useful references


Last Updated: 03/28/2018

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