[development] Tables in Themes in Drupal 7

Larry Garfield larry at garfieldtech.com
Mon May 2 05:44:34 UTC 2011

Table-based markup:

1) Is worse for search engines.  Search engines handle semantic markup 
better, because they can extract useful information about the page from 
the markup.  Tables confuse them and they cannot rank the data on the 
page as well.

2) Is more verbose. While your eyes may have grown accustomed to it, 
that makes the page load more slowly.  With the proliferation of the 
wireless web (back to dialup speeds we go!), that is a significant 
problem.  The usual example I use here is Slashdot, which switched from 
table-based to pure-CSS layout back in the early '00s and saved multiple 
*gigabytes* of data transfer per month.  That translates into $$$, as 
well as a faster user experience.

3) Is harder to maintain.  Really.  Even in a CMS.

4) Is not accessible.  By "accessible" I mean "makes sense to something 
other than a pair of human eyeballs".  Screen readers, search engines, 
assitive technology (for people that are partially disabled), etc. all 
work better with intelligent, semantic markup than with purely visual 

5) Is harder to build.  Really.  Especially in a dynamic system like 
Drupal, table-based layout makes it harder to build a flexible page.

6) Doesn't scale down to mobile browsers.  Mobile browsers will be the 
majority of web traffic within 2 years or so by some estimates.  In some 
parts of the world it already is.  Good semantic designs scale down to 
4" screens far more easily than tables.  I'd go as far as saying that 
"adaptive design" (where the layout changes depending on the size of the 
screen automatically) is simply impossible with tables.

7) Doesn't offer anywhere near the expressive power of CSS.  If you're 
trying to get a visual effect fancier than three columns with fixed 
rectangular color regions, you need to use CSS for styling.  Tables just 
can't do that.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if all you're thinking about is 
"a good looking theme", use Photoshop, not the web.  Building a web page 
is about far far far more than simply painting a picture, and if you 
want to do more than paint a picture that has columns in it you need to 
use CSS-based layout.

"Personal preference" is not even on the table (no pun intended) for why 
CSS-based design is better than table-based.  It's not a "prejudice of 
the lazy".  It's a prejudice for using the right tools for the job they 
were intended for, and using them properly.  That's not a subjective 
statement, nor one simply based on which one learned first.

Yes, it's time for you to learn CSS.  Fortunately, it's much easier than 
it used to be since modern browsers finally support CSS properly (now 
that IE 6 is a virtually non-existent player in most markets).

--Larry Garfield

On 05/02/2011 12:07 AM, Warren Vail wrote:
> I was just getting ready to tackle my first theme in Drupal 7, and is 
> my practice, looking through the themes to find for one to hack into 
> being mine, when I found that none of them used tables for layout.  
> Now I have heard many people voice the opinion that tabled layouts 
> (which I've been quite successful with) are bad, and CSS (which I am 
> less prepared to deal with) are good.  And in my ages of experience I 
> have, up until now, assumed that the expressed choice between good and 
> bad was based on (as it often is) what people had learned vs what they 
> had not, and did not want to have to bother to learn, so I said 
> nothing until now
> Now I see that Drupal 7 (a product I have some respect for) seems to 
> have none, in those that I have looked into, at least.  Did what I had 
> perceived to be merely a prejudice of the lazy make it's way all the 
> way into the D7 Platform, or is there some legitimate reason for 
> abandoning tabled layouts that I have missed (must I finally buckle 
> down to my own laziness and tackle CSS to that depth)?
> Why are Tables BAD and CSS GOOD (keep in mind, I'm after a good 
> looking theme, and not good looking code, necessarily, since none of 
> my end users will ever look at the code).  I am looking for some 
> reason other than good looking code (or someone's vision of 
> correctness) to get behind CSS for my themes, and believe me "being 
> easier" won't convince me much either.  I'm guessing there must be 
> some other good reason I've missed.
> What would that be?
> /*/Warren Vail/*/

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