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Using the Right Markup to Invoke Plugins

This article is about how to invoke a plugin with the correct use of HTML. It discusses the object element and the embed element, with details about using the most apt HTML to invoke Java in a web page as well. Visit Plugin Central for more information on plugin development.



  • Both the object element and the embed element can be used to invoke plugins.
  • The object element is the standard, but its use is subject to some caveats.
  • The object element can be used to invoke Java.
  • The applet element is still widely used to invoke Java

The Object Element: W3C Standards and Cross-Browser Issues

The object element is part of the HTML 4.01 specification, and is the recommended mechanism to invoke plugins. Its use is subject to a few caveats that this section outlines.

Traditionally, the object element has been used differently by Microsoft Internet Explorer and by Mozilla-based browsers such as Netscape 7. In IE, the object element is used to invoke a plugin that is built on the ActiveX architecture. Here's an example of this kind of usage for IE:

<!-- IE ONLY CODE -->
<object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000"
width="366" height="142" id="myFlash">
    <param name="movie" value="javascript-to-flash.swf">
    <param name="quality" value="high">
    <param name="swliveconnect" value="true">

In the above example, the classid attribute that goes along with the object element points to a "clsid:" URN followed by the Unique Identifier of an ActiveX control (in the above example, the string beginning with "D27..."). This is, in fact, the Unique Identifier of Macromedia's Flash plugin, and developers are expected to know such Unique Identifiers in order to invoke the component of their choice. The codebase attribute used above points to a location that houses the CAB file containing the ActiveX control. In this context, the codebase attribute is used as an obtainment mechanism -- that is to say, a way to obtain a control if it isn't present. If the Flash ActiveX control is not installed, IE will then go to the URL referenced by the codebase attribute and retrieve the ActiveX control. Additional param elements (which are "children" of the above object element) specify configuration parameters for the Flash plugin. For instance, the param name="movie" tells the Flash plugin the location of the SWF file to start playing.

With the release of Netscape 7.1, this kind of ActiveX use of the object element is supported for use with the Microsoft® Windows Media Player. Only the Windows Media Player is supported as an ActiveX control in Netscape 7.1. The details are covered in another article on DevEdge.

Browsers such as Netscape 7 will not render the Flash plugin if the above kind of markup is used, because Netscape 7 does not support ActiveX or ActiveX-based component invocations, with the exception of Windows Media Player in Netscape 7.1. Mozilla-based browsers support the Netscape Plugin architecture, which is not COM based like ActiveX (and thus, not invoked via a Unique Identifier) but rather, MIME type based. Mozilla-based browsers support the use of the object element along with a MIME type. Here is an example of this usage, once again for the Macromedia Flash plugin:

<object type="application/x-shockwave-flash" data="javascript-to-flash.swf" 
width="366" height="142" id="myFlash">
    <param name="movie" value="javascript-to-flash.swf">
    <param name="quality" value="high">
    <param name="swliveconnect" value="true">
    <p>You need Flash -- get the latest version from
       <a href=

In the above example, application/x-shockwave-flash is the Flash MIME type, and will invoke the Netscape-specific Flash architecture in Mozilla-based browsers. The data attribute points to the SWF file to play, and the configuration parameters (the param elements) are used in a consistent manner both for IE and for Mozilla-based browsers such as Netscape 7. In fact, the above usage will also work for IE, which understands MIME type invocations for certain MIME types such as Flash in addition to ActiveX-style classid invocations.

Since the use of MIME type for Flash will work for both IE and Netscape 7, you can use the above markup to invoke the Flash plugin for both IE and Netscape 7. However, there are a few caveats that developers ought to bear in mind when using the object element with Mozilla-based browsers such as Netscape 7 and in IE:



In order to overcome the shortcomings that you can't nest object elements in IE and that there isn't a way you can simply use one object element in a cross-browser way (with architecture specific obtainment mechanisms), the best course of action is to dynamically write object elements based on architecture. For example, on browsers that support ActiveX, such as IE, create an object element with a classid attribute, and on browsers that support the Netscape Plugin architecture, use a MIME type. Here is an example of some JavaScript which does this:

if (window.ActiveXObject)

// browser supports ActiveX
// Create object element with 
// download URL for IE OCX

document.write('<object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000"');
document.write(' codebase="');
document.write(' width="366" height="142" id="myFlash">');
document.write(' <param name="movie" value="javascript-to-flash.swf">');
document.write(' <param name=quality value=high>');
document.write(' <param name="swliveconnect" value="true">');



// browser supports Netscape Plugin API

document.write('<object id="myFlash" data="javascript-to-flash.swf"');
document.write(' type="application/x-shockwave-flash"');
document.write(' width="366" height="142">');
document.write('<param name="movie" value="javascript-to-flash.swf">');
document.write('<param name="quality" value="high">');
document.write('<param name="swliveconnect" value="true">');
document.write('<p>You need Flash for this.');  
document.write(' Get the latest version from');
document.write(' <a href="">here<\/a>.');


The Object Element and Java

Mozilla-based browsers such as Netscape 6.x, Netscape 7, and CompuServe 7 ship with the Java plugin that Sun provides. Users installing Netscape 6.x and Netscape 7 have a choice of whether or not to install Java. Unlike Netscape Communicator 4.x, Netscape 6.x and 7 do not have a default Java Virtual Machine -- they rely on Sun's plugin. During the Netscape Communicator 4.x days, Netscape Communications used to develop a Java Virtual Machine which supported Java 1.5.0 and below. Now, with Netscape 6 and 7, the Java Virtual Machine is Sun's plugin. Netscape no longer develops or ships a default Netscape Java Virtual Machine with the browser.

Sun's Java plugin can be invoked by the object element, just like any other plugin. Once again, IE typically invokes the plugin by way of an object element used in conjunction with a classid attribute that points to an ActiveX Unique Identifier. Each major version of the plugin has a Unique Identifier. For instance, this is an example of the type of markup that will invoke the JRE 1.4.1 in IE, using the unique identifier for the JRE 1.4.1:

<!-- IE ONLY CODE -->
<object classid="clsid:8AD9C840-044E-11D1-B3E9-00805F499D93"
     width="460" height="160"

The above invocation won't work for Mozilla-based browsers such as Netscape 7 because of the same reason mentioned above: classid used in conjunction with a Unique Identifier references an architecture (ActiveX) that Mozilla code (and thus Netscape 7) does not support. You can invoke the Java plugin for Netscape 7 and other Mozilla-based browsers by using the appropriate Java MIME type. Here is an example:

<object type="application/x-java-applet;jpi-version=1.4.1_01"
width="460" height="160">
	<param name="code" value="Animator.class">
	<param name="imagesource" value="images/Beans">
	<param name="backgroundcolor" value="0xc0c0c0">
	<param name="endimage" value="10">
	<param name="soundsource" value="audio">
	<param name="soundtrack" value="">
	<param name="sounds" value="|||||||||">
	<param name="pause" value="200">
	<p>You need the Java Plugin.
         Get it from <a href="">here.</a></p>

The above code mentions a version specific MIME type, and if the Mozilla-based browser such as Netscape 7 doesn't have JRE 1.4.1_01 installed, the alternate text is displayed. It isn't always necessary to give such a version specific MIME type. If you aren't taking advantage of any version specific features, a more generic MIME type such as application/x-java-vm will do the job just as well. The configuration parameters for the applet, including the class which contains the initial entry point (Animator.class, referenced by the "code" param element), are specified in multiple param elements.

Mozilla-based browsers such as Netscape 7 also allow for a special classid attribute that can also be used. This is the special "java:" classid. Here is an example using this invocation method:

<object classid="java:NervousText.class" width="534" height="50">
	<param name="text" value="Java 2 SDK, Standard Edition v1.4">
	<p>You need the Java Plugin.
	   Get it from
	   <a href="">here.

The "java:" classid allows you to reference the class that provides the primary entry point. The rest of the configuration parameters work via the param elements.

Applet -- The Popular Choice

The applet element is still very much supported, and is the most popular way currently to invoke Java applets. In Netscape 7 and CompuServe 7, the applet element directly invokes the Java plugin. Here is a sample:

<applet code="NervousText.class" width=534 height=50>
	<param name=text value="Java^T^M 2 SDK, Standard Edition v1.4">

The applet element has been deprecated in the HTML 4.01 specification, but an advantage to using it is that in Mozilla-based browsers such as Netscape 7, if you are missing Java, an automatic obtainment mechanism is in place. The browser will use Netscape's Plugin Finder Service to download the missing Java plugin. The references section gathers resources about the use of the applet element.

The Embed Element

The embed element has been used to invoke plugins since the early days of Netscape browsers. Typically, the embed element is nested within an object element, such that the outer object element invokes an ActiveX control for IE, whereas the inner embed element invokes a Netscape Plugin. Here is an example of this usage:


<object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000"
width=366 height=142 id="myFlash">
	<param name=movie value="javascript_to_flash.swf">
	<param name=quality value=high>
	<param name="swliveconnect" value="true">
		<embed src="javascript_to_flash.swf" quality="high" width="366" height="142"
    		name="myFlash" swliveconnect="true">

Links to the rules governing the use of the embed element can be found in the references section. The embed element is currently the most widely used element to invoke plugins in Netscape browsers. It is important to note, however, that the embed element is not part of the HTML 4.01 Specification, and is therefore not a W3C standard. Some caveats governing the use of the embed element are: Note that the obtainment mechanism for the embed element -- that is, the way in which a plugin is obtained if it is missing -- comes via the pluginspage attribute. This attribute points to a page to get the plugin if it is not detected by the browser. The pluginurl attribute is another attribute that can be used, and it can be used to point directly to an XPInstall file for a more streamlined download. For the embed element in particular, these attributes in Netscape 7 and Mozilla are governed by the Plugin Finder Service preference. Under Edit | Preferences | Navigator | Helper Applications is a preference to use Netscape's Plugin Finder Service. If the user has checked Always Use the Netscape Plugin Finder Service to get Plugins then whether these attributes are specified or not makes no difference -- the browser will always consult with the Plugin Finder Service to determine if it has a plugin to handle the missing MIME type. If the preference is unchecked, the Plugin Finder Service will be consulted only if the web page author does NOT specify either of these attributes.


General -- Specifications

Object Element

Embed Element


Bugs and Future Directions In Netscape and Mozilla