This article in the HTML5 series covers the explanation and usage of the <nav> element.
Nav Element Specification
The HTML5 specification defines the <nav> element as:
The nav element represents a section of a page that links to other pages or to parts within the page: a section with navigation links. Not all groups of links on a page need to be in a nav element only sections that consist of major navigation blocks are appropriate for the nav element. In particular, it is common for footers to have a list of links to various key parts of a site, but the footer element is more appropriate in such cases, and no nav element is necessary for those links.
How to use the <nav> element?
The <nav> element should surround blocks of content that act as links to other parts of the site:
Where to use the <nav> element?
The spec hasn’t completely been defined at the moment but my understanding is that you should use the <nav> element anywhere that you would consider to be the main way that a user navigates thoughout your site, these might include.
- Primary navigation
- Secondary navigation (or navigation that supplements the current content)
- Pagination (previous/next buttons)
At the moment it is a little open to how the author of the HTML document interprets the specification and I’m sure over the next year or so it will become common practice to use the <nav> element in a specific way. Maybe using the <nav> element for site wide navigation will become the default method for using this element but for now I’ll be using it wherever there are large chunks of navigation present within a document.