Introduction to HTML

In this Introduction to HTML, we will discuss the basics about HTML and how is it useful in web publishing.

What is HTML?

HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language, is the language used to write at least a portion of nearly every web page online. It uses a bracketed markup system to tell your browser how pages are supposed to look and behave. This relatively simple set of codes is universal to every browser in use today, from Internet Explorer to Firefox to Apple's Safari.

HTML is extended and, in some cases, replaced with other coding on web pages to do even more or to perform specific functions, like XML, Flash, or PHP. Each is compatible with recent versions of HTML.

HTML is an open-source language controlled by a private central authority, the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. Located in Switzerland, this group has representatives from over four hundred key businesses who are major players in the online world. The W3C works primarily by consensus to determine exactly how HTML should function, though occasionally members who don't agree will do things their own way (Microsoft did that nearly a decade ago with some of its coding in FrontPage, though they have since made FrontPage's code more standardized.)

The Origin of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and HTML

The Internet came about primarily from a need for the U.S. government's military research wing and scientists to easily correspond and share complex data. In 1968, ARPANET was the first packet-switching system, and though it did not use the hypertext (clickable text) that we are used to today, it did quickly and simply deliver "packets" of data from one computer remotely to another.

This system spread quickly throughout the academic institutions of America, and to other science centers, like CERN in Switzerland, where Tim Berners-Lee was one of the first computer researchers to use hypertext in linking documents together. Basing his ideas on the publishing markup language SGML, he came up with the idea of a markup language to make it easier to read documents, which led to the invention of the earliest form of HTML. Berners-Lee is also credited with creating the first browser to read HTML, WorldWideWeb.

Berners-Lee published information and links to his new invention on the alt.hypertext newsgroup, leading to the first use of the World Wide Web - the specific part of the Internet that focuses on readable hypertext documents rather than information packets. Today, less than twenty years afterward, the World Wide Web is ubiquitous, and the W3C is located in Switzerland largely due to Berners-Lee's importance in the early development of HTML.

How HTML Works

In any browser, go to your favorite website, and look in the toolbar for View | Source (or Page Source). All the gibberish you see when you select this is HTML, but you won't start with something this complex!

Instead, all you really need to know in the beginning are the following things:

  • <> and </> always contain markup language tags; the first one starts a section, the second one ends it.
  • Tags are used to denote elements: <b>Hello, world!<b/> includes the text "Hello, world!" as a bolded text element. So, Start tag-element -- Content -- End-tag is the order of HTML coding, every single time.
  • Attributes provide extra information inside a tag. For instance, the <img> tag signifies that you are starting an image here. But you must add information inside the start tag to give information about which image, sizing, whether you need a border, etc. So:
  • <img src="somepicture.jpg">

    (<img> is one of a handful of tags that don't require either an element or an end tag, by the way.) In the above example, "src" is the attribute.

  • An attribute is defined by a variable. Variables, in HTML 4.01 and the still-in-testing HTML 5.0, are always enclosed in quotes. In the above example, the variable is "somepicture.jpg".

So the whole tag says, in plain English: Insert an image here, from the source file "somepicture.jpg".

Every single piece of markup in HTML is written in this manner. All you have to learn is what the tags are, how they work, and when and where to use them.

What This Tutorial Will Teach You

In this HTML tutorial, you'll go from the very basic parts of HTML to more advanced topics: tables, hosting, design, how to get domains, and even touch upon how search engines work and what you can do to get listed in them. Make sure you do each tutorial in order, as each one will teach you something that builds on a previous tutorial. With this Introduction to HTML, I hope you are charged up to quickly proceed and learn further.

I would love to hear from you giving me constructive suggestions for improvement to these tutorials.