HTML <summary> Tag: Functions, Attributes, and Real-Life Examples

By Cristian G. Guasch •  Updated: 09/25/23 •  10 min read

In the world of web design, it’s essential to stay on top of the latest HTML elements. One such element that’s caught my attention recently is the HTML <summary> tag. This lesser-known but incredibly useful tag gives developers more control over how they present information on a webpage.

The <summary> tag, part of the HTML5 specification, serves as a flexible tool for creating interactive content without relying heavily on JavaScript or CSS. It functions as a visible heading for the <details> element and can be clicked to reveal or hide additional content.

I’m excited to delve into this versatile HTML component today. We’ll explore its usage, attributes, and see some examples in action. Whether you’re new to web development or an experienced coder looking for new tricks, I believe you’ll find value in understanding the power of the <summary> tag.
Diving straight into the heart of HTML, let’s talk about the <summary> tag. It’s a vital component in your toolbox when you’re looking to create interactive and user-friendly web pages. The purpose of the <summary> tag is pretty straightforward: it provides a clickable heading for the <details> element.

Here’s a simple example:

  <summary>Epic Games</summary>
  Fortnite is one of their most popular games.

In this instance, “Epic Games” becomes a clickable heading that reveals or hides information about Fortnite.

The beauty of the <summary> tag lies in its ability to be styled with CSS and manipulated using JavaScript. This flexibility helps developers craft unique user experiences on their websites. For example, you could use CSS to change the color or font size of your summary text, or add an arrow icon that indicates whether details are shown or hidden.

However, there are limitations too. An important point to remember is that only one summary can be used within each detail tag pair. Overusing tags won’t yield additional benefits – instead it’ll just confuse your users!

Additionally, while most modern browsers support the HTML5 <summary> tag (including Chrome, Firefox, and Safari), some older ones (like Internet Explorer) do not. So if older browser compatibility is critical for your project, you might want to consider other techniques for collapsible content.

Now let’s delve into common mistakes made while using this handy tool:

By understanding these nuances surrounding the HTML <summary> tag and learning how best to utilize it, we pave our way towards creating engaging web content. Remember, the key is to strike a balance between functionality and aesthetics in order to ensure a positive user experience.

Attributes of the HTML <summary> Tag

Peeking under the hood of HTML, we’ll find that each tag has its own set of attributes. These provide additional information about an element, enhancing its functionality or appearance on a webpage. The <summary> tag isn’t any exception. Let’s delve into some attributes you can use with this handy little tag.

First off, the open attribute is one worth mentioning. This Boolean attribute indicates whether or not the details are visible (i.e., if the content within <details> and <summary> tags should be shown). If it’s present in your code, then your details will be displayed as soon as a user lands on your page. Here’s how you’d use it:

<details open>
  <summary>Click to hide text</summary>
  This text is initially visible.

Next up is style, another nifty attribute that lets you apply CSS styles directly to your summary element. It might come in handy when you’re looking for quick styling fixes without altering your stylesheet file.

<summary style="color: blue; font-size: 18px;">Stylized Summary</summary>

It’s important to remember that while these attributes can boost the functionality and aesthetics of your webpage, they should be used sparingly and responsibly – overuse could lead to messy code and potential accessibility issues.

Don’t forget about global HTML attributes either! These work across all HTML elements, including our trusty <summary> tag. Some commonly used ones include class, id, and title. They add semantic value to your elements, assist in styling efforts, or provide additional information when hovered over by a cursor.

In conclusion, while there aren’t many unique attributes specific to the <summary> tag itself – beyond open – there are plenty of general HTML attributes at our disposal that can elevate the functionality and appearance of our summary content. So, go ahead and experiment with these in your next project! You might be surprised at just how much they can enhance user experience on your site.

Practical Examples of Using HTML <summary>

I’m diving straight into the practical side of the HTML <summary> tag. Let’s first look at a simple example where we use this tag in an FAQ section. Here’s how you can create an expandable question-answer pair:

  <summary>What is HTML?</summary>
  <p>HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is the standard markup language for documents designed to be displayed in a web browser.</p>

In this snippet, “What is HTML?” serves as a clickable summary that reveals more details when clicked on.

Sometimes, you might want to style the <summary> element using CSS. It’s pretty straightforward and here’s how it could look like:

   summary {
      color: blue;
      cursor: pointer;

  <summary>About me</summary>
  <p>I am an expert blogger who enjoys writing about web development topics!</p>

The above code will display “About me” in blue color and change the mouse cursor to a hand symbol when hovered over.

A common mistake I’ve seen developers make is trying to nest multiple <details> elements within one another. Unfortunately, nested <details> tags aren’t supported by all browsers yet. So if you’re thinking about creating something like this:

<details open="">
  <summary>Main Category </summary>

    <details open="">
      <summary>Sub Category </summary>


you might want to consider other options!

Lastly, remember that while <summary> tag improves accessibility by providing context about what information will be revealed upon interaction, it isn’t meant for long texts or complex content structures. Keep your summaries short and sweet!

Consider these practical examples as your starting point. As you get more comfortable with the <summary> tag, you’ll discover its versatility in enhancing your web documents.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Learning HTML is a lot like learning any other language. You’re bound to make some mistakes along the way. But don’t worry, I’m here to guide you through some of the common pitfalls when using the <summary> tag in HTML.

One prevalent error I’ve noticed is neglecting to include the <details> tag. Here’s what not to do:

<summary>Click for more details</summary>
<p>Some hidden content here!</p>

In this example, there’s a missing <details> tag that should be wrapping around both the <summary> and <p> tags. The correct usage would look something like this:

  <summary>Click for more details</summary>
  <p>Some hidden content here!</p>

Another frequent misstep is adding multiple summary tags within one detail element. Remember, each detail element can only have ONE summary tag. If you try something like this:

  <summary>Main Point</summary>
  <summary>Sub Point</summary>
  <p>Details about point.</p>

Only “Main Point” will be displayed as clickable text! To avoid confusion, stick with just one summary per detail:

  <summary>Main Point - Sub Point</summary>
  <p>Details about point.</p>


<details open="open">
  <summary>Main Point </summary>

  <!-- Nested Details -->
    <details open="open">
      <summary >Sub Point </summary >
      <p >Details about point . </ p >
    </ details >
</ details >

Lastly, a common mistake is forgetting that all text inside a Summary is visible by default; it doesn’t hide until you click it. So, make sure the summary text is something you want visible and that gives a clear hint of what’s hidden.

Remember, practice makes perfect! The more you use these tags, the better you’ll become at avoiding these common mistakes.

Conclusion: The Power of HTML <summary>

There’s no denying the power and functionality that the HTML <summary> tag brings to your webpage. It’s a game changer, especially when you’re looking to improve user experience by creating collapsible sections in your web content.

Let me give you an example for clarity:

  <summary>Epic Games</summary>
  Epic Games Store is a curated digital storefront for PC and Mac, designed with 
  both players and creators in mind.

In this code snippet, ‘Epic Games’ acts as the summary or trigger point for additional content. When clicked on, it reveals more information about the topic.

But nothing’s perfect, right? Common mistakes while using <summary> often include forgetting to nest it inside a <details> tag or not providing enough context within the summary itself. Remember, it should act as an indicator of what’s contained within its parent element.

Here are some key points I’ve touched upon throughout this article:

At its core, mastering how to use this fundamental tool effectively can be a big win in your web development journey. As always, practice makes perfect! So don’t hesitate to experiment with different uses of the HTML <summary> tag until you find what works best for you and your site visitors.

Cristian G. Guasch

Hey! I'm Cristian Gonzalez, I created HTML Easy to help you learn HTML easily and fast.

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