What is an HTML entity (character reference)? Explains the basic concepts of how to express special characters

Explanation of IT Terms

What is an HTML entity (character reference)?

HTML entities, also known as character references, are a way to represent special characters and symbols that cannot be directly typed or displayed in HTML documents. These characters include symbols like copyright (©), euro (€), and various mathematical symbols.

In HTML, every character has a corresponding numeric code called a character reference. This code is written in the form &#nnn; or &#xhhh;, where nnn represents the decimal code and hhh represents the hexadecimal code of the character.

There are a few reasons why HTML entities are used:

1. Preserve Special Characters:

Certain characters have special meanings in HTML, known as reserved characters. For example, the less than symbol (<) and the ampersand (&) have specific roles in HTML code. Using these characters directly may cause parsing issues or result in incorrect rendering. By using character references, you can preserve their intended meaning.

2. Display Uncommon Characters:

Some characters, such as non-breaking spaces or characters from specific character sets, may not be available on all devices or fonts. Using HTML entities ensures that these characters are displayed correctly, regardless of the user’s device or font settings.

3. Encoding for Safety:

In certain contexts, like displaying user-generated content, it’s important to properly encode special characters to prevent security vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting (XSS). HTML entities provide a way to encode these characters and ensure the safety of the rendered content.

In practice, using HTML entities is quite simple. Let’s take the copyright symbol (©) as an example. The corresponding HTML entity for this symbol is © or ©. To display the copyright symbol on a webpage, you can use the entity reference as follows:

© or ©

Both forms will render the copyright symbol © in the browser, and the choice between them often comes down to personal preference or specific coding conventions.

It’s worth mentioning that most modern text editors and content management systems support automatic conversion of special characters into their corresponding HTML entities. However, understanding and manually using HTML entities can be beneficial in cases where automatic conversions may not be available or reliable.

In conclusion, HTML entities (character references) play a crucial role in representing special characters and symbols within HTML documents. They ensure proper rendering, preserve special meanings, and promote the safe handling of content. Familiarizing yourself with commonly used HTML entities can greatly enhance your web development skills and enable you to create reliable and accessible web content.

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