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Getting in on the Action Sheets
by Eric Meyer 24 Sep 1998

Eric Meyer is the hypermedia systems manager for Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, which is much nicer than you've been led to believe. His wife Kat claims that he never makes any on-line references to her.

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By now, most of us are familiar with how stylesheets can separate stylistic information from the content of an HTML file. This reduces the size of the content document and makes it easier for search engines to index it. While this is a good first step, it doesn't address one of the major culprits of "page bloat": scripting languages like JavaScript. On some pages, the number of characters devoted to scripts exceeds that of the actual content. Further complicating matters is the fact that each element that calls a script has to include an attribute such as onClick with a function name as its value. This is true even if you want to have the same script run every time an anchor is selected. Every single anchor on the page has to have extra information calling the desired function.

Given all this, wouldn't it be nice to have a system by which scripts could be defined in a manner similar to stylesheets? A setup where you could, say, define a generic behaviors document for your entire site, and simply link to that document from every page you maintain? If you said "yes," you're not alone. Programmers at Netscape and Microsoft have had the same thought.

The thinking at Netscape is described in a W3C Note titled Action Sheets: A Modular Way of Defining Behavior for XML and HTML. As a W3C Note, it is subject to change, and doesn't actually represent a direction by the W3C. The Note describes a possible approach which is open for public comment - a commendable move on Netscape's part - but may never come to pass. Or, if it does, it may be in a drastically modified form. In any case, it could be some time before Action Sheets become a working part of Navigator.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been working on its own solution. DHTML Behaviors (nee Scriptlets) do some of the things that Netscape's Action Sheets propose, and they're available with the preview release of IE5. If you're interested in learning more about DHTML Behaviors, consult the Microsoft Site Builder Network.

Since there's as yet no place for you to see what Action Sheets can do, let's take a look at what Netscape has in store for them.

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