Section 4.10. HTML's Obsolete Expanded Font Handling

In earlier versions of this book, we rejoiced that HTML Version 3.2 had introduced a font-handling model for richer, more versatile text displays. When HTML 4 deprecated these special font-handling tags, we nonetheless included them in the same prominent position within this chapter, since they were still part of the HTML 3.2 standard and were still very popular with HTML authors, besides being well supported by all the popular browsers. We could not do the same for this edition of the book.

Like many deprecated HTML tags and attributes, the expanded font-handling tags of HTML 3.2 were here yesterday and are gone today. Netscape 6, the second most popular browser in use today, has dropped support for the some of the tags altogether. Since Internet Explorer, the world's most popular browser, still displays them, we include the Extended Font Model tags at the end of this chapter, with all the implicit red flags waving hard.

The W3C wants authors to use cascading style sheets, not acute tags and attributes, for explicit control of the font styles, colors, and sizes of the text characters. That's why these extended font tags and related attributes have fallen into disfavor. It's now time for you to eschew the extended font tags, too.

4.10.1 The Extended Font Size Model

Instead of absolute point values, the Extended Font Model of HTML 3.2 uses a relative means for sizing fonts. Sizes range from 1, the smallest, to 7, the largest; the default (base) font size is 3.

It is almost impossible to state reliably the actual font sizes used for the various virtual sizes. Most browsers let the user change the physical font size, and the default sizes vary from browser to browser. It may be helpful to know, however, that each virtual size is successively 20% larger or smaller than the default font size, 3. Thus, font size 4 is 20% larger, font size 5 is 40% larger, and so on, while font size 2 is 20% smaller and font size 1 is 40% smaller than font size 3.

4.10.2 The <basefont> Tag (Deprecated)

The <basefont> tag lets you define the basic size for the font that the browser will use to render normal document text. We don't recommend that you use it, as it has been deprecated in the HTML 4 and XHTML standards and is no longer supported by Netscape.



Defines the base font size for relative font-size changes


color, face, id, name, size

End tag

</basefont>; often omitted in HTML



Used in

block, head_content

The <basefont> tag recognizes the size attribute, whose value determines the document's base font size. It may be specified as an absolute value, from 1 to 7, or as a relative value (by placing a plus or minus sign before the value). In the latter case, the base font size is increased or decreased by that relative amount. The default base font size is 3.

Internet Explorer supports two additional attributes for the <basefont> tag: color and name. HTML 4 also defines the face attribute as a synonym for the name attribute. These attributes control the color and typeface used for the text in a document and are used just like the analogous color and face attributes for the <font> tag, described in the next section.

HTML 4 also defines the id attribute for the <basefont> tag, allowing you to label the tag uniquely for later access to its contents. [Section]

Authors typically include the <basefont> tag in the head of an HTML document, if at all, to set the base font size for the entire document. Nonetheless, the tag may appear nearly anywhere in the document, and it may appear several times throughout the document, each with a new size attribute. With each occurrence, the <basefont> tag's effects are immediate and hold for all subsequent text.

In an egregious deviation from the HTML and SGML standards, Internet Explorer does not interpret the ending </basefont> tag as terminating the effects of the most recent <basefont> tag. Instead, the </basefont> end tag resets the base font size to the default value of 3, which is the same as writing <basefont size=3>.

The following example source and Figure 4-21 illustrate how Internet Explorer responds to the <basefont> tag and </basefont> end tag:

Unless the base font size was reset above,

Inernet Explorer renders this part in font size 3.

<basefont size=7>

This text should be rather large (size 7).

<basefont size=6> Oh, 

<basefont size=4> no! 

<basefont size=2> I'm 

<basefont size=1> shrinking!


Ahhhh, back to normal.
Figure 4-21. Playing with <basefont>

We recommend against using </basefont>; use <basefont size=3> instead.

4.10.3 The <font> Tag (Deprecated)

The <font> tag lets you change the size, style, and color of text. We don't recommend that you use it, because it has been deprecated in the HTML 4 and XHTML standards (even though it is still supported by Internet Explorer and Netscape). But should you decide to ignore our advice, use it like any other physical or content-based style tag for changing the appearance of a short segment of text.



Sets the font size for text


class, color, dir, face, id, lang, size, style, title

End tag

</font>; never omitted



Used in


To control the color of text for the entire document, see the attributes for the <body> tag, described in Section 5.3.1. The size attribute

The value of the size attribute must be one of the virtual font sizes (1-7) described earlier, defined as an absolute size for the enclosed text or preceded by a plus or minus sign (+ or -) to define a relative font size that the browser adds to or subtracts from the base font size (see the <basefont> tag, Section 4.10.2). The browsers automatically round the size to 1 or 7 if the calculated value exceeds either boundary.

In general, use absolute size values when you want the rendered text to be an extreme size, either very large or very small, or when you want an entire paragraph of text to be a specific size.

For example, using the largest font for the first character of a paragraph makes for a crude form of illuminated manuscript (see Figure 4-22):


<font size=7>C</font>all me Ishmael.
Figure 4-22. Exaggerating the first character of a sentence with the size attribute for <font>

Also, use an absolute font when inserting a delightfully unreadable bit of "fine" print ? boilerplate or legalese ? at the bottom of your document (see Figure 4-23):


<font size=1>

All rights reserved. Unauthorized redistribution of this document is 

prohibited. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors, not the 

Internet Service Provider.
Figure 4-23. Use the tiniest font for boilerplate text

Except for the extremes, use relative font sizes to render text in a size different than the surrounding text, to emphasize a word or phrase. For an exaggerated example, see Figure 4-24:


Make sure you <font size=+2>always</font> sign and date the form!
Figure 4-24. Use relative sizes for most text embellishments

If your relative size change results in a size greater than 7, the browser uses font size 7. Similarly, font sizes less than 1 are rendered with font size 1.

Note that specifying size=+1 or size=-1 is identical in effect to using the <big> and <small> tags, respectively. However, nested relative changes to the font size are not cumulative, as they are for the alternative tags. Each <font> tag is relative to the base font size, not the current font size. For example (see Figure 4-25):


The ghost moaned, "oo<font size=+1>oo<font size=+2>oo<font 

Figure 4-25. Relative font sizes accumulate

Contrast this with the <big> and <small> tags, which increase or decrease the font size one level for each nesting of the tags. [Section 4.5.2] The color attribute

Still supported by the popular browsers, the color attribute for the <font> tag sets the color of the enclosed text. The value of the attribute may be expressed in either of two ways: as the red, green, and blue (RGB) components of the desired color, or as a standard color name. Enclosing quotes are recommended but not required.

The RGB color value, denoted by a preceding pound sign, is a six-digit hexadecimal number. The first two digits are the red component, from 00 (no red) to FF (bright red). Similarly, the next two digits are the green component and the last two digits are the blue component. Black is the absence of color, #000000; white is all colors, #FFFFFF.

For example, to create basic yellow text, you might use:

Here comes the <font color="#FFFF00">sun</font>!

Alternatively, you can set the enclosed font color using any one of the many standard color names. See Appendix G for a list of common ones. For instance, you could have made the previous sample text yellow with the following source:

Here comes the <font color=yellow>sun</font>! The face attribute

In earlier versions, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator let you change the font style in a text passage with the face attribute for the <font> tag.[8] Neither browser appears to support this attribute anymore.

[8] For the HTML purist, the once-powerful user who had ultimate control over the browser, this is egregious indeed. Form over function; look over content ? what next? Embedded video commercials you can't stop?

The quote-enclosed value of face is one or more display font names separated with commas. The font face displayed by the browser depends on which fonts are available on the individual user's system. The browser parses the list of font names, one after the other, until it matches one with a font name supported by the user's system. If none match, the text display defaults to the font style set by the user in the browser's preferences. For example:

This text is in the default font. But, 

<font face="Braggadocio, Machine, Zapf Dingbats">

heaven only knows</font>

what font face is this one?

If the browser user has the Braggadocio, Machine, or none of the listed font typefaces installed in her system, she will be able to read the "heaven only knows" message in the respective or default font style. Otherwise, the message will be garbled, because the Zapf Dingbats font contains symbols, not letters. Of course, the alternative is true, too; you may intend that the message be a symbol-encoded secret. The dir and lang attributes

The dir attribute lets you advise the browser which direction the text within the tag should be displayed in, and lang lets you specify the language used for the tag's contents. [Section] [Section] The class, id, style, and title attributes

You can associate additional display rules for the <font> tag using style sheets. The rules can be applied to the <font> tag using either the style or class attribute. [Section 8.1.1] [Section 8.3]

You also can assign a unique id to the <font> tag, as well as a less rigorous title, using the respective attribute and accompanying quote-enclosed string value. [Section] [Section]