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The <meta> element in HTML is a metadata tag that provides structured information about the document, such as character encoding, authorship, and viewport settings. It plays a crucial role in enhancing the accessibility and functionality of web pages.

Syntax

The <meta> element is self-closing and has no closing tag. It is placed within the <head> section of an HTML document. Here’s a basic syntax example, showing two <meta> tags, with various attributes:

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<!DOCTYPE html>
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<html>
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  <head>
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    <meta charset="UTF-8" />
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    <meta name="description" content="A description of the web page" />
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  </head>
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  <body>
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    <!-- web page content goes here -->
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  </body>
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</html>

Examples

The <meta> element can be used for specifying the character encoding of a web page:

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<!DOCTYPE html>
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<html>
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  <head>
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    <meta charset="UTF-8" />
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    <title>My Website</title>
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  </head>
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  <body>
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    <!-- web page content goes here -->
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  </body>
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</html>

In this example, the <meta> element with the charset attribute is used to specify that the character encoding for the web page is UTF-8, which can handle a wide range of characters and symbols.

Browsers tend to use UTF-8 by default, if no character encoding is specified. However it’s recommended that every HTML document include a meta charset tag.

The additional examples below illustrate how the <meta> element can provide valuable information about a web page, control its behavior, and enhance its visibility in search engine results.

<meta name="viewport">

This meta tag is essential for making web pages responsive to various devices and screen sizes. It lets you control the initial scale and zoom level when a user views your web page on a mobile device.

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<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0" />

In this example, width=device-width sets the viewport’s width to match the device’s screen width, and initial-scale=1.0 sets the initial zoom level to 100%. This ensures that the web page is displayed correctly on mobile devices.

<meta name="description">

This meta tag is used to describe the web page. Search engines often use this description in search results.p>

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<meta
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  name="description"
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  content="An online store for electronics and gadgets"
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/>

In this example, the content attribute briefly summarizes the web page’s content.

<meta name="keywords">

Although not as heavily used by search engines as in the past, the keywords meta tag can still be helpful. It allows you to specify a list of keywords related to the web page’s content. 

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<meta name="keywords" content="electronics, gadgets, online store, tech" />

In this example, the content attribute contains a comma-separated list of relevant keywords.

<meta name="author">

This meta tag identifies the author of the web page.

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<meta name="author" content="John Doe" />

In this example, the content attribute specifies the name of the author.

<meta http-equiv="refresh">

This meta tag instructs the browser to automatically refresh or redirect the web page after a specified time interval. Here’s an example that refreshes the page every 5 seconds.

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<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="5;url= />

In this example, 5 represents the number of seconds before the refresh, and url=https://example.com specifies the URL to which the page should be redirected after the refresh.

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible">

This meta tag controls the compatibility mode for older versions of Internet Explorer. It’s often used to ensure the web page is displayed correctly in IE.

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<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge" />

In this example, IE=edge forces Internet Explorer to use the highest available rendering mode.

The <meta> element supports global and various attributes that convey essential information about the document.

  • charset: Specifies the character encoding for the document. For example, UTF-8 is widely used for handling Unicode characters.
  • name: Defines the name of the metadata property. Common values include description, keywords, and viewport.
  • content: Provides the value or content associated with the metadata property. For example, the content of a description metadata might be a brief summary of the page’s content.
  • http-equiv: Allows the <meta> element to simulate an HTTP response header. Common values include refresh for automatic page refreshes and X-UA-Compatible for controlling the document’s rendering mode.
  • name and content are often used together to provide structured information about the document. For instance, specifying name="author" and content="John Doe" identifies the web page’s author.

Content

The <meta> element contains no visible content but provides structured data about the document. It accepts text values for attributes like charset, name, and content.

Did You Know?

  • The <meta> element is essential for search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines use metadata like description to index and rank web pages.
  • The viewport meta tag is commonly used for making web pages responsive to different screen sizes and devices. It helps control the page’s initial scale and zoom level when viewed on mobile devices.
  • <meta> elements with the http-equiv attribute can be used to specify character encoding, set refresh intervals, and define compatibility modes for older versions of Internet Explorer.

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