Designing Tableless Web Pages Using AP Elements
One of the biggest trends in web development is that of designing websites that don't use antiquated tables to control the structure of the site, but instead rely on AP Elements and CSS positioning properties to control the layout and flow of web pages. In the next few sections, you'll learn how Dreamweaver—in conjunction with the <div> tag and a little CSS—can create standards-compliant web designs.
Designing AP Elements Using a Style Sheet
In the previous sections of this chapter, you learned how easy it was to insert AP Elements using either the Insert, Layout Objects, AP Div command or the Draw AP Element option available from the Layout category in the Insert bar. Although these are viable options for designing a site using AP Elements, they aren't the best choice. The reason for this is simple: When you use either of these methods to insert AP Elements on the page, Dreamweaver automatically assigns document-wide CSS positioning properties for each AP Element. As a result, the page becomes inflexible and nearly impossible to modify globally when numerous pages exist within the site.
A better alternative to inserting or drawing AP Elements onto the page is to create an external style sheet (which we already have for our project) and define numerous ID selectors that define the various sections of the page. For instance, we know our site will contain the following major sections based on the design we've been working with up to this point:
- Header—We know we'll have a header that resides near the top of the page. The header will have a width of 100% and a height of 227 pixels. We also know that the header will have a background image that spans the entire width of the browser. Finally, the header will contain the header.gif image that defines the logo and company name.
- Navigation—Just under the header but to the left of the page, we'll have a simple navigation menu. In this scenario, we can add an AP Element that will serve as a container for the five navigation links. Although the height doesn't matter in this case, we'll want to set the width at 200 pixels.
- Content—The third major section in the page is reserved for the content. This section will reside under the header but just to the right of the navigation area. Because our navigation area has a set width of 200 pixels and we want to keep the entire width of the page to a universally accessible 760 pixels, we'll set the content area's width to 560 pixels (200 pixels + 560 pixels = 760 pixels). Again, because a user will naturally scroll up and down the web page, the height for this section is irrelevant.
Now that we've outlined the major sections for our page, let's begin outlining the CSS rules. Because we know we'll have at least three major sections in the page (Header, Navigation, and Content), we can surmise that we'll need at least three CSS rules represented by three unique IDs titled header, nav, and content, respectively. To begin creating these selectors, follow these steps:
- Create a new HTML page by choosing File, New. When the New Document dialog appears, select the HTML option from the Basic Page category, choose the <none> option from the Layout list, and click Create. Immediately save the page as index.html.
- Attach the existing styles.css style sheet by opening the CSS Style panel, selecting the Attach Style Sheet icon, browsing for the styles.css file, and clicking OK.
- Create a new CSS rule by clicking the New CSS Rule button in the CSS Styles panel. The New CSS Rule dialog appears.
- Choose the Selector Type: Advanced option and enter the name #Header into the Selector text box. Remember that the pound symbol represents ID (thus, the ID selector name is Header). When you finish making your modifications, the dialog should resemble Figure 7.11.
Figure 7.11 Create a new selector ID called Header.
- Click OK. You're now ready to start defining the properties that will make up the Header rule and ultimately define the Header AP Element at the top of the page.
- Switch over to the Positioning category. Set the property for Type to absolute, the width to 100%, the height to 227 pixels, the Visibility to Visible, and Top and Left Placement properties to 0. When you finish, the Positioning screen resembles Figure 7.12.
Figure 7.12 Modify the Positioning attributes for the Header rule.
- Set the background image that will appear within the Header AP Element. You can do this by switching to the Background category. Browse to the header_bg.gif file from the Background Image field. Finally, choose the Repeat-x option from the Repeat menu to guarantee that the background image will tile only horizontally and never vertically.
- Click OK. The new ID appears in the CSS Styles panel and styles.css is automatically opened in a new tab behind your current document.
That's it! You're now ready to define the style rules for the remaining AP Elements. To define the Nav rule, follow these steps:
- Create a new CSS rule by clicking the New CSS Rule button in the CSS Styles panel. The New CSS Rule dialog appears.
- Choose Selector Type: Advanced, if necessary, and enter the name #Nav into the Selector text box.
- Click OK. You're now ready to start defining the properties that will make up the Nav rule and ultimately define the navigation AP Element.
- Switch over to the Positioning category. Set the property for Type to absolute, the Width to 190 pixels (we'll add a padding of 10 pixels to the left of this AP Element shortly), the Visibility to visible, the Top Placement property to 227, and the Left Placement property to 0. When you finish, the screen should resemble Figure 7.13.
Figure 7.13 Modify the Positioning attributes for the Nav rule.
- So that our navigation items don't run up against the left edge of the browser window, let's add some padding to this style rule. To do this, switch to the Box category. Disable the Same For All check box in the Padding category and enter a value of 10 pixels for the Left property.
- Click OK. The new ID appears in the CSS Styles panel.
To finish up the design, let's define the Content style rule:
- Create a new CSS rule by clicking the New CSS Rule icon in the CSS Styles panel. The New CSS Rule dialog appears.
- Choose Selector Type: Advanced, if necessary, and enter the name #Content into the Selector text box.
- Click OK. You're now ready to start defining the properties that will make up the Content rule and ultimately define the content AP Element.
- Switch over to the Positioning category. Set the property for Type to absolute, the Width to 560 pixels, the Visibility to visible, the Top Placement property to 227, and the Left Placement property to 200.
- Click OK. The new ID appears within the CSS Styles panel.
Now that we've outlined the properties for the three major sections of the site, we're ready to insert the tags that will act as containers for the content. The properties we've outlined will serve as the formatting and positioning attributes for the <div> tags we'll add next.
Inserting DIV Tags
Because we've already outlined the style rules using ID selectors in an external style sheet, we need only to insert three <div> tags into the page with IDs that match the ID selector names we created. To demonstrate this, let's insert a <div> for the Header portion of our page. You can do this by choosing Insert, Layout Objects, Div Tag. Alternatively, you could also click the Insert Div Tag icon (the first icon to the right of the Standard and Expanded buttons) in the Layout category of the Insert bar. Either method you choose produces the same result; the Insert Div Tag dialog launches and appears similar to Figure 7.14.
Figure 7.14 Use the Insert Div Tag dialog to create a new <div> tag in the page.
Although the dialog allows you to enter a class name and pick an insertion point for the tag, all we care about is entering the ID name that represents the ID selector we've defined within our style sheet. Because we're creating the header of the page, select the Header option from the ID drop-down menu (see Figure 7.14) and click OK. The AP Element is created, complete with the dimensions, placement properties, and the background image we defined.
By default, Dreamweaver adds the text Content for id "Header" Goes Here within the AP Element. Select this text and delete it so that we can add the header.gif image into the AP Element. When you've deleted the text, drag the header.gif image, located in the Images folder, into the AP Element. The result of the design resembles Figure 7.15.
Figure 7.15 Add the header.gif image into the Header AP Element.
Now you're ready to create the second <div> tag that will define the navigation section. To do this, click the Insert Div Tag icon located in the Layout category of the Insert bar. When the Insert Div Tag dialog appears, select the Nav option from the ID drop-down menu and click OK. As you'll see, the Nav AP Element is added just below the Header AP Element.
Again, remove the Content for id "Nav" Goes Here text so that we can begin to define the navigational elements that will appear within this AP Element. When the placeholder text is deleted, add the first navigation element, Home, to the AP Element. Do this by following these steps:
- Add the icon_arrow.gif image to the AP Element.
- Select the image, add a V Space value of 2, and choose the Absolute Middle option from the Align menu in the Property inspector. Setting these two properties gives you some spacing between arrow images vertically in the AP Element. Also, by setting the alignment to Absolute Middle, we'll be able to add our Home link just to the right of the image so that it lines up to the absolute center of the arrow image.
- Select the arrow image, copy it, place your cursor next to the image, press Shift+Enter (Shift+Return) to create a line break, and then choose Edit, Paste. Repeat this process a few more times until you have a total of five arrows spanning vertically down the AP Element.
- Insert the text Home just to the right of the first arrow image.
- Highlight the text and type the link index.html into the Link text box in the Property inspector. Also choose the Link option from the Style menu in the Property inspector to associate the correct style rule for the navigation link.
Now you can add the rest of the navigation elements: About Us (aboutus.html), Solutions (solutions.html), Support (support.html), and Contact Us (contactus.html). When you finish adding the navigation items, the result appears similar to Figure 7.16.
Figure 7.16 Add the rest of the navigational items to the Nav AP Element.
Finally, let's add the content section. Again, you can accomplish this task by clicking the Insert Div Tag icon in the Insert bar. When the Insert Div Tag dialog appears, choose the After Tag option from the Insert menu, choose the <div id="Nav"> option from the menu that becomes enabled (this is done purely as a means of forcing Dreamweaver to organize the code properly), and choose the Content option from the ID drop-down menu. Click OK. The new AP Element is added below the Header AP Element but just to the right of the Nav AP Element. With the AP Element firmly in place, you can add the content that will fill that area. For instance, you might want to add the subheader_welcome.gif image as the subheader within the AP Element. You might also decide to add the text contained in the home.txt file in the Assets folder. When you've finished, the result should closely resemble Figure 7.17.
Figure 7.17 Add text and images to the new Content AP Element.
With your design complete, test the page in a browser by pressing F12 (Option+F12). As you'll see, the design renders without problems (refer back to Figure 7.1).
Of course, our design efforts don't have to stop here. We might want to create another AP Element with associated properties for our company events. Furthermore, we might want to add yet another AP Element with associated properties for the footer of the page. As you can begin to see, the design and implementation is simple.
Even better than the implementation is what has been added to the HTML. Switch to Code view and notice that the code is much cleaner and is minimized to roughly 30 lines of code (mostly text for the Content AP Element) in contrast to the 100 or so lines associated with the design when we were working with tables.
Converting AP Elements to Tables for Backward Compatibility
In the previous sections, we used AP Elements to create a standards-compliant, tableless web page. Although the design was simple to create, it doesn't do us or our users much good if they're using older browser versions such as Netscape 4. As you saw back in Figure 7.2, the page doesn't look very good in Netscape 4.
To solve this problem, we have to re-create the site using a backward-compatible model in tables. Before you become frustrated at the thought of having to rebuild the page using tables, know that there's an easy and automated way of accomplishing this task in the Convert AP Divs to Tables feature. Using this feature in conjunction with the Check Browser behavior, we can guarantee that our users will see the appropriately formatted page regardless of what browser version they are using. To run through this process, choose Modify, Convert, AP Divs to Table. The Convert AP Divs to Table dialog appears, similar to Figure 7.18.
Figure 7.18 The Convert AP Divs to Table dialog facilitates the process of converting our CSS-based design to one that uses tables.
The following functionality is revealed in the Convert AP Divs to Table dialog:
- Table Layout: Most Accurate—Clicking this option button creates a cell for every AP Element, plus an additional cell for any spacing required to fill out the area.
- Table Layout: Smallest: Collapse Empty Cells—Clicking this option button specifies that the AP Elements' edges should be aligned if they are positioned within the specified number of pixels. We'll choose this option and leave the pixel width at the default of 4.
- Table Layout: Use Transparent GIFs—Checking this box ensures that the last row of the table has a 1 pixel by 1 pixel transparent GIF added to its cell. This is especially useful for guaranteeing consistent widths across all browser versions. For our purposes, uncheck this option now.
- Table Layout: Center on Page—Click this box to center the table on the page. Leave this option unchecked.
The rest of the features in this dialog exist for the reverse process (that is, converting tables to AP Divs). In this scenario, these check boxes merely provide viewable options such as the AP Elements panel, the grid, snapping, and so on. When you finish making the necessary adjustments, click OK. Immediately, our AP Elements-based page is converted to a table with a few minor discrepancies. For instance, it seems as though we lost our background image for the header. This is largely because the background image is attached to the ID selector in the style sheet. Dreamweaver has no way of knowing which cell in our new table to apply the background image to. To add it back in, select the header row within the table and use the point-to-file icon in the Bg field to browse to the header_bg.gif image. You may also need to merge the two cells that were created within the header row into one cell. You can do this by selecting both cells and choosing Modify, Table, Merge Cells. Finally, you'll need to position the border between the navigation cell and the content cell so that the navigation and content cells are closer together. After you've made those modifications, save your work as index_netscape.html. Now try testing the page in an older version of Netscape.
As you can see from Figure 7.19, the page looks as it did in newer browser versions using AP Elements.
Figure 7.19 The page using tables looks as good in Netscape 4.7 as it did in newer browser versions using AP Elements.
The last thing you'll want to do is add the Check Browser behavior to the index.html page. This behavior allows us to create functionality so that when the user visits the index.html page using a Netscape 4 browser, the user is automatically redirected to index_netscape.html. However, if users visit the index.html page using a newer browser, they stay right where they are, on the CSS-based index.html page. To add this behavior, follow these steps:
- Open index.html.
- Open the Behaviors panel by choosing the Behaviors option from the Window menu.
- Choose the <body> tag from the Tag Selector and choose the Check Browser option located within the ~Deprecated submenu in the Add Behavior list within the Behaviors panel. The Check Browser dialog appears.
- In the dialog, enter the value 4.7 (the version that you should be using) into the Netscape Navigator Version text box. Also select the Stay on This Page option from the Otherwise menu. Because Internet Explorer 4 can display the AP Elements page just fine, select the Stay on This Page option from both Internet Explorer menus. Also select the Stay on This Page option from the Other Browser menu. Finally, type the index_netscape.html path in the URL text box.
- Because most other browsers can also display AP Elements, choose the Stay on This Page option from the Other browsers menu as well. When you finish, the Check Browser dialog resembles Figure 7.20.
Figure 7.20 Configure the Check Browser behavior so that users visiting your site using Netscape 4 browsers are automatically redirected to the correct page.
- Click OK.
With the CSS-based page still open, try to preview your page in Netscape 4. Notice that you are automatically redirected to the index_netscape.html page.