This document provides a starting point for content authors and software developers wishing to understand the EPUB® 3 specifications. It consists entirely of informative overview material that describes the features available in EPUB 3.

The current version of EPUB 3 is defined in [[EPUB-33]], which represents the second minor revision of the standard. The substantive changes since EPUB 3.2 [[EPUB-32]] are documented in a separate section in the EPUB 3.3 document itself.

Features

This section covers the major features of EPUB, including important components and topics that apply to the process of authoring EPUB Publications as a whole.

The following example visually represents the structure of an EPUB publication.

Package Document

Every EPUB Publication is represented by a Package Document. The Package Document specifies all the resources required to render that representation of the content. The Package Document also defines a reading order for linear consumption, and associates metadata and navigation information.

The Package Document represents a significant improvement on a typical Web site. A Web site, for example, embeds references to its resources within its content, which, while a simple and flexible means of identifying resources, makes it difficult to enumerate all the resources required to render it. In addition, there is no standard way for a Web site to define that a sequence of pages make up a larger publication, which is precisely what EPUB's spine element [[EPUB-33]] does (i.e., it provides an external declarative means to explicitly specify navigation through a collection of documents). Finally, the Package Document defines a standard way to represent metadata globally applicable to a collection of pages.

The Package Document also includes a collection element [[EPUB-33]], which allows grouping of logically related Publication Resources. This element exists to enable the development of specialized content identification, processing and rendering features, such as the ability to define embedded preview content, or assemble an index or dictionary from its constituent XHTML Content Documents.

The Package Document is specified in the dedicated section of [[EPUB-33]].

Navigation

Reading Order

A key concept of EPUB is that an EPUB Publication consists of multiple resources that can be completely navigated and consumed by a person or program in some specific order.

Many types of publication have an obvious reading order, or logical progression through their content. A novel is an example of a highly sequential document — it typically has a beginning, middle and end — but not all publications are so ordered: a cookbook or collection of photographic images might be considered to be more like a database. All documents do, however, have at least one logical ordering of all their top-level content items, whether by date, topic, location, or some other criteria (e.g., a cookbook is typically ordered by type of recipe).

Each EPUB Publication defines at least one such logical ordering of all its top-level content (the spine [[EPUB-33]]), as well as a declarative table of contents (the EPUB Navigation Document [[EPUB-33]]). EPUB Publications make these data structures available in a machine-readable way external to the content, simplifying their discovery and use.

EPUB Publications are not limited to the linear ordering of their contents, nor do they preclude linking in arbitrary ways — just like the Web, EPUB Publications are built on hypertext — but the basic consumption and navigation can be reliably accomplished in a way that is not true for a set of HTML pages.

Navigation Document

Each EPUB Publication contains a special XHTML Content Document called the EPUB Navigation Document, which uses the [[HTML]] nav element to define human- and machine-readable navigation information.

The Navigation Document contains baseline accessibility and navigation support, but also features to enhance navigation for all users. Prime among these are support for internationalization (for example, as an XHTML document itself, the Navigation Document natively supports ruby annotations) and support for embedded grammars (MathML and SVG can be included within navigation links).

Navigation Documents also provide a flexible means of tailoring the navigation display using CSS and the hidden attribute [[EPUB-33]] while not impacting access to information for accessible Reading Systems.

The structure and semantics of Navigation Documents are specified in the relevant section of [[EPUB-33]].

The structure and semantics of Navigation Documents are defined in specified in the dedicated section of [[EPUB-33]].

Metadata

EPUB Publications provide a rich array of options for adding metadata. Each Package Document includes a dedicated metadata section [[EPUB-33]] for general information about the EPUB Publication, allowing titles, authors, identifiers and other information about the EPUB Publication to be easily accessed. It also provides the means to attach complete bibliographic records using the link element [[EPUB-33]].

The Package Document also allows a Unique Identifier to be established for the EPUB Publication using the unique-identifier attribute [[EPUB-33]].

XHTML Content Documents also include the means of annotating document markup with rich metadata, making them more semantically meaningful and useful both for processing and accessibility purposes. Both RDFa [[RDFA-CORE]] and Microdata [[Microdata]] attributes can be used in XHTML Content Documents for that purpose.

Content Documents

Each EPUB Publication contains one or more EPUB Content Documents, as defined in the dedicated section of [[EPUB-33]]. These are XHTML or SVG documents that describe the readable content and reference associated media resources (e.g., images, audio, and video clips).

XHTML Content Documents are defined by a profile of [[HTML]].

Fixed Layouts

Although EPUB's history is steeped in enabling reflowable content, not all publications lend themselves easily to reflowing. Page-precise layouts are required to meaningfully represent children's books, comics and manga, magazines, and many other content forms.

EPUB 3 includes metadata that allows the creation of fixed-layout XHTML Content Documents [[EPUB-33]], in addition to existing capabilities for fixed layouts in SVG. This metadata enables the control of the page dimensions [[EPUB-33]], creating a canvas on which elements can be absolutely positioned.

The metadata does not just flag whether content is to be fixed or reflowed, but also allows Authors to specify the desired orientation of pages [[EPUB-33]], when to create synthetic spreads [[EPUB-33]], and how to position pages [[EPUB-33]] within those spreads, providing a broad range of control over the presentation of EPUB Publications.

Rendering and CSS

A key concept of EPUB is that content presentation adapts to the user, rather than the user having to adapt to a particular presentation of content. HTML was originally designed to support dynamic rendering of structured content, but over time HTML as supported in Web browsers has become focused on the needs of Web applications, and most popular Web sites now have fixed-format layouts.

EPUB Publications, however, are designed to maximize accessibility for the visually impaired, and Reading Systems typically perform text line layout and pagination on the fly, adapting to the size of the display area, the user's preferred font size, and other environmental factors. This behavior is not guaranteed in EPUB; images, vector graphics, video, and other non-reflowable content might be included, and some Reading Systems might not paginate on the fly, or at all. Nevertheless, supporting dynamic adaptive layout and accessibility has been a primary design consideration throughout the evolution of the EPUB standard.

EPUB Content Documents can reference CSS Style Sheets, allowing Authors to define the desired rendering properties. EPUB 3 follows support for CSS as defined in the [[CSSSnapshot]].

EPUB 3 also supports CSS styles that enable both horizontal and vertical layout and both left-to-right and right-to-left writing. Refer to in the Global Language Support section for more information.

Multimedia

EPUB 3 supports audio and video embedded in XHTML Content Documents via the [[HTML]] audio and video elements, inheriting all the functionality and features these elements provide. For more information on audio and video formats, refer to the section on core media types [[EPUB-33]].

Another key multimedia feature in EPUB 3 is the inclusion of Media Overlay Documents [[EPUB-33]]. When pre-recorded narration is available for an EPUB Publication, Media Overlays provide the ability to synchronize that audio with the text of a Content Document (see also ).

Fonts

EPUB 3 supports two closely related font formats — OpenType [[OpenType]] and WOFF [[WOFF]] [[WOFF2]] — to accommodate both traditional publishing workflows and emerging Web-based workflows. Word processing programs used to create EPUB Publications are likely to have access only to a collection of installed OpenType fonts, for example, whereas Web-archival EPUB generators will likely only have access to WOFF resources (which cannot be converted to OpenType without undesirable, and potentially unlicensed, stripping of WOFF metadata).

EPUB 3 also supports both obfuscated and regular font resources for both OpenType and WOFF font formats. Support for obfuscated font resources is required to accommodate font licensing restrictions for many commercially available fonts. See the dedicated section on Resource Obfuscation in [[EPUB-33]] for more details.

Scripting

EPUB strives to treat content declaratively — as data that can be manipulated, not as programs to be executed — but does support scripting as defined in [[HTML]] and [[SVG2]] (refer to the section on Scripting [[EPUB-33]] for more information).

It is important to note, however, that EPUB 3 does not require scripting support in Reading Systems, and scripting might be disabled for security reasons.

Authors need to be aware that scripting in an EPUB Publication can create security considerations that are different from scripting within a Web browser. For example, typical same-origin policies are not applicable to content that has been downloaded to a user's local system. Therefore, it is strongly encouraged that scripting be limited to container constrained contexts, as further described in the section on Container-Constrained Scripts [[EPUB-33]].

In other words, consider limiting scripting to cases where it is essential to the user experience, since it greatly increases the likelihood that content will not be portable across all Reading Systems and creates barriers to accessibility and content reusability.

Text-to-speech

EPUB 3 provides the following text-to-speech (TTS) facilities for controlling aspects of speech synthesis, such as pronunciation, prosody, and voice characteristics:

Pronunciation Lexicons

The inclusion of generic pronunciation lexicons using the W3C PLS format [[PRONUNCIATION-LEXICON]] enables Authors to provide pronunciation rules that apply to the entire EPUB Publication. Refer to Pronunciation Lexicons [[EPUB-33]] for more information.

Inline SSML Phonemes

The incorporation of SSML phonemes functionality [[SSML]] directly into a EPUB Content Document enables fine-grained pronunciation control, taking precedence over default pronunciation rules and/or referenced pronunciation lexicons (as provided by the PLS format mentioned above). Refer to SSML Attributes [[EPUB-33]] for more information.

Container

An EPUB Publication is transported and interchanged as a single file (a "portable document") that contains the Package Documents, all Content Documents, and all other required resources for processing the Publication. The single-file container format for EPUB is based on the widely adopted ZIP format, and an XML document that identifies the location of the Package Document for the Publication in the ZIP archive is located at a pre-defined location within the archive.

This approach provides a clear contract between any creator of an EPUB Publication and any system which consumes such EPUB Publications, as well as a reliable representation that is independent of network transport or file system specifics.

An EPUB Publication's representation as a container file is specified in the dedicated section of [[EPUB-33]].

Global Language Support

Metadata

EPUB 3 supports alternate representations of all text metadata items in the package metadata section to improve global distribution of EPUB Publications. The alternate-script property [[EPUB-33]] can be combined with the xml:lang attribute to include and identify alternate script renderings of language-specific metadata.

Using this property, a Japanese EPUB Publication could, for example, include an alternate Roman-script representation of the author's name and/or one or more representations of the title in a Romance language.

The page-progression-direction attribute also allows the content flow direction to be globally specified for all Content Documents to facilitate rendering (see the page-progression-direction [[EPUB-33]]).

Content Documents

XHTML Content Documents leverage the HTML directionality features to improve support for bidirectional content rendering: the bdi element allows an instance of directional text to be isolated from the surrounding content, the bdo element allows directionality to be overridden for its child content and the dir attribute allows the directionality of any element to be explicitly set.

XHTML Content Documents also support ruby annotations for pronunciation support (which makes them supported in Navigation Document links, as well).

SVG Content Documents support the rendering of bidirectional text, but do not include support for ruby.

CSS

EPUB 3's support for CSS3 modules enables typography for many different languages and cultures. Some specific enhancements include:

Fonts

EPUB 3 does not require that Reading Systems come with a set of built-in system fonts. As occurs in Web contexts, users in a particular locale might have installed fonts that omit characters required for other locales and Reading Systems might utilize intrinsic fonts or font engines that do not utilize operating system installed fonts. As a result, the text content of an EPUB Publication might not natively render as intended on all Reading Systems.

To address this problem, EPUB 3 supports the embedding of fonts to facilitate the rendering of text content, and this practice is advised to ensure content is rendered as intended. See also in the Features section for more information.

Support for embedded fonts also ensures that characters and glyphs unique to an EPUB Publication can be embedded for proper display.

Text-to-speech

EPUB 3's support for PLS documents and SSML attributes increases the pronunciation control that Authors have over the rendering of any natural language in text-to-speech-enabled Reading Systems. Refer to in the Features section for more information on these capabilities.

The combination of CSS Speech and inline SSML phonemes also allows fine control over ruby.

Container

The OCF container format supports UTF-8, allowing for internationalized file and directory naming of content resources.

Accessibility

A major goal of EPUB is to facilitate content accessibility, and a variety of features in EPUB 3 support this requirement. This section reviews these features, detailing some established best practices for ensuring that EPUB Publications are accessible where applicable.

EPUB 3 also includes an Accessibility specification [[EPUB-A11Y-10]] that leverages the extensive work done to make Web content accessible in [[WCAG20]]. The specification defines requirements to produce EPUB Publications that can be accessed by a wide range of users. It is accompanied by a techniques document that outlines best practices for meeting the requirements.

It is important to note that while accessibility is important in its own right, accessible content is also more valuable content: an accessible EPUB Publication will be adaptable to more devices and be easier to reuse, in whole or in part, via human and automated workflows. The EPUB Working Group strongly recommends that Authors ensure that they generate accessible content.

Navigation

As noted in above, the navigation features represent a universal and flexible navigation system.

The Navigation Document can also be reused in the body of an EPUB Publication by including it in the spine. To avoid the situation in highly structured documents where it might not be desirable to display the complete table of contents to users in the body, the display level can be modified using the [[HTML]] hidden attribute. This attribute is ignored by Reading Systems when they render the table of contents outside the spine (e.g., in their own specialized views), which avoids minimizing the information that is available.

Authors are also encouraged to supply additional nav elements if their EPUB Publications contain non-structural points of interest, such as figures, tables, etc., to further enhance access to the content.

Semantic Markup

[[HTML]] supports a number of elements that make markup more semantically meaningful (e.g., section, nav, and aside). Authors are encouraged to use these elements, in conjunction with best practices for authoring well-structured Web content, when creating EPUB XHTML Content Documents. These additions allow content to be better grouped and defined, both for representing the structure of documents and to facilitate their logical navigation. XHTML Content Documents also natively support the inclusion of ARIA role and state attributes and events, enhancing the ability of Assistive Technologies to interact with the content.

EPUB 3 includes the epub:type attribute, which is meant to be functionally equivalent to the W3C Role Attribute [[Role-Attribute]]. This attribute allows any element in an XHTML Content Document to include additional information about its purpose and meaning within the work, using controlled vocabularies and terms. Refer to the section on Expressing Structural Semantics [[EPUB-33]] for more information.

Dynamic Layouts

The design center of EPUB is dynamic layout: content is typically intended to be formatted on the fly rather than being typeset in a paginated manner in advance (i.e., expecting a particular sized "page"). This core capability is useful, for example, for optimizing rendering onto different sized device screens or window sizes, and it facilitates and simplifies content accessibility.

While it is possible to incorporate more highly formatted content in EPUB — for example via bitmap images or SVG graphics, or even use of CSS explicit positioning and/or table elements to achieve particular visual layouts — Authors are strongly discouraged from utilizing such techniques. They are not reliable in EPUB since many Reading Systems render content in a paginated manner rather than creating a single scrolling Viewport and since each Reading System might define its own pagination algorithm. If these techniques are necessary to convey the content of the publication, consider including fallbacks [[EPUB-33]] (e.g., for graphic novels).

In general, it is preferable to achieve visual richness by using CSS Style Sheets without absolute sizing or positioning.

Aural Renditions and Media Overlays

Aural renderings of content are important for accessibility and are a desirable feature for many other users. A baseline to facilitate aural rendering is to utilize semantic HTML designed for dynamic layout. Refer to for more information on how to use the native facilities that EPUB XHTML Documents include.

Media Overlays provides the ability to synchronize the text and audio content of an EPUB Publication. Overlays transcend the accessibility domain in their usefulness: the synchronization of text and audio as a tool for learning to read, for example, being of benefit in many circumstances.

Fallbacks

Not all formats are accessible in their native format, and not all users prefer to read in the default format provided. EPUB defines a variety of means for providing fallbacks so that alternate renderings can be made available in these cases.

Publication- and content-level fallbacks are defined in the section on Foreign Resources [[EPUB-33]]. These fallback mechanisms enable the inclusion of Foreign Resources in an EPUB Publication and ensure compatibility of EPUB 3 content across Reading Systems with varying capabilities (e.g., they allow the inclusion of multiple video formats, and the inclusion of XHTML fallbacks to SVG Content Documents for EPUB 2 Reading Systems).

Scripting

EPUB 3 adopts a progressive enhancement approach for scripted content, whereby scripting is not allowed to interfere with the integrity of the document (i.e., not result in information loss when scripting is not available). Consequently, although documents that do employ scripting can provide fallbacks [[EPUB-33]] to further facilitate access to their contents, the documents have to be accessible without them.

Authors should always implement best practices for accessible scripting in Web documents, such as provided in [[WAI-ARIA]], and reserve the use of scripting for situations in which interactivity is critical to the user experience.

EPUB Revision History

OEB, OCF and EPUB 2: 1999—2010

EPUB has its roots in the interchange format known as the Open EBook Publication Structure (OEBPS). OEBPS 1.0 was approved in 1999 by the Open eBook Forum, an organization that later became the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Subsequent revisions 1.1 and 1.2 were approved by the IDPF in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

It was realized that a need existed for a format standard that could be used for delivery as well as interchange, and work began in late 2005 on a single-file container format for OEPBS, which was approved by the IDPF as the OEBPS Container Format (OCF) in 2006. Work on a 2.0 revision of OEBPS began in parallel which was approved as the renamed EPUB 2.0 in October 2007, consisting of a triumvirate of specifications: Open Package Format (OPF), Open Publication Format (OPF) together with OCF. EPUB 2.0.1, a maintenance update to the 2.0 specification set primarily intended clarify and correct errata in the specifications, was approved in September 2010. [[OPF-201]] [[OPS-201]] [[OCF-201]]

EPUB 3.0: 2010

Work on a major revision of the EPUB specifications began in 2010, with the goal of aligning EPUB more closely with HTML, and in the process bringing new, native multimedia features, sophisticated CSS layout rendering and font embedding, scripted interactivity, enhanced global language support, and improved accessibility. A new specification, EPUB Media Overlays was also introduced, enabling text and audio synchronization in EPUB Publications. To better align the specification names with the standard, the Open Package Format specification was renamed EPUB Publications and the Open Publication Format specification was renamed EPUB Content Documents. The EPUB 3.0 specifications were approved in October 2011. [[EPUBPublications-30]] [[EPUBContentDocs-30]] [[OCF-30]] [[EPUBMediaOverlays-30]] [[EPUBChanges-30]]

EPUB 3.0.1: 2014

The EPUB 3.0.1 revision was undertaken in 2013-14. Although introducing mostly minor fixes and updates, it did see the integration of Fixed Layout Documents, which give Authors greater control over presentation when a reflowable EPUB is not suitable for the content. [[EPUBPublications-301]] [[EPUBContentDocs-301]] [[OCF-301]] [[EPUBMediaOverlays-301]] [[EPUBChanges-301]]

EPUB 3.1: 2017

EPUB 3.1 was the first minor revision of EPUB 3. The goal of this revision was to better align EPUB 3 with current Web standards. References to important standards were made undated, meaning that whenever they are updated they are legal to use in EPUB 3 content (e.g., the latest version of HTML is always valid to use; a revision of EPUB is not needed). The use of CSS was also clarified, and the use of EPUB-specific properties reduced.

Many EPUB-specific features were also removed from the standard, in particular content switching, triggers, and bindings. This change necessitated a new Package Document version number.[[EPUB-31]] [[EPUBPackages-31]] [[EPUBContentDocs-31]] [[OCF-31]] [[EPUBMediaOverlays-31]] [[EPUBChanges-31]]

EPUB 3.2: 2018

The work on EPUB 3.2 was undertaken shortly after EPUB 3.1 to restore compatibility of content to EPUB 3. The change of version number introduced in EPUB 3.1 meant that authors, vendors and reading system developers would have to produce, distribute and consume two versions of EPUB content, but the costs of this change outweighed the benefits of the new version. EPUB 3.2 instead keeps all the best parts of EPUB 3.1 but returns and deprecates the removed elements so that a new version number is not necessary in the Package Document. [[EPUB-32]] [[EPUBPackages-32]] [[EPUBContentDocs-32]] [[OCF-32]] [[EPUBMediaOverlays-32]] [[EPUBChanges-32]]

EPUB 3.3: 2021

The text in this section must be updated as EPUB 3.3 evolves and is more of a placeholder for now. It currently reflects the aspirations of the work rather than the final characterization of EPUB 3.3.

The work on EPUB 3.3 [[EPUB-33]] was undertaken in 2020-21, and is the first version of the EPUB 3 series published as a W3C Recommendation. EPUB 3.3 does not include any significant technical change to, and is strongly backward compatible with, EPUB 3.2. This means that any valid EPUB 3.2 Publication is also a valid EPUB 3.3 Publication. On the other hand, through a thorough testing regime developed by the W3C EPUB 3 Working Group, the interoperability of Reading Systems, as well as of EPUB 3 Publications, is greatly improved. Finally, the documents have become more readable as a result of an extensive editorial revision.

The separate section in [[EPUB-33]] provides a more detailed overview of the changes.