Anatomy UI

Semantic elements

Layout helps define the hierarchy and flow of content in interfaces. While styling does this visually, section level elements including divs, headers, and footers help semantically describe your interface.


All flow content can be added to the <body> element1, which can only be declared once in an HTML file. Flow content includes presentational elements and things like scripts.


The <main> element should wrap the core functionality of a page. Similar to the <body> element, <main> has some restrictions on its usage. Only one <main> element should be present and marked as visible. When including a “skip to main content” feature for keyboard navigation, it’s recommended to target the <main> element.

Avoid including app-level UI such as global headers, navigation, and footers inside of the <main> element2 unless they are the primary function of the specific page.

For older browsers, you can add the role="main" to a <div> element instead to get similar semantic meaning. However, defer to using available elements rather than roles when possible.


The <section> element sits one level above <div> semantically, but is considered a catch all element when a more descriptive element like <header>, <nav>, or <article> doesn’t make sense. What differentiates <section> from <div> is that it semantically describes a standalone area of a document.

Because of this, it is highly recommended to include a heading level text element within every <section>.3 If this feels heavy handed, then you most likely want to use a <div>.


The <header> element can be used both globally and within sections.4 When used outside of other sectioning elements, it acts as the banner landmark role. This means a top-level <header> element used between pages and including site information and links is different from a <header> element used inside of an element like <article>.


Similar to <header>, the <footer> element can be used both globally or within sections. When used globally, it has the contentinfo role.


For a group of navigation links, use the <nav> element. Ensure you use this element sparingly for core navigation relevant to a page. Ancillary links in elements such as <footer> don’t need to be wrapped in <nav> unless they include a set of related links for the page.

When adding multiple <nav> elements to a page, use the aria-labelledby attribute5, in combination with a text level element and matching id attribute to distinguish between them.

  <nav aria-labelledby="site-navigation">
    <h2 id="site-navigation">Site links</h2>
    <!-- links -->

    <nav aria-labelledby="resource-navigation">
      <h2 id="resource-navigation">Additional resources</h2>
      <!-- links -->


While the name might suggest a very specific usage, <article> should be used as the container element for any self contained piece of information that can be inserted elsewhere in a document, app, or on third party sites.6 This includes:

  • Blog posts (probably the most well known example)
  • Product information
  • Individual comments
  • Widgets (ex: weather conditions)
  • Social media posts

Just make sure to add a text heading for each article (the level is up to you). You can also nest <article> elements within another, as long as it relates to the parent (a great example is comments on a blog post). When doing this, avoid using a child <article> element for ancillary details that don’t make sense on their own.

If you are using <article> for a list of items, consider grouping them in a <section> that has the role="feed" attribute.7

<section role="feed">
  <article />
  <article />
  <article />
  <article />
  <article />
  <article />
  <!-- n number of items continues... -->


The <aside> element in an app interface would most likely be used as a sidebar.8. The most important takeaway is that content in the <aside> element should be considered mostly separate from the content around it.


Use <div> elements when a semantic elements isn’t appropriate. This is usually desired when grouping child elements to control layout and styling.9 The <div> element is, semantically, the block-level version of <span> so treat it similarly but with block level content.