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The new HTML search element

My work colleague Ryan recently drew my attention to the new HTML search element. This morning I read Scott O’Hara’s excellent primer. Scott worked on implementing <search>, and his article cleared up my questions around what it is and when we can start using it.

Firstly <search> is not a “search input” – it’s not a replacement for any existing input elements. Instead it’s a native HTML element to create a search landmark, something that until now we could only achieve by applying role="search" to another element.

Landmarks are an important semantic structure allowing screen reader users to orient themselves and jump to important areas of a web page. Existing landmark-signalling elements you might know include <header>, <main>, <footer>. So you would use <search> to wrap around a search function, thus providing additional accessibility. And it lets you do so with a native HTML element instead of re-purposing another element by adding ARIA properties, per the first rule of ARIA use. It’d look something like this:

  <form action="/path/to/search/">
    <label for="query">Find an article</label>
    <input id="query" name="q" type="search">
    <button type="submit">Go!</button>

So as Scott himself admits:

To be brutally honest, this is not the most important element that’s ever been added to the HTML specification. It is however a nice little accessibility win.

Do I have a use for this?

If you have a search function or search page and currently miss the opportunity to offer a search landmark you could do so and improve the user experience.

Can I use the <search> element today?

As Scott mentions, it’s not yet available in browsers (although it likely will arrive soon). So if you added <search> (just as I’ve typed it there) to a page, it wouldn’t currently create a search landmark. So you could wait for a while before using the element. Alternatively, because HTML’s design is intentionally geared toward a progressive enhancement mindset, you could take Jeremy Keith’s approach and safely use the following today:

<search role="search">

Jeremy knows that when browsers encounter an HTML element they don’t know, they don’t break but rather treat it as an anonymous element and carry on. So he includes <search> to start adopting the new element today, but bolts on role=search temporarily to manually provide the landmark until browsers understand search. He’ll then remove the role=search part once support for search is widespread.

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