Anne van Kesteren

Draconian error handling hurts business and real people; XHTML be doomed

Tim Bray once said: Anyone who can’t make a syndication feed that’s well-formed XML is an incompetent fool. The problem here is that most people are incompetent fools, apparently. A year ago I made a post about XHTML as business failure. Back then it was based upon the theory that when people would switch from text/html to application/xhtml+xml parts of the web would become inaccessible. This is not really a theory according to some. A lot of people believe in a draconian web.

Time for the story. Say you want to buy a computer game. You go to a search engine and try to find some local game shops that also do delivery. All fine. You click on one of the results. Not the game you had in mind. Back. Next link. XML parsing failed: syntax error (Line: 446, Character: 54) Not a pretty sight. And the bad part is that this actually happened. To me, two days ago. It was not fixed within sight of the error as you would expect. I guess it did not get unnoticed that all those people who love draconian error handling and the “strictness” of XHTML claim that the beauty is that sites get fixed fast. You are all wrong. The real world does not play ball. The error is still there and will only be fixed once the owner of the shop notices the error (he uses Internet Explorer, so never) and contacts the incompetent fool who stopped me from buying games to fix the damn error. He might as well sue him for hurting his business. Screen shots:

Opera showing a parse error on with the ability to reparse as HTML.

Firefox showing a parse error on

Time to take application/xhtml+xml out of the Accept: header. Otherwise you can’t even a buy a game anymore without walking into parse errors. XHTML is only useful for test suites.

Disclaimer: I did violate the rule myself by creating a site for a customer once based on XHTML: De nieuwe Boekerij. I will try to not sin again.