If you've seen my
on using Netscape/Mozilla Composer/NVu, you'll know that I'm a fan of
the various versions of this web design software. The various versions
are free, reasonably easy to learn to use, with virtually identical
versions for Windows, Mac, Linux, and more. And did I mention that
Unfortunately, they lack support for working with frames. You can use
one of these prograams to work with the different pieces of a frame,
but from time to time, you're going to need to drop down to the 'source
the basic HTML text that makes a web page (or set of web pages, like a
frame) work. But don't get too worried; even if you know nothing about
HTML code, you can
needed; it's not as scary as it may sound.
Point your browser to www.proto-barbarism.ca
site of poetry, illustrations, and somewhat over the top prose.
The home page looks something like this (at least this is how it looked
on June 7, 2005):
Click on any of the links along the left-hand side... notice that the
column along the left with the links remains the same. And notice that
the logo in the top-left corner and the text on the top also remains
the same; only the large section with the main content changes as you
change the page.
This is done by setting up a frameset
of how multiple pages of HTML content should be displayed
together. In fact, in this case (as in many other commonly-used web
designs), there are really two framesets in use. Here's how the
Proto-barbarism site does it:
1) Because the file index.html
typically loads automatically when you type a web address (even without
typing its name), that file described the first frameset. It tells your
browser to load a file named caption.html
its contents in a row that goes across the browser's
window, but is 90 pixels deep. A second row takes up whatever space is
left in the browser window, loading a file named imageset.html
can be created
in Composer or your favourite web page editor... there's nothing about
it that isn't a standard webpage, as long as you remember that it's
wide, but only going to be about 90 pixels deep. In this case, it's got
a graphic (129 x 75 pixels) and the text that appears along the top of
every page in the website.
also a frameset; in this case, it describes the arrangement of two
columns; the first is the column along the left that holds all the
links. It's described as being 180 pixels wide and loading the file
rest of the space initially loads the file target0.html
space is given
the name "images
see why this is useful in a moment). When you put a frameset inside
another frameset, it's described as 'nesting'. (You can also achieve
the same sort of nesting in a single file, writing the second frameset
code within the first frameset code... but that's more complex; feel
free to experiment).
Look at the
Most browsers and web page editors have an option to show the source
code; if you're looking at the Proto-barbarism website in a browser,
you can check (probably in a View
menu) for an option saying something like View Source
or Page Source
there's a problem
when you're looking at a set of web pages in a frameset; you'll only be
able to view the first page loaded that way. In this case, that's Index.html
that's what we're
wanting to check out. You may be able to view the source of a different
part of the frame by clicking in that frame, then choosing
View/Source... but that doesn't always work. (That's just one of
several possible limitations with frames-- see below).
If you're creating your own framesets, though, you should start to get
comfortable working with a text
. This is a program that's like a simplified version
word processor, that only works with plain text files-- text without
graphics, without fancy fonts, formatting, etc. Behind the scenes, all
web pages are plain text files, with the instructions about how to
display the contents included (also as plain text). Windows users have
a program named Notepad
in the Start Menu's Accessories sub-menu) which is a very basic text
editor. Mac OS X users have a program named TextEdit
, but it can
also work with
Microsoft Word-style files with graphics, fancy formatting, and more.
If you use TextEdit, open its Preferences, and set the Format option to
Plain Text. (On the Mac, I prefer the free BBEdit Lite
Here's the source code for www.proto-barbarism.ca/index.html:
<title>Proto-Barbarism: Prose, Poetry, and
rel="stylesheet" href="style.css" type="text/css">
cols="100%" rows="90,*" border="0"><frame
It's pretty short. The first and last lines simply imply that there's
HTML code that starts after that first tag (the word 'html' inside
angle brackets) and the last tag ( '/html' inside angle brackets).
That's a basic feature of HTML code: sections start with a tag- a name
within angle brackets, and end with a '/' character followed by the
same name, also within a pair of angle brackets.
Pretty much every web page has a <head>
section. This includes
the page title (which typically appears in the browser's title bar
along the top), and a bunch of optional information, such as meta-tags
which may be used by search engines to help categorize your page. Feel
free to copy/paste the <head>
section from this or some other web
page, changing the <title>
to meet your needs.
More important for our purposes is the next section, between the <frameset>
This one starts off:
cols="100%" rows="90,*" border="0">
In other words, it's describing a frameset with one column. occupying
100% of the window. It's broken up into two horizonal rows; The first
is 90 pixels deep, while the * indicates that the second one takes up
as much space as is left.
Notice that we can describe column or row dimensions in two ways: as a
percent, or as a fixed number of pixels. And a * always means 'whatever
is leftover'. In either case, the dimensions need to be written within
a pair of quotation marks. (You can define more than one frame using
the '*' character... if we had, for example:
we would have three rows, the first 90 pixels
and two more, splitting whatever space was remaining).
Finally, in this case, there's a 0-pixel border- in other words, no
border at all.
Using this simple set of instructions, we could create some pretty
complex designs. We could set up a grid with multiple columns and
multiple rows, of varying dimensions. But here, we've only got the two
rows. They're described in each of the next two sections, in order from
top to bottom. (If there were multiple rows and columns, they would be
described in order, left to right, for each row, top to bottom).
The top row is described:
src="caption.html" border="no" scrolling="no">
The frame's source is the file caption.html
border, and there shouldn't be scroll bars-- even if the
contents of that page are too large to fit in the space provided.
The second row (all the space that's left over) is described:
That frame's source is the file imageset.html
there's no border. Without an instruction regarding
scrolling, a scrollbar will appear if needed.
And that's it. There's a tag to close off the frameset instruction, and
another to say that that's the end of the HTML code.
Look at the
It's pretty similar to Index.html, but in this case, it divides
everything underneath the top caption strip into two columns, a narrow
one on the left, and a larger section on the right:
<title>Proto-Barbarism: Prose, Poetry, and
rel="stylesheet" href="style.css" type="text/css">
cols="180,*" border="0"><frame src="thumbnails.html"
scrolling="yes"><frame src="target0.html" name="images"
Once again, there are <html> opening and closing tags,
<head> section pretty identical to the one in Index.html.
should be able to understand the contents of the
two columns are defined, the first one is 180 pixels wide, and the
second takes up all the rest of the space. The column on the left uses
the file thumbnails.html
no border, but a scrollbar (which only will appear if needed). The
other column uses the file target0.html
and also has no border.
What's new in the description of this part of the frameset is the code:
This gives this section a name separate from the
file name that (initially) is loaded into it.
That's going to come in handy when we look at the links in the
left-hand column, in the file thumbnails.html
Before we do that, however, let's look at a diagram of what we get when
we combine the framesets in index.html and imageset.html:
three sections, a
caption on top, a strip down the side holding the links, and the
"images" section, which holds the content. When we click on a link
along the left, the content displayed in the "images" section changes,
but the rest of it should stay the same. So let's see what's special in
the links in the file thumbnail.html
Look at the
I'm just going to show the code behind one of the links... in this
case, where clicking on the words Trains
loads that poem into the section
The code for this link, like all HTML links goes between the
and </a> tags; what's different between this and most
links is the part reading: target="images"
This is telling your browser to display the link
(its 'target') in the section labelled "images" (which you may recall,
was defined in the frameset in the file imageset.html.
You don't have to make this customized link in a text editor. In
Mozilla Composer or NVu, for instance, if you highlight some text, and
click on the Link
button, you can navigate to the file you want to link to.
click on the Advanced
button and you'll see:
Add the word target
Attribute and images
Value. (No quotes needed).
If you didn't target the link to the "images" section, clicking on the
link would display the content in the same frame as the link, in this
case, squeezing the poem into the skinny section on the left.
As we saw, you can use the target
tell a link to open in a particular frame, but there are a
some more potentially useful tricks involving target
... some of
these may be
useful even if your webpages don't use frames.
- If you have a lot of links where you might want
set the target
can do it once, applying it to all the links on a page by using the base target tag.
This goes any
place within the the <head>
section of your page's source code. For example, to automatically make
all links in the thumbnail.html
file open in the images
section, we could add code reading:
anywhere between the <head> and </head>
tags of thumbnail.html
- There are a couple of other potentially useful
of target (or base target). If the target is set to "_blank", the links
will automatically open in a new window. Conversely, if the target is
set to "_self", the link will automatically open in the current window.
(You may wonder why you'd do this, since this is the default-- it could
be useful to override a setting using the base target command. A target
set to "_top" will open the link, replacing the entire frameset...
which can be useful at times.
There are a number of possible problems with webpages built around
frames. As we saw above, you may not be able to view the source code of
any of the various pages in your frameset other than the initial
- Older browsers (Netscape earlier than 2.0, IE
than 3.0, text-based browsers such as Lynx, for example) simply don't
understand frames, and don't display framesets. This affects a
shrinking minority of users and has a workaround (described below)
- Content in framesets may not print properly,
if it does, users often don't want the stuff that's in other parts of
the frameset (which may push some of the desired content off the
printed page entirely). It's probably worthwhile to add a link
(targeted to open in a new window) to the same content in a
frameless-window for printing.
- Similarly, links in your content-window will,
default, open in that window... which can be annoying-- having a large
page display in a small frame window. In fact, you can get frames
within frames within frames. Use of the target attribute to
force links to
open in a new browser window can get around that.
- Visually impaired users using screen-reading
can have particular problems with framesets, as the software may have
difficulty navigating between frames.
- Browser features including the Back button and
Add Bookmark (or Add Favorite) item can be problematic; you may end up
with a bookmark/favorite pointing to the initial page of a frameset
rather than the page with the desired content.
As a result, some web page designers avoid frames as much as possible.
The noframes tag
As a courtesy for people who can't view
may want to include
a 'noframes' option...
For example, try placing the following somewhere between the <frameset>
tags on a
page such as our example's index.html
<p> This site uses frames to display its content. Your
browser does not display frames. You can view this page's content by
clicking on <a href="noframes.html">this link
People viewing your site with an older browser
see text suggesting they click on the words 'this link' to go to a file
course, you'll need to create that file!
You can also add <noframes> tags to a regular HTML page
the content pages of your frameset-- if you do, the text between the
<noframes> and </noframes> will only appear
if your page is
viewed on its own-- for instance if it pops up in a Google search. You
could, for instance, include your links (which otherwise wouldn't
display) that way.
it for now...
Give it a try; play around with frames. Feel free to combine use of a
graphical webpage design program like Composer or NVu and a text editor
when you need to much around with the source text. (Composer and NVu
let you look at and in many cases edit a page's source text, but they
tend to choke if you try to use them to edit the source code in
frameset pages (like index.htm and imageset.html in our example); they
get confused because these pages lack the <body>
section of more standard webpages (not needed since frameset pages
don't have the content contained within this section).
One way to get started is to get a program that automatically generates
a set of framed pages. For example, Windows users may want to download
the free Picasa
Picasa (like Apple's iPhoto
for Mac OS X users) is a nice
program for working with libraries of digital photos; one of the things
it does is create various designs of web albums-- web pages that
combine thumbnail-sized versions of photos with larger views of the
same pictures. These use frames to separate a scrolling set of
thumbnails from the larger view of the images. Hmmm, that sounds sort
Try generating a frameset using Picasa, iPhoto, or a similar program,
then look at the pages in a text editor or a web page design program
like Composer or NVu. Add text, or throw away the photos entirely and
recycle the frameset in a completely different context.