There’s this thing that one of my coworkers pointed out today that I’d forgotten about. We were checking out links on the company database web interface, and he told me to switch to using IE for our meeting “because Firefox doesn’t pop up the text description of the link”.
Wha? I was confused, because in my head Firefox is always performing a brilliant cover of “Anything you can Do…” as it dances around IE. And I knew I had seen pop-up descriptions of links and images in Firefox in the past, and I could imagine why it worked some of the time and not the rest of the time.
So, after the meeting, I poked around and found out that the whole problem boils down to the different between the “Alt” tag and the “Title” tags, with can both be added to either images or links on web pages.
Basically, the “ALT” tag is really only relevant for images – it provides a text alternative to display on browsers that are set up to repress image display; that’s its only purpose. A text-alternative to a text-based link is kind of pointless, so really there’s no reason to have an ALT tag on a text link; just images.
The “TITLE” tag is, as one might expect, the Title of the link and/or image. With Links, it’s often used as a description of the link you’re about to click on.
The basic problem arises from that fact that Firefox will pop up any TITLE tag when you mouse over an image or link, but does not do the same for ALT tags; IE will pop up either-or. Why does Firefox do this? Well, because it’s not supposed to: the ALT tag for images is NOT supposed to produce a tooltip when you mouseover an image or link, according to the HTML specifications for web design and browsers. This is supposed to be the job of the TITLE tag. Firefox has never done this for ALT tags, correctly obeying the spec. IE has always done it for both, ignoring the spec.
Which I really don’t have a problem with… except that:
- It makes people think Firefox is broken, which it isn’t.
- It confuses my brain, which means I frequently mistag links with an ALT instead of a TITLE, and miss out on providing helpful pop up descriptions (which is something I really like to do, especially in links on my sidebar).
So… there you go. Nothing profound; just me remembering how the internet works, again.