The paper addresses some fundamental aspects about the use of standard constitutive equations to model strong discontinuities (cracks, shear bands, slip lines, etc.) in solid mechanics analyzes. The strong discontinuity analysis is introduced as a basic tool to derive a general framework, in which different families of constitutive equations can be considered, that allows to extract some outstanding aspects of the intended analysis. In particular, a link between continuum and discrete approaches to the strain localization phenomena is obtained. Applications to standard continuum damage and elastoplastic constitutive equations are presented. Relevant aspects to be considered in the numerical simulation of the problem (tackled in Part 2 of the work) are also presented.