Like many modern-day phenomena, HyperText Markup Language, or HTML, was something of a happy accident. Devised by the World Wide Web’s founder Tim Berners-Lee prior to his knighthood, HTML was intended to be one of numerous hypertext languages. This platform-agnostic language transferred and translated documents from servers anywhere on the internet, and initially, at least, it was pretty simplistic.
Not even the visionary Sir Tim predicted how popular HTML would become. Being able to assemble code in any text editor (including the iconic Notepad editor integrated into Microsoft Windows) removed the barriers previously associated with some programming languages. Because it could be used to structure rudimentary websites, people started coding in HTML over unintuitive (albeit better-known) early Nineties languages like PASCAL. Web browser developers added new functions to improve site appearance and interpret content more effectively, and the phenomenon of coding in HTML gained unstoppable momentum.
Today, HTML5 has become the industry standard for web pages and online applications. Sir Tim helped to set up the World Wide Web Consortium, overseeing this markup language’s development and approving new elements. These are the angular-bracketed instructions which serve as building blocks for code. W3C successfully developed 32 new elements for HTML5, taking the total number to 120. Some are acronyms: <ul> indicates an unordered list and <b> defines bold text (although the <b> tag has been deprecated since HTML4). Others are self-evident: <audio> indicates a sound file of some description, while <header> needs no introduction.
However, other elements are less obvious. Consider <legend> being used to define captions for <fieldset> elements, while <hr> denotes a thematic change. Meanwhile, a dozen established elements were dropped altogether in the language’s latest revision. The abandonment of teletype text and frames surprised nobody, but removing strikethrough text caused some controversy at the time. It was replaced by Cascading Style Sheets, meaning strikethrough characters (plus centred or large text) couldn’t be coded in HTML any longer. If the default <h1> to <h6> headers aren’t sufficient, CSS might be required to accomplish even basic formatting.
So how difficult is coding in HTML? Honestly? The answer to this is relative.
For reference and research purposes, a comprehensive list of active and deleted HTML elements is maintained on the W3schools.com/tags page, followed by related data:
- Its definition, plus instructions on when it should be used.
- A practical example of the tag in use.
- Which versions of major web browsers support this element (version X onwards
- Differences from previous HTML generations.
The W3schools website includes interactive examples of basic coding, enabling complete beginners to visualise the impact of changing headings or paragraph text within a document. There are also exercises, quizzes, and enrolment for the W3Schools Certified certificate, while its English-language origins make coding in HTML relatively easy for beginners.
Another way to immerse yourself in HTML involves viewing source text for familiar websites in order to see how they’re constructed. On a PC, load a web page and click the right mouse button to choose View Source or View Page Source. It’ll soon become obvious that hyperlinks are inserted using <a href=”domain name here”>, while header text is bookended by <h1> and </h1> brackets. Viewing page code identifies recurring themes regarding section breaks and text formatting. This helps newcomers to gain an understanding of how HTML really works.