Anne van Kesteren

Ordered lists: start and value attributes

HTML 4.01 marks some attributes (actually all special attributes) of the OL and UL element deprecated. Deprecated means that the attribute is still in the Transitional DTD, but not in the Strict one and the attribute will most likely be removed in the next version (note that XHTML 1.0 isn't really the next version, it is "just" HTML 4.01 rewritten in a XML syntax).

One of those deprecated attributes is the START attribute for the OL element:

start = number [CN]
Deprecated. For OL only. This attribute specifies the starting number of the first item in an ordered list. The default starting number is "1". Note that while the value of this attribute is an integer, the corresponding label may be non-numeric. Thus, when the list item style is uppercase latin letters (A, B, C, ...), start=3 means "C". When the style is lowercase roman numerals, start=3 means "iii", etc.

I still think that the HEIGHT and WIDTH attributes should be removed, but this attribute, START, isn't presentational at all, in my opinion. You could have the start of a list, with two or three items, than some text to explain the difference between the first items. After that another list, which is a continuation (correct word?) of the first list with some extra items. Et cetera.

Another example is the VALUE attribute. Tantek introduced a valid example of that some time ago (note that he dropped it now completely). I think that both of these attribute are not well designed, although a similar syntax, like ID and FOR on form elements, could be introduced to solve these problems in XHTML 2.0.


  1. What about this:

    1. Item one
    2. Item 2
      Item 2 is, as it says, the second item.
    3. Item 3

    Here I used a definition list to describe "Item 2". Perhaps it's a bit over the top to use a definition list for but one item, oh well...

    P.S. I'm lazy, view source to see the HTML used in the example.

    Posted by Mark Wubben at

  2. You misunderstand. This is simply an ordered list, not a numbered one. In my opinion, the tradition of numbering items in an ordered list is irrevelent. All the W3C say is,

    "An ordered list, created using the OL element, should contain information where order should be emphasized"

    What you want is probably a definition-ordered list combination. You want to assign a very definite numeral to each item, which probably should be done with a definition list, but it's ordered, suggesting you should go with <ol>. It's up to you which one you do go with.

    Posted by David house at

  3. You know, as a WordPress user, I would at least expect you to check out your own community. ;)

    I put together a small test case that shows this is completely possible using CSS, however only Opera supports it currently. So the W3C does have a plan to include this functionality but browser support is missing.

    But I'm torn on whether assigning ordered-list values is structural or presentational...

    Posted by Stephen at

  4. I agree that list values are more than presentational. Since only Opera supports the CSS equivalent, we're basically stuck with the defaults at this time.

    On the other hand, the CSS properties related to list numbering provide some interesting presentational aspects as well, so I'm kind of on the fence on this issue.

    Can we have it both ways, please? :)>

    Posted by TOOLman at