A table is a collection of information split up into cells. These cells are divided across rows and columns, in which the relationship between the individual cells becomes clear. On the Web, tables are used for the same purposes as in other media - the relational presentation of information.
Owing to the characteristics of tables, the presentation of information in rows and columns, they are superbly suited to the creation of layouts. Some web developers even think this is what tables were created for.
This chapter discusses both tables for relational information (data tables) and tables for layout. The advantages and disadvantages of tables for layout and more effective design methods – CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) – will be dealt as well.
The visitor needs to make an effort to put all the information in the table in its proper context. For visitors who are blind this is an even bigger challenge. They have to form on a mental image of the table, instead of a visual one. Web developers and content managers can contribute to the accessibility of tables for this group of visitors.
The nature of tables - splitting up information into rows and columns - is superbly suited to the creation of a page layout. This is why tables were used for the visual presentation of websites, at a time when the technical possibilities were severely limited.
Web developers are motivated to aim for separating structure and presentation and to use meaningful markup. That is why we recommend you to use to use CSS for the presentation of web pages and to avoid tables for layout.