Proposal for standard icons/symbols

Bert Bos <>
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 1994 10:25:56 --100
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From: Bert Bos <>
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: Proposal for standard icons/symbols
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Some time ago there was discussion on this list about defining a set
of standard icons for things like Gopher types, "home" buttons, etc.
The discussion didn't reach a conclusion. Below is a proposal.
Reactions please!

The text and two sets of example icons are also available at:


and a similar FTP address.





Formal Public Identifier:
     Most recent version:
     -//WWW//ENTITIES WWW standard icons//EN

     This version:
     -//WWW//ENTITIES WWW standard icons:0.0//EN

     A set of entities for common icons

     17 Feb 1994 - version 0.0

     An HTML document often contains inlined graphic material,
     sometimes as decoration, sometimes to convey information that
     would be less clear in words. Some of these graphical objects
     function much like mathematical or other symbols; they have
     become part of the World-Wide Web language. E.g., in Gopher
     menus the type of a menu entry is often indicated with such a

     Traditionally, such symbols have been added to the text by means
     of in-lined images. But there has been a demand for
     standardization of a small set of symbols which every HTML
     browser would be able to recognize and display in some way. It
     has been suggested that a naming scheme could be invented whereby
     reserved names in <IMAGE> tags would flag to the browser that a
     special action was required. Another suggested approach is to use
     the (as yet undefined) URN mechanism.

     The first solution - reserved names in the attributes of <IMAGE>
     tags - has the drawback that it uses a name-space that is not
     (and should not be) under the control of HTML. It also requires
     browsers that normally ignore in-line images to analyze the tags
     for special names.

     The URN method has the drawback that it specifies a single,
     concrete image, instead of the more abstract symbol, that can
     vary according to context (bold, large, 3D, in color, etc.)

     The solution in this document uses features of SGML (of which
     HTML is a specialization) to abstract away from specific images.
     Every symbol is represented by an (external) entity, in much the
     same way as other non-ASCII symbols are specified. The HTML+ DTD
     would contain something like:

     <!ENTITY % ISOlat1 PUBLIC "ISO 8879-1986//ENTITIES Added Latin 1//EN">
     <!ENTITY % WWWicn PUBLIC "-//WWW//ENTITIES WWW standard icons//EN">
     <!ENTITY % ISOdia PUBLIC "ISO 8879-1986//ENTITIES Diacritical Marks//EN">

     This document defines a number of entities for common icons, such
     as "folder", "document", "home" and "sound".  Some icons are also
     defined in ISO/IEC CD 11581 "icon symbols and functions". Such
     icons also have a recommended shape ("ISO SHAPE"), the others
     have only suggested shapes ("SHAPE").

     A typical HTML application such as a World Wide Web browser will
     have its own way of rendering the icons. It may use a collection
     of bitmaps in any of the well-known graphics formats, it may have
     a special symbol font, or it may try to aproximate the shape with
     ASCII characters.

     The shapes leave a lot of room for variations. Applications may
     use color, shadows, 3D drawings and perhaps even photographs or
     holograms to adapt the basic shapes to their own style. The size
     of the icons is likewise left unspecified, but it is assumed that
     icons are displayed in running text, so they should normally be
     no larger than 2 to 4 times the size of a character.

     The entities have names of at most 32 characters, which is the
     declared NAMELEN of the HTML+ DTD. This precludes using of the
     names from ISO-????, since they tend to be longer. The longer
     names are shown as a comment where appropriate.

     A NOTATION "WWWicn" is declared, but the semantics are
     deliberately left undefined. An application that processes HTML
     must have its own way of resolving the entity.

     1) HTML+ DTD, draft of 24th January 1994

     2) ISO/IEC CD 11581 "Information technology - user-system
     interfaces - icon symbols and functions" (30 Nov 1993)


<!-- Object icons ========================================================

     The icons are not really divided into groups, but indications
     such as object icons, navigation icons, etc. make it easier to
     document them. The object icons in this section are normally used
     to represent objects, not actions. In practice the distinction
     may be difficult to make, however.

<!ENTITY folder			SDATA "folder">

     Represents a folder or directory or anything that holds other
     documents. If an action is associated with it (a hyper-jump or
     "open" action), it should gives access to the (table of) contents.

     ISO SHAPE: a horizontal rectangle with a small tab sticking out of the
     top, near the left side. Reminiscent of folders as used in the office.

     ISO NAME: folder

<!ENTITY filing.cabinet		SDATA "filing.cabinet">


     ISO NAME: filing cabinet

<!ENTITY fixed.disk		SDATA "fixed.disk">


     ISO NAME: fixed storage device



     ISO NAME: drive for removable disk

<!ENTITY document		SDATA "document">

     Represents a general document the type of which is unimportant.
     When the type is unknown rather than unimportant, it is better to
     use the "unknown.document" entity.

     ISO SHAPE: a vertical rectangle with a "dog's ear" in the upper
     right corner.

     ISO NAME: document

<!ENTITY unknown.document	SDATA "unknown.document">

     A document of unknown or unrecognized type. If there is an action
     associated with this document, it is often an "unsafe" action, in
     the sense that the contents may or may not be processable by the

     SHAPE: as "document" above, but with a question mark inside.

<!ENTITY text.document		SDATA "text.document">

     A document containing (mostly) text, such as text/plain,
     text/html, text/enriched, etc.

     SHAPE: as "document" above, but with "greeked" text inside
     (usually just a few horizontal lines).

<!ENTITY binary.document	SDATA "binary.document">


<!ENTITY binhex.document	SDATA "binhex.document">


<!ENTITY ftp			SDATA "ftp">


<!ENTITY archive		SDATA "archive">


<!ENTITY telnet			SDATA "telnet">


<!ENTITY form			SDATA "form">


<!ENTITY audio			SDATA "audio">

     An audio object. "Opening" it should play the sound on the
     system's speaker(s) or other audio output equipment.

     ISO SHAPE: a stylized loud speaker pointing to the right. (My
     suggestion: optionally accompanied by a few semicircular "sound

     ISO NAME: audio device

<!ENTITY image			SDATA "image">


     A photograph, drawing or graphic of any kind. The associated
     object might be a file in any still image format, whether in
     raster or vector format. "Opening" it should result in the image
     being displayed.

     SHAPE: a "landscape", e.g., with two shallow mountains and a sun
     in the upper left corner.

<!ENTITY map			SDATA "map">


     A map, either geographical or a schematic map showing relations
     between objects or actions. An interactive map ("hypermap") is
     definitily a map, but a non-interactive map might also be
     classified as an image. If the purpose of the map to explain or
     to instructm then it is probably a map; if it is just an
     illustration for other information it is probably an image.

     SHAPE: ...

<!ENTITY film			SDATA "film">

     A film or animation, such as an MPEG movie. It may have a

     SHAPE: a film projector, pointing right: a rectangle with a large
     and a small circle on top and a smaller rectangle representing
     the lens.

     or: (TBD)

     SHAPE: two blank frames from a film reel, with rows of holes
     along the left and right side.

<!ENTITY mail			SDATA "mail">


     ISO NAME: mail

<!-- Navigation icons ====================================================

     Icons that represent documents not by their contents, but by
     their relation to the document in which they occur. Relations can
     be hierarchical: a parent document with children; or linear: a
     successor and a predecessor; or semantical: a table of contents,
     an index, a glossary, etc.


<!ENTITY parent			SDATA "parent">

     Represents the parent of the current document. There should also
     be a way to go from the parent back to this child in one step.

     SHAPE: a triangle pointing upwards inside a square.

<!ENTITY next			SDATA "next">

     The next document in a sequence of documents, such as in an HTML

     SHAPE: a triangle pointing to the right inside a square.

<!ENTITY previous		SDATA "previous">

     The predecessor of the current document in a sequence of

     SHAPE: a triangle pointing to the left inside a square.

<!ENTITY home			SDATA "home">


<!ENTITY toc			SDATA "toc">


<!ENTITY glossary		SDATA "glossary">


<!ENTITY index			SDATA "index">


<!ENTITY summary		SDATA "summary">


<!-- Miscellaneous =======================================================


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