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Document Links

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Document Links

In the previous section we examined the A element, that is used to define document links inside the document body. However, document links often make more sense when both head and tail are entire documents. Links of type "Next" and "Previous" are examples of this.

The LINK Element

Attentive readers will already have guessed the right place for such links. If you remember what we covered in the first tutorial, the place to put information about a document is in the document head, i.e. the HEAD element.

Document links are indicated by use of the LINK element. The LINK element has similar syntax to the A element when used as a hyperlink head - i.e. it accepts the HREF, TITLE, REL and REV attributes, with one exception: LINK is an empty element. As you probably remember, empty elements have no content and no end-tag. Thus it is imperative that we include the TITLE attribute in our links to give some indication of what the linked resource is. Here are some examples:

<TITLE>Transfirbulation Technology - Chapter 2</TITLE>
<LINK REV="Chapter" HREF="../"
TITLE="Transfirbulation Technology">
<LINK REL="Contents" HREF="../toc.html"
TITLE="Transfirbulation Technology - Table of Contents">
<LINK REL="Glossary" HREF="../glossary.html"
TITLE="Transfirbulation Technology - Glossary">
<LINK REL="Copyright" HREF="../copyright.html"
TITLE="Transfirbulation Technology - Copyright Notice">
<LINK REL="Author" HREF=""
TITLE="Dr. Arnold D. Propellerhead">
<LINK REL="Start" HREF="intro.html"
TITLE="Transfirbulation Technology - Introduction">
<LINK REL="Next" HREF="chapter3.html"
TITLE="Transfirbulation Technology - Chapter 3">
<LINK REL="Previous" HREF="chapter1.html"
TITLE="Transfirbulation Technology - Chapter 1">

Notice how a document's head can contain a wealth of useful information on the document. The above example:

  1. Identifies the document through a unique title
  2. Indicates that it is a chapter of a book and points to the book
  3. Points to the table of contents for this book
  4. Points to a glossary of terms appearing in this document
  5. Points to the copyright notice governing this document
  6. Points to the author of the document
  7. Points to the first document in the series this document is part of
  8. Points to the next document in the series
  9. Points to the previous document in the series

Our document, which was originally just a stand-alone piece of text with no relationship to anything whatsoever, has suddenly become the integral part of a book with links to all the relevant sections. The usefulness of such information is immediately obvious - the book can now easily be read through by following the Next links, the table of contents can easily be found, the copyright notice is clearly indicated, the author can be contacted, and so on. That's the good news.

Now comes the bad news. Like many interesting features of HTML and CSS, the LINK element remains unimplemented in the most popular browsers, most notably Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. These browsers will ignore LINK elements when they encounter them (with a few exceptions, but these refer to stylesheets, which we will cover in a future tutorial). This is quite strange considering LINK has been part of the HTML specification for years now, and also considering the fact that most HTML authors resort to providing links within the body of the document for analogous puroposes - if you look at this tutorial page, for instance, you'll find links in the body of the document for the next and previous sections, index, table of contents, home, author, copyright notice etc., that are placed all over the page and cannot be easily located. However, document links are still very useful. First, in the hope that they are widely implemented, it is useful to have them. Second, they are very useful for organizing your documents. Third, they are recognized by most popular search engine robots that will find it easy to traverse your entire site if it is linked with these elements. Fourth, there are some browsers (such as Lynx and Mosaic) that do support them and create toolbars when viewing pages that allow users to follow these links. In the spirit of always authoring proper HTML first and worrying about specific implementations later, I recommend that you use document links in abundance in all your documents.

Link Types

This brings us to the interesting topic of link types. We have already looked at various link types that are in wide use. However, little effort has been made to standardize these names in the past years. The examples I have used above are some of those recommended by the HTML 4.0 Specification. In addition, some other link types are recommended by the specification. These are:

Specifies an alternate version of the document, such as a translation or an alternate format.
This indicates a stylesheet that can be applied to the document to affect its presentation. This is the only link type recognized by the two popular browsers.
Similar to Chapter, this indicates a Section of a body of work.
As above, for a subsection.
As above, for an appendix.
Indicates a document that contains Help for using or viewing the current document.
Indicates a "bookmark" within an extended body of work, which is an important point in it that doesn't necessarily fall under one of the other categories.
Although not part of the recommendations in HTML 4.0, this widely used link type is used to refer to the next upper level in a hierarchy of documents like the one used on (for instance "Up" relative to /experts/html would be /experts)

I encourage you to use these link types, as well as others that make sense to you. In the end, it doesn't matter if some non-standard link types are used, since they will usually need to make sense primarily to a human. Try to use these link types as much as possible, and add any special ones that you might see fit to add.

Well, that's the basics on links in HTML. Let's see how far we've gone. You now know how to:

  1. Create an HTML document
  2. Create the basic elements that define the global strucure
  3. Create headings and paragraphs
  4. Refer to resources using URIs
  5. Create hyperlinks in the document body and head

...and that's no small feat. You are now equipped to create reasonably complete HTML documents for many applications.

I've been quite technical for this tutorial, so for the next one we'll relax a bit and have a look at a few more useful elements, both for marking up blocks of text that aren't headings or paragraphs, and for marking up phrases within such blocks of text, something we haven't seen so far. Watch this space for the next tutorial, that will be coming your way on June 25.

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Produced by Stephanos Piperoglou

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Created: June 11, 1998
Revised: June 11, 1998