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I'm trying to recreate an HTML page in Visualforce that has custom HTML tags (e.g. <mytag:blah name='todd'></mytag:blah>) which are grabbed via a JavaScript callout in the same page.

Salesforce doesn't seem to like these, erring "Unknown component mytag:blah".

Is there a simple way to get around this issue?

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Salesforce will not allow you to use tag in this format because value before colon : is reserved for package Namespace and value after colon : is for Visualforce Component's name. If you want, you will have to have that namespace and </apex:component> in org with name which would not be easier.

The only way you can do it change : with - or any symbol.

<apex:page >
    <tag-blah>Hello, this is my invention!</tag-blah>
</apex:page>

However, this is re-inventing of ReactJs

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