What is WML (Wireless Markup Language), what does it do, and what is it used for? A veteran provides answers.


What is the meaning of WML? A quick guide

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Back in 2001 when I began my journey in mobile phones, cellular phones and wireless networks were not powerful or capable enough to load full webpages. They could load basic, text-based web pages over what was called WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). The markup language for creating web pages for handheld devices was called WML, short for Wireless Markup Language.


As such, back then, mobile web pages where referred to as WAP pages and mobile web browsers called WAP browsers. It wasn’t until cellphones and smartphones became much more powerful that they could load and run standard web pages.

An XHTML browser, a successor to WML or WAP browser
An XHTML webpage, a successor to WML or WAP pages

WML was formerly called HDML (Handheld Devices Markup Languages), and was based on XML. If you know XML and HTML, learning WML isn’t difficult. It allowed for text and basic images of Web pages to be presented on cellular telephones and personal digital assistants (PDAs).


WML was designed from the ground up to work efficiently on the small screens of handheld and mobile devices. It was the foundation on which the modern mobile web that everyone uses today was built.

Learning WML was quite easy for me, and in no time, I was creating WAP pages. I was obsessed with making sure that all my websites had WAP versions for mobile phones. I firmly believed that the future of the Web was mobile, and I have since been vindicated.


Most of today’s web traffic happens on mobile phones. Specifically, as at this year (2021), 55% of global website traffic is from cell phones (excluding tablets) [1]. To get a clearer picture, as at 2011, 6% of all web traffic were from mobile phones. In the early 2000s when I was building WAP sites, the figure was more like 0.9%.

WML is now dead; AMP carries on its legacy

Of course, now that mobile devices are capable of running standard HTML pages, WML has gone obsolete. But the principles behind it are still very alive till today. The core of those principles is ensure that pages load fast on mobile devices.

The next generation of mobile web browsers after WAP browsers were known as XHTML browsers. XHTML standard was quite common by 2010, and the first Android smartphone, HTC Dream, had an XHTML browser. As a markup language, XHTML was a bridge between HTML and XML (the family that WML belonged to). I had tons of fun with XHTML. I think it was my favourite wireless markup language. But we keep moving, and while XHTML is not dead, the world has largely moved away from it.

An XHTML web page

Even till today, thanks to slower networks in many parts of the world, standard web pages often struggle to load on time. Most webpages are horribly bloated and so are a pain to access for hundreds of millions of mobile users worldwide.

This is the core reason why we have Google’s AMP standard catching on widely today. Like WML/WAP, AMP strips off as much bloat as possible from webpages, so that only the most essential parts load on smartphones and cell phones.

You can imagine that I have become obsessed with AMP as well. I love the Web, but my extreme love is for the mobile web. AMP is fully HTML though and works with regular web browsers; it just strips off the kludge, mostly JavaScript, so pages can load faster.


I remember WML and WAP with fondness; it is history now, but I will always be committed to whatever markup language makes it easier for users to access websites on their mobile devices.


  • Global website traffic from 2015-2021: source.

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