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Chapter 8. Visual Formatting


Basic Boxes
Block-Level Elements
Floated Elements
Inline Elements

In the previous chapter, we covered a great deal of information on how CSS handles the visual formatting of a document. However, we did this in a mostly practical fashion: lots of explanation about how things work, with only a little lip service paid to the questions of why. In this chapter, we turn to the theoretical side of visual rendering, with only occasional references to the practical.

You may wonder why it's necessary to spend an entire chapter on the theoretical underpinnings of visual rendering in CSS. The main reason is to cover all the bases. I attempted to provide as many and varied examples as possible in the previous chapters, but with a model as open and powerful as that contained within CSS, no book could hope to cover every possible way of combining properties and effects. Every reader of this book will obviously go on to discover new ways of using CSS for their own document effects.

In the course of so doing, you may encounter what seems like strange behavior on the part of user agents. With a thorough grasp of how the visual rendering model works in CSS, you'll be able to determine whether the behavior is a correct (if unexpected) consequence of the rendering engine CSS defines or whether you've stumbled across a bug that needs to be reported. (See Appendix A, "CSS Resources", for details on how to report problems with rendering engines.)

8.1. Basic Boxes

In the rendering of elements, CSS assumes that every element element. Thus, if we pretend that each line is contained by the fictional LINE element, then the model works out very nicely. Generating a line box

Here are the steps a user agent has to go through in order to generate a line box. First, for each inline nonreplaced element (or string of text generates one or more rectangular boxes, called element boxes . (Future versions of the specification may allow for nonrectangular boxes, but for now everything is rectangular.) Each element box consists of a content area at its core. This content area is surrounded by optional amounts of padding, borders, and margins. These are considered optional because all could be set to a width of zero, effectively removing them from the element box. An example content area is shown in Figure 8-1, along with the surrounding regions of padding, border, and margins.

Figure 8-1

Figure 8-1. The content area and its surroundings

Each of the margins, borders, and padding can be set using various properties, such as margin-left or border-bottom. The content's background (for example, a color or tiled image) is also applied to the padding, while the margins are always transparent, allowing the background of any parent elements to be visible. In effect, the margins simulate the HSPACE and VSPACE attributes of images, although in a much more sophisticated fashion. Padding cannot be set to a negative value, but margins can. The effects of negative margins are explored later in this chapter.

The borders, on the other hand, have their own rules. Borders are generated using defined styles, such as solid or inset, and their color can be set using the border-color property. If no color is set, then the color of the border is based on the foreground color of the element's content. For example, if the text of a paragraph is white, then any borders around that paragraph will be white, unless a different border color is explicitly declared by the author. If a border style has "gaps" of some type, then the element's background is visible through those gaps; in other words, the border has the same background as the content and padding. Finally, the width of a border can never be negative.

There are differences in how different types of elements are formatted, however. Block-level elements are not treated in the same way that inline elements are, for example, and floated elements introduce a whole new level of complexity. Let's examine each type of element in turn.

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either absolute or relative, depending on what works for you. In ourexample, of course, the URL is relative. It could as easily have beensomething like

Finally, there is theTITLE attribute. This attribute is notoften used, but it could become important in the future. Why? Itbecomes important when there is more than one LINKtag -- and there can be more than one. In these cases, however,only those LINK tags with a REL Affecting form elements

Setting a value for color should (in theory,anyway) apply to form elements. As Figure 6-11 proves, declaring SELECTelements to have dark gray text is as simple as this:

SELECT {color: rgb(33%,33%,33%);}
under any circumstances. :focus

Similar to :hover is :focus, which is used to define styles for elements that are "in focus." A form element, for example, has "focus" when it is SAX, DOM and XML are very developer friendly because developers are going to decide whether this technology will be adopted by the majority and become a successful effort towards the goal of interoperable, platform, and device independent computing.

XML is web enabled

XML is derived from SGML, and so was HTML. So in essence, the current infrastructure available today to deal with HTML content can be re-used to work with XML. This is a very big advantage towards delivering XML content using the software and networking infrastructure already in place today. This should be a big plus in considering XML for use in any of your projects, because XML naturally lends itself to being used over the web.

Even if clients don't support XML natively, it is not a big hindrance. In fact, Java with Servlets (on the server side) can convert XML with stylesheets to generate plain HTML that can be displayed in all web browsers.

Using XML to pass parameters and return values on servers makes it very easy to allow these servers to be web-enabled. A thin server side Java layer might be added that interacts with web browsers using HTML and translates the requests and responses from the client into XML, that is then fed into the server.