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HTML in seven lessons

This chapter provides and overview of the hypertext markup (HTML) language.

The hypertext markup language (HTML) is used to format text documents delivered by Web servers. Using HTML you can format documents in such a was to communicate your ideas both in words as well as pictures.

Entire tomes have been written about HTML. Subjectively speaking, HTML has to be one of the World Wide Web's more popular subjects. Since information about HTML is so common on the Internet, this chapter will only provide an outline of the topic. You are encouraged to read the formal, evolving standard (Tim Berners-Lee and Dan Connolly, ed., "HyperText Markup Language (HTML)"), participate in the Usenet newsgroup comp.infosystems.www.html for the latest information, and peruse the See Also references at the end of this section for more information.

Since the Web employs the client/server model, there is little control over the fonts and styles of formatted text at the client end. Therefore, HTML provides logical rather than stylistic formatting capabilities. Put another way, HTML files are simple ASCII files containing rudimentary "tags" describing the content of a document. HTML's purpose is not to imitate or mimic a word processor; HTML was originally based on the standardized generalized markup language (SGML), and SGML is used to provide a logical structure to files. This logical structure is intended to allow readers (as well as computers) to locate and interpret types of information in a document. For example, the logical structure may easily bring out types of information like:

Unlike SGML, HTML provides a mechanism for connecting (linking) multiple documents together. This linking technique, first articulated by Vannevar Bush in 1945, represents the "hypertext" feature of the hypertext markup language.

As the use of HTML is becoming more widespread, there is a greater and greater demand for HTML tags describing a document's stylistic elements as well as document's content. This has resulted in tags used to center text on a page, make images bigger or smaller, define how lists of items are rendered, etc. This demand for formatting tags stems from people who believe that the presentation of an idea is just as important (if not more important) as the idea itself; "The medium is the message."

This demand for formatting tags has also generated "non-standard" HTML codes only rendered by a few WWW browsers. Netscape is the most notable of these browsers. These enhanced HTML codes are not necessarily bad. In fact, used correctly, these codes can be used to create quite stunning electronic documents.

The pages following will only elaborate on the basic HTML codes, but your decision to use enhanced, WWW browser-specific HTML codes should be based on your intended audience. If you know your readership is using a particular WWW browser, then by all means, put your best foot forward and use those specialized tags. This may be the case when you are writing for internal corporate readers who are expected to use the supported software.

On the other hand, if your readership is using a wide variety of WWW browser applications including text-based browsers or unknown browsers, then it behooves you to compose your documents in such a way that you don't alienate some of your intended audience with unreadable documents, and don't compose your documents so that their meaning is lost if the reader is not using a particular browser.

  1. Basic HTML tags
  2. Creating hypertext links
  3. Logical tags
  4. Stylistic tags
  5. List tags
  6. Incorporating graphics with the image tag

See Also

  1. "Guides to Writing HTML Documents" - "These guides are about writing style, which HTML constructs to use when, when to divide up documents into multiple parts, etc. Also see information on the HTML language itself, learning HTML, editors, and converters." <URL:>

  2. "ANSI/ISO 8859-1 Coded Character Set" - "This list, sorted numerically, is derived from ANSI/ISO 8859-1 8-bit single-byte coded graphic character set." <URL:>

  3. Bill Spurlock, "HTML Writers Guild Website" - The Guild provides information resources for members in the form of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) and answers to those questions. FAQs are especially helpful to new Guild members and beginners in the art of Web authoring. <URL:>

  4. David Siegel, "David Siegel's High Five" - This site demonstrates what can be done with HTML and Netscapisms. <URL:>

  5. Eamonn Sullivan, "Crash course on writing documents for the Web" - "wrote this to help people in PC Week Labs to write documents for our web server. It's designed for someone who wants to put a page on the web but could care less about most of the technical details and doesn't want to read a book. I hope it's helpful." <URL:>

  6. Eric Tilton, "Composing Good HTML" - "As the Web continues to explode in its own inimitable fashion, it is becoming more and more important to write HTML that conforms to certain guidelines. Specifically, with the current diversity of clients for the Web (and we can only expect to see more!), it's become important to write HTML that will look good on any client, and not just on the specific client which the author may have access to." <URL:>

  7. Hakon W Lie, "HTML Style sheets" - "This page contains pointers to information about style sheets in the context of HTML. A mailing list,, has been started to host discussions on this topic. Feel free to add/delete yourself or browse the archive." <URL:>

  8. HTML Writers Guild, "Principles of Good HTML Design" - This is a list of ``general principles'' of quality HTML design. It is intended to educate HTML authors to the elements of good and bad HTML style. It does not seek to ``control'' Guild members, but rather to encourage them to adopt these practices in their everyday HTML construction. <URL:>

  9. Iam Graham, "HTML Documentation" <URL:>

  10. Jeff Barry, "The Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and the World-Wide-Web: Raising ASCII Text to a New Level of Usability." The Public Access Computer Systems Review, 5 no. 5 (1994):5-62 <URL:>

  11. John Price-Wilkin, "Using the World Wide-Wide Web to Deliver Complex Electronic Documents: Implications for Libraries." The Public Access Computer Systems Review, 5 no. 3 (1994): 5-21 <URL:>

  12. Larry Aronson, HTML Manual of Style (Ziff-Davis Press: Emerville, CA 1994) - This is one of the first HTML books to appear on the market.

  13. Laura Lemay, Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a Week (SAMS Publishing: Indianapolis, IN 1995) - This easy-to-read book is thorough and complete.

  14. Martin Ramsch, "iso8859-1 table" - [This is a list of the codes used to generate special characters in HTML.] <URL:>

  15. National Center for Supercomputing Applications, "A Beginner's Guide to URLs" <URL:>

  16. NCSA, "HTML Primer " <URL:>

  17. Robert Lentz, "Macintosh Web Programs and Utilties" <URL:>

  18. Tim Berners-Lee and Dan Connolly, ed., "HyperText Markup Language (HTML)" - "HTML is a markup language for hypertext which is understood by all WWW clients. Here we discuss the HTML language, i.e. its syntax and semantics, including information on the history of the language, status of the standard, and development issues." <URL:>

  19. Tom Magliery, "Mag's Big List of HTML Editors" <URL:>

  20. Tom Savola with Alan Westenbroek and Joseph Heck, Special Edition Using HTML (Que: Indianapolis, IN 1995) - This book, while rather expensive described in detail HTML as well as providing many pieces of software and documentation on its CD-ROM.

  21. Wm. Dennis Horn, "HTML Documents: A Mosaic Tutorial" <URL:>

  22. Yale Center for Advanced Instructional Media, "Yale C/AIM WWW Style Manual" - This is one of the more scholarly treatments of the subject. <URL:>

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This page was first published on September 26, 1995. Feel free to send comments.