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HTML Document Rules

AlphaTrust e-Sign™ is primarily designed to support legally valid electronic signatures on documents. As such, it is very important to create documents that will withstand legal scrutiny. This means that document authors must create static as opposed to dynamic or active HTML content. A legal document is a fixed representation of the party’s intent at a particular point in time. It should not be self-alterable and should not contain any user input fields (i.e. checkboxes, option buttons, textboxes, input boxes, etc.).

This means you must adhere to three principles:

  1. Documents MUST not make use of certain content types (tags or elements).
  2. Documents SHOULD not use externally referenced data (i.e. images, stylesheets - although AlphaTrust e-Sign™ will covert external style sheets to internal style blocks upon document validation). Outbound links (<a> elements) to other URLs are fine, but SHOULD make sense in the context of the lifetime of the document.
  3. Documents SHOULD use absolute, rather than relative references in URLs within a document.

What matters, from a legal enforceability point of view, is what is visible onscreen to the user. You are free to embed information that is not displayable and does not affect the display of information such as:

  • <!DOCTYPE> elements
  • <!-- comments--> comment elements
  • <meta> elements

Elements you MUST NOT use in your document:

<form> <fieldset> <legend> <object> <applet> <embed> <script> <noscript> <input> <select> <textarea> <option> <optgroup> <frame> <noframe> frameset> <iframe> <area> <map> <audio> <video> <source> <track> <canvas> <datalist> <keygen> <output>

AlphaTrust e-Sign™ will reject a document containing these elements. It is important that you not use script of any kind.

Documents must have <html>, </html>, <body>, and </body> elements.

Externally referenced data - you SHOULD NOT use externally referenced data. This comes into play with two element types supported by AlphaTrust e-Sign™ - the <img> element and the <link rel="stylesheet"> element.

Unlike much Web data, electronically signed HTML documents are intended to be permanent records and to replace their paper equivalents. They may be required for many years. Since externally referenced data is stored separate files, it is likely that these files will become separated from their parent document or that original links to these files with become invalid over time. AlphaTrust e-Sign™ downloads, hashes and stores all externally referenced data as part of the transaction, so all the data will be available as part of the archive record on the AlphaTrust e-Sign™, but copies sent to other parties that reference images will not display those images if the URLs within the signed documents that refer to the images no longer function. This will not invalidate the document, but it may irritate the user. AlphaTrust e-Sign™ automatically changes the src attribute within <img> elements to point to the AlphaTrust e-Sign™ image databank. So long as AlphaTrust e-Sign™ is accessible to the user viewing a document, images will display normally.

Using inline images - if you must use inline images using the <img> element, follow these guidelines (AlphaTrust e-Sign™ does not support inline images using the <object> element):

  • Specify the proper height and width of the image, so spacing is not affected if the image is not available.
  • Use the alt attribute to describe the image.
  • Use absolute URL references for the src attribute. This will ensure that AlphaTrust e-Sign™ can properly download the image files.

AlphaTrust e-Sign™ will download and compute the hash and signature values for images referenced with the <img> element. These images are stored in the AlphaTrust e-Sign™ image databank located in the /Images/ directory. Only one copy of any particular image is stored in the image databank. If AlphaTrust e-Sign™ downloads an image it has seen before; it will not store a new copy, but will reference the existing images. This saves a large amount of disk space for applications that use images such as online forms or standard documents. AlphaTrust e-Sign™ uses SHA-256 hash values to determine if it already has the image on file.

Using style sheets - Cascading style sheets are an important method of controlling the display of data. You should use style sheets and you should use <style></style> blocks within the <head> section. This captures the style sheet(s) within the text of the document. The use of linked style sheets using the <link rel=”stylesheet”...> element is supported but discouraged for the same reasons discussed above. AlphaTrust e-Sign™ will convert any external stylesheets to style blocks during document validation. AlphaTrust e-Sign™ does not support XSL or XSLT stylesheets.

Using anchor <a> elements - the use of anchor elements to link to external documents is fine. This poses no special problems. You SHOULD use absolute URL references.