HTML is one of the basic building blocks at the core of the concept we now call the World Wide Web.
With with the creation of software applications that create sites without the need for code knowledge, the questions are often asked, what is HTML, and what is the value in learning it?
What is HTML?
HTML is an acronym for Hypertext Markup Language. Markup languages date back to the 1960s developed by IBM to enable the sharing of machine readable documents.
Tim Berners-Lee began working with the concept of Hypertext in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s Berners-Lee would develop HTML as the computer language that would take the collection of wires and computers of the internet, and give them a more universal method of communications that would be known as the World Wide Web.
How HTML works
The definition of a scripting language is a set of instructions that are interpreted by an application. In the case of HTML the instructions are the HTML document, or web page, and the application used to interpret them is call the web browser.
The individual parts of the script in HTML are called tags. HTML is a series of tags that are integrated into a text document. When an ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) text file is created in notepad using HTML tags and saved as an HTML file, it becomes a web page.
Part of HTML and web page publishing is formatting text, and adding pictures and graphics to a document much like traditional word processing or desk top publishing that preceded it.
The other part of HTML is the magic of the hyperlink or hypertext. The hyperlink allows you to click on a link and go that designated URL, Uniform Resource Locator, the web address of whatever you are linking to with in your own site, or any site anywhere on the World Wide Web. Just as the core networking protocols of the internet represented a radical departure from how things were done prior to their development, the concept of hypertext was likewise a new way of delivering information.
Before HTML editors were widely used most webmasters simply typed HTML tags into notepad, and saved the resulting document as an HTML file. The resulting HTML file is the set of instructions that are interpreted by an application known as a browser.
HTML tags consist of a left angle bracket (<) a tag name and a right angle bracket (>). The end tag looks just like the start tag except a slash (/) precedes the text within the brackets. For example: <h1> Heading </h1>
Simply put, HTML tags tell the browser what to do.
Why even learn HTML?
In the late 1990s when web sites were first being built by a new breed of web users the main tool to create a web site was a text editor, like note pad.
Today millions of internet users create web sites with blogging sites using applications like WordPress. Online blogging tools and ready to use online content management systems allow you to express yourself and share ideas by creating a blog in a matter of minutes. The need to know anything about the technology that creates the web site is not necessary.
There are many WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editors, which are software application for creating and managing individual web pages. So the need to know anything about the underlying language of HTML is not necessary.
Editing HTML yourself, allows you more creative control, as well as technical control over the output. The more HTML your learn, the more you appreciate HTML editors. The more you use HTML editors, the more you'll be glad to have a basic understanding of HTML.
If your definition of a webmaster is someone who logs into some type of blogging software simply to publish comments and news, then understanding HTML may be more than you care to tackle.
Many years ago I taught various courses on web design. I had one introductory course that I wished everyone would take before they learn how to use any software or content management systems. We covered a variety of basic skills and concepts. Before we used any software of any kind to create a web page I had students use only notepad to create a webpage using HTML. It made the students appreciate how the software automated processes and managed the control of the website they were building, and gave them a better understanding of the features of the software.
Likewise, with most content management systems (CMS), the person creating the website needs very little technical skills for basic page creation. But if you understand exactly what the CMS is doing, it can help you in troubleshooting when you have problems.
In my current primary job I don't do much with web design. When someone is on vacation I need to pitch in and do some website editing. Most times the edits are very simple updates that are needed. I just download the page to my desktop and open it up in notepad to make the changes. Sometimes people get so dependent on the power tools, they don't even realize that there may be a simple way to do something.
I don't claim to be a master at scripting languages, but being able to open a script up in notepad to do some troubleshooting and editing has helped me solve many problems over the years.
HTML is a core building block to understanding scripting languages
If you want to do any type of webmastering where you are actually creating custom web pages or designing templates, learning HTML is part of understanding a small piece of a larger system.
Writing code and understanding coding concepts are skills that are developed over time. The more you learn about HTML, the easier it will be to learn other web languages. As you progress in your learning of web technologies you will encounter many scripting languages such as PHP, Perl , and Python. Even with the evolution of web languages, HTML is still a core component of web site development and is used along with other scripting languages to create web pages.
Tim Berners-Lee is currently the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) a vendor-neutral group of international members of Internet developers setting standards for the web including standards for HTML. Just about anything you could want to know about HTML can be found at the WC3 website.