HTML Tables: Find Out When To Use Them (And When To Avoid)
Tables are used in HTML documents (web pages) to present tabular data.
- A table is defined using the
<table>element, and contains a number of table cells (
<td>, for “table data” ) which are organized into table rows (
<tr>). The markup (HTML code) for a table is always based on rows, never columns.
- Table cells which act as column headers or row headers should use the
<th>(table header) element.
- Table cells can be merged using the
- Tables can be broken into sections using the following elements:
- A caption can be added to a table using the
- You can use
<colgroup>to define table columns for styling. However, there are a number of limitations with this practice.
Table Code Sample: Simple Table
<table> <tr> <th>Name</th> <th>Favorite Color</th> </tr> <tr> <td>Bob</td> <td>Yellow</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Michelle</td> <td>Purple</td> </tr> </table>
Table Code Sample: Complex Table
<table> <caption>A complex table</caption> <thead> <tr> <th colspan="3">Invoice #123456789</th> <th>14 January 2025 </tr> <tr> <td colspan="2"> <strong>Pay to:</strong><br> Acme Billing Co.<br> 123 Main St.<br> Cityville, NA 12345 </td> <td colspan="2"> <strong>Customer:</strong><br> John Smith<br> 321 Willow Way<br> Southeast Northwestershire, MA 54321 </td> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <th>Name / Description</th> <th>Qty.</th> <th>@</th> <th>Cost</th> </tr> <tr> <td>Paperclips</td> <td>1000</td> <td>0.01</td> <td>10.00</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Staples (box)</td> <td>100</td> <td>1.00</td> <td>100.00</td> </tr> </tbody> <tfoot> <tr> <th colspan="3">Subtotal</th> <td> 110.00</td> </tr> <tr> <th colspan="2">Tax</th> <td> 8% </td> <td>8.80</td> </tr> <tr> <th colspan="3">Grand Total</th> <td>$ 118.80</td> </tr> </tfoot> </table>
|Invoice #123456789||14 January 2025|
| Pay to:|
Acme Billing Co.
123 Main St.
Cityville, NA 12345
321 Willow Way
Southeast Northwestershire, MA 54321
|Name / Description||Qty.||@||Cost|
|Grand Total||$ 118.80|
About Table-Based Layout
It was common in the early days of the web to use tables as a layout device. Before the advent of modern standards-based browsers, this was the easiest way to make sure that page elements were arranged properly on the screen.
This design pattern is now considered very bad. It is bad for the user experience, bad for SEO, and bad for developers who have to maintain pages.
You should not use table-based layout under any circumstances. Instead, check out our CSS Tutorials to start learning about modern web site layout.
However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid tables — tables should be used whenever you need to present information in a tabular format.