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W3C Validation Isn’t Everything | Like it or not; industry jargon often coughs up terms that become buzzwords. When this occurs, web development is no exception. The terms can become diluted, even ambiguous. For example, two such terms include “validation” and “web standards.”

W3C Specifications

To be clear, the W3C provides specifications and recommendations, not mandates. In other words, you may argue that true web standards do not exist. Furthermore, don’t confuse myth with falsehood. Because so-called “web standards” are a myth in the sense that they describe an often repeated ideology that strives to establish a popular convention.

Evolving Guidelines

Thinking optimistically, we might call these an ever-evolving ideal. And something web developers are still working toward perfecting. What we have are de-facto guidelines serving an objective without being legally enforceable.

To illustrate, if a house’s wiring and electrical components are not UL approved, the home inspector may refuse to issue occupancy permits. And when ISO compliance isn’t met, products don’t ship. These are high stakes. On the other hand, in the face of invalid HTML/ CSS markup, websites march on. After all, modern web browsers are forgiving. And the overwhelming majority of website visitors don’t bat an eyelash and don’t need to.

Failure to meet W3C validation

Failure to meet W3C validation means nothing more than the following points.

1. The document contains something that is either not in the specification or disagrees with the specification. Invalid markup is therefore not necessarily in violation of anything.

2. Invalid or violation sounds scary to the casual coder. On the other hand, in the context of the web developer’s lexicon;
a. They reflect markup that may be an addition to the specification
b. Something the validator doesn’t recognize.

Let’s not misunderstand. Poorly formed HTML can be a hassle to update. Furthermore, it may be a factor in search engine optimization. In addition, it can cause content to load slowly.

validators are servants, not masters

Validators are great for quickly spot-checking volumes of markup. But validators are servants, not masters. W3C badges are effectively academic badges of honor. In contrast, validation is an admirable enough goal but is not always worth the return on investment in the real-world environment.

W3C Testing the Big Boys

Let’s see if the big boys agree.
CNET handles some of the heaviest traffic on the market. As of this writing, neither site complies with the W3C validator. How about heavy-hitters CNET and eBay? Failed. What about the Adobe software website? Failed.


W3C validation is not the web developer’s Holy Grail. Because validation does not guarantee a site will look the same from platform to platform, from browser to browser. Furthermore, validation does not assure that markup is efficiently written or adheres to a given entity’s assessment of best practices. It means that the developer has coded a functional document and used no markup in addition to that specified by the guidelines.

Wearing suspenders in addition to a belt isn’t illegal. It’s just extra.
No harm in that, is there?

Also see: Website Grading Tools


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