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2.9. Lists, Searchable Documents, and Forms

Thought we'd exhausted text elements? Headers, paragraphs, and line breaks are just the rudimentary text-organizational elements of a document. The languages also provide several advanced text-based structures, including three types of lists, "searchable" documents, and forms. Searchable documents and forms go beyond text formatting, too; they are a way to interact with your readers. Forms let users enter text and click checkboxes and radio buttons to select particular items and then send that information back to the server. Once received, a special server application processes the form's information and responds accordingly, e.g., filling a product order or collecting data for a user survey.[14]

[14]The server-side programming required for processing forms is beyond the scope of this book. We give some basic guidelines in the appropriate chapters, but please consult the server documentation and your server administrator for details.

The syntax for these special features and their various attributes can get rather complicated; they're not quick-start grist. So we mention them here and urge you to read on for details in later chapters.

2.9.1. Unordered, Ordered, and Definition Lists

The three types of lists match those we are most familiar with: unordered, ordered, and definition lists. An unordered list -- one in which the order of items is not important, such as a laundry or grocery list -- gets bounded by <ul> and </ul> tags. Each item in the list, usually a word or short phrase, is marked by the <li> (list-item) tag and, with XHTML, the </li> end tag. When rendered, the list item typically appears indented from the left margin. The browser typically precedes each item with a leading bullet symbol. Section 7.1.1, "The <ul> Tag" Section 7.3, "The <li> Tag"

Ordered lists, bounded by the <ol> and </ol> tags, are identical in format to unordered ones, including the <li> tag (and </li> end tag with XHTML) for marking list items. However, the order of items is important -- equipment assembly steps, for instance. The browser accordingly displays each item in the list preceded by an ascending number. Section 7.2.1, "The <ol> Tag"

Definition lists are slightly more complicated than unordered and ordered lists. Within a definition list's enclosing <dl> and </dl> tags, each list item has two parts, each with a special tag: a short name or title, contained within a <dt> tag, followed by its corresponding value or definition, denoted by the <dd> tag (XHTML includes respective end tags). When rendered, the browser usually puts the item name on a separate line (although not indented), and the definition, which may include several paragraphs, indented below it. Section 7.5.1, "The <dl> Tag"

The various types of lists may contain nearly any type of content normally allowed in the body of the document. So you can organize your collection of digitized family photographs into an ordered list, for example, or put them into a definition list complete with text annotations. The markup language standards even let you put lists inside of lists (nesting), opening up a wealth of interesting combinations.

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