In the early days of the web tables were a very important part of building layouts.

Later on they were replaced by CSS and its layout capabilities, and today we have powerful tools like CSS Flexbox and CSS Grid to build layouts. Tables are now used just for, guess what, building tables!

The table tag

You define a table using the table tag:

<table>

</table>

Inside the table we’ll define the data. We reason in terms of rows, which means we add rows into a table (not columns). We’ll define columns inside a row.

Rows

A row is added using the tr tag, and that’s the only thing we can add into a table element:

<table>
  <tr></tr>
  <tr></tr>
  <tr></tr>
</table>

This is a table with 3 rows.

The first row can take the role of the header.

Column headers

The table header contains the name of a column, typically in a bold font.

Think about an Excel / Google Sheets document. The top A-B-C-D... header.

Column headers

We define the header using the th tag:

<table>
  <tr>
    <th>Column 1</th>
    <th>Column 2</th>
    <th>Column 3</th>
  </tr>
  <tr></tr>
  <tr></tr>
</table>

The table content

The content of the table is defined using td tags, inside the other tr elements:

<table>
  <tr>
    <th>Column 1</th>
    <th>Column 2</th>
    <th>Column 3</th>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <td>Row 1 Column 1</td>
    <td>Row 1 Column 2</td>
    <td>Row 1 Column 3</td>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <td>Row 2 Column 1</td>
    <td>Row 2 Column 2</td>
    <td>Row 2 Column 3</td>
  </tr>
</table>

This is how browsers render it, if you don’t add any CSS styling:

No styling

Adding this CSS:

th, td {
  padding: 10px;
  border: 1px solid #333;
}

makes the table look more like a proper table:

A proper table

Span columns and rows

A row can decide to span over 2 or more columns, using the colspan attribute:

<table>
  <tr>
    <th>Column 1</th>
    <th>Column 2</th>
    <th>Column 3</th>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <td colspan="2">Row 1 Columns 1-2</td>
    <td>Row 1 Column 3</td>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <td colspan="3">Row 2 Columns 1-3</td>
  </tr>
</table>

A colspan example

Or it can span over 2 or more rows, using the rowspan attribute:

<table>
  <tr>
    <th>Column 1</th>
    <th>Column 2</th>
    <th>Column 3</th>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <td colspan="2" rowspan="2">Rows 1-2 Columns 1-2</td>
    <td>Row 1 Column 3</td>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <td>Row 2 Column 3</td>
  </tr>
</table>

A rowspan example

Row headings

Before I explained how you can have columns headings, using the th tag inside the first tr tag of the table.

You can add a th tag as the first element inside a tr that’s not the first tr of the table, to have row headings:

<table>
  <tr>
    <th></th>
    <th>Column 2</th>
    <th>Column 3</th>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <th>Row 1</th>
    <td>Col 2</td>
    <td>Col 3</td>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <th>Row 2</th>
    <td>Col 2</td>
    <td>Col 3</td>
  </tr>
</table>

Row headings

More tags to organize the table

You can add 3 more tags into a table, to have it more organized.

This is best when using big tables. And to properly define a header and a footer, too.

Those tags are

  • thead
  • tbody
  • tfoot

They wrap the tr tags to clearly define the difference sections of the table. Here’s an example usage:

<table>
  <thead>
    <tr>
      <th></th>
      <th>Column 2</th>
      <th>Column 3</th>
    </tr>
  </thead>
  <tbody>
    <tr>
      <th>Row 1</th>
      <td>Col 2</td>
      <td>Col 3</td>
    </tr>
    <tr>
      <th>Row 2</th>
      <td>Col 2</td>
      <td>Col 3</td>
    </tr>
  </tbody>
  <tfoot>
    <tr>
      <td></td>
      <td>Footer of Col 1</td>
      <td>Footer of Col 2</td>
    </tr>
  </tfoot>
</table>

thead and tfoot

Table caption

A table should have a caption tag that describes its content. That tag should be put immediately after the opening table tag:

<table>
  <caption>Dogs age</caption>
  <tr>
    <th>Dog</th>
    <th>Age</th>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <td>Roger</td>
    <td>7</td>
  </tr>
</table>

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