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The alt attribute is used in HTML and XHTML documents to specify alternative text (alt text) that is to be rendered when the element to which it is applied cannot be rendered. It is also used by "screen reader" software so that a person who is listening to the content of a webpage (for instance, a person who is blind) can interact with this element. The attribute was introduced in HTML 2 and in HTML 4.01 was required for the
area tags. It is optional for the
input tag and the deprecated
Here is an image for which the alt attribute is "In the sky flies a red flag with a white cross whose vertical bar is shifted toward the flagpole."
The HTML for this image might be something like the following:
<img alt="In the sky flies a red flag with a white cross whose vertical bar is shifted toward the flagpole." src="http://upload.a.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/83/Dannebrog.jpg/180px-Dannebrog.jpg" >
A visually impaired reader using a screen reader such as Orca will hear the alt text in place of the image. A text browser such as Lynx will display the alt text instead of the image. A graphical browser typically will display only the image, and will display the alt text only if the user asks it to show the image's properties or has configured the browser not to display images, or if the browser was unable to retrieve or to decode the image.
An alternative alt attribute value would be "The Danish flag".
alt attribute does not always have to literally describe the contents of the image. Keep in mind what would be useful to someone who cannot see the image. The alt attribute is supposed to be an alternative for the image, usually stating its purpose. For example an image of a warning sign should not have alt text “a triangle with a yellow background, black border and an exclamation mark”, but simply “Warning!”—unless, of course, the alt text's purpose is to show what the warning symbol actually looks like.
Internet Explorer 7 and earlier render text in alt attributes as tooltip text, which is not standards-compliant. This behavior led many web developers to misuse alt when they wished to display tooltips containing additional information about images, instead of using the
title attribute that was intended for that use. As of Internet Explorer 8 alt attributes no longer render as tooltips.
The W3C recommends that images that convey no information, but are purely decorative, be specified in CSS rather than in the HTML markup. However, it may sometimes be necessary to include a decorative image as an HTML
img tag. In this case, if the image truly does not add to the content, then a blank alt attribute should be included in the form of
alt="". This makes the page navigable for users of screen readers or non-graphical browsers. If (in breach of the standard) no alt attribute has been supplied, then browsers that cannot display the image will still display something there, e.g. the URL of the image, or a fixed text string.
IMGelement (specially, How to specify alternate text) from the HTML 4.01 specification
imgelement (specially, Requirements for providing text to act as an alternative for images) from the HTML 5 specification
imgelements by Jukka Korpela