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DTD Introduction DTD Building Blocks DTD Elements DTD Attributes DTD Elements vs Attr DTD Entities DTD Examples

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An XML document with correct syntax is called "Well Formed".

An XML document validated against a DTD is both "Well Formed" and "Valid".

What is a DTD?

DTD stands for Document Type Definition.

A DTD defines the structure and the legal elements and attributes of an XML document.

Valid XML Documents

A "Valid" XML document is "Well Formed", as well as it conforms to the rules of a DTD:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE note SYSTEM "Note.dtd">
<body>Don't forget me this weekend!</body>

The DOCTYPE declaration above contains a reference to a DTD file. The content of the DTD file is shown and explained below.


The purpose of a DTD is to define the structure and the legal elements and attributes of an XML document:


<!DOCTYPE note
<!ELEMENT note (to,from,heading,body)>
<!ELEMENT heading (#PCDATA)>

The DTD above is interpreted like this:

  • !DOCTYPE note -  Defines that the root element of the document is note
  • !ELEMENT note - Defines that the note element must contain the elements: "to, from, heading, body"
  • !ELEMENT to - Defines the to element to be of type "#PCDATA"
  • !ELEMENT from - Defines the from element to be of type "#PCDATA"
  • !ELEMENT heading  - Defines the heading element to be of type "#PCDATA"
  • !ELEMENT body - Defines the body element to be of type "#PCDATA"

Tip: #PCDATA means parseable character data.

Using DTD for Entity Declaration

A DOCTYPE declaration can also be used to define special characters or strings, used in the document:


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<!DOCTYPE note [
<!ENTITY nbsp "&#xA0;">
<!ENTITY writer "Writer: Donald Duck.">
<!ENTITY copyright "Copyright: W3Schools.">

<body>Don't forget me this weekend!</body>
Try it Yourself »

Tip: An entity has three parts: it starts with an ampersand (&), then comes the entity name, and it ends with a semicolon (;).

When to Use a DTD?

With a DTD, independent groups of people can agree to use a standard DTD for interchanging data.

With a DTD, you can verify that the data you receive from the outside world is valid.

You can also use a DTD to verify your own data.

If you want to study DTD, please read our DTD Tutorial.

When NOT to Use a DTD?

XML does not require a DTD.

When you are experimenting with XML, or when you are working with small XML files, creating DTDs may be a waste of time.

If you develop applications, wait until the specification is stable before you add a DTD. Otherwise, your software might stop working because of validation errors.