Starting ordered lists at numbers other than 1.

John Gruber gruber at
Sun Mar 28 11:51:33 EST 2004

[I changed the subject here, because the idea of whether Markdown
 should allow for some way to started ordered lists at numbers other
 than 1 is for the most a different issue than Markdown's list syntax
 in general. -J.G.]

Már Örlygsson <mar at> wrote on 03/27/04 at 10:25a:

> No, style rules contained in style="" attributes override all other CSS
> rules, no matter what selector syntax they use. See the chapter on
> 'Calculating a selector's specificity' in the CSS2.1 specs:

Correct, and so I don't think it'd be a can-of-worms at all if
Markdown were to start adding `style` attributes to set the start
number for ordered lists.

However, the entire idea is moot. I spent an hour or two trying to
determine the syntax for doing this. End up, *it can't be done*.
I'll try to summarize my findings here:

1.  The Transitional doctypes for HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 support
    the `start` attribute for `<ol>`, and a `value` attribute for
    `<li>`. You can use them like this:
        <ol start="10">
        <li value="20">Twenty</li>

    which renders like this:
        10. Ten
        11. Eleven
        20. Twenty

2.  The W3C deprecated both of these attributes; thus they're
    invalid in the Strict doctypes for HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.0.

    A lot of experts consider this deprecation, especially
    the `value` attribute, a very bad decision on the part of
    the W3C. For example, [Tantek Çelik] [1].
    The basic idea behind attribute deprecation is that
    *presentational* attributes have been deprecated, because
    one should use CSS for presentation styling. But the `value`
    attribute for list items is not presentational, it specifies
    important information about the meaning of the list.

3.  The CSS way to accomplish the same things as the old `start`
    and `value` tag attributes is to use the CSS properties
    `counter-reset` and `counter-increment`.

4.  But `counter-reset` and `counter-increment` aren't supported
    by any browsers other than Opera. I mean, jesus, it's one thing
    if IE doesn't support something, but when neither [Mozilla] [2]
    nor [Safari] [3] support it either, it's pretty much unusable.



See also:



> I wouldn't hold it against Mr Gruber if he chose alternative a) and assumed
> Transitional DTD, but I guess alternative b) would be the least evil of
> those three listed above, ugly style="" styntax clutter be damned.
> P.S. I strongly think that the W3C made a serious mistake by depricating the
> type="" and start="" attributes on <ol> lists. :-(

I do too.

The long and short of it is, up until yesterday I had assumed that
it was possible to use CSS to accomplish the same things as the
now-deprecated `type` and `start` tag attributes, but it's not.

Markdown is currently intended only to produce (X)HTML Strict
output. I think that's the way it should be -- because it makes
Markdown something web authors can use regardless if their web sites
are using Strict or Transitional doctypes. (Strict code is always
valid in a Transitional document.)

Even though I very much disagree with the W3C's decision regarding
the `type` and `start` tag attributes, that doesn't mean I want to
start generating Transitional output from Markdown.

Thus, for now, I think I'm going to have to scratch the plans for
ordered lists that start with ordinals other than 1.

I still want to add support for lettered-lists:

    a. one
    b. two
    c. three

and Markdown will use CSS in a `style` attribute to achieve this.

* * *

Notably, one of the side effects of this "lists must start at
ordinal 1" rule is that we can get a little bit more specific about
how Markdown parses lists. We could state that ordered lists must
start with one of the following:

*   `1.`
*   `a.`
*   `A.`

This would (a) solve many of the cases where ordered lists can be
triggered by accident; and (b) accurately reflect the rendered
results Markdown will produce.


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