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Since the World Wide Web (the Web, for short) was created in 1990, people who wanted to put pages on the Web have had little control over what those pages would look like. In the beginning, authors could only specify structural aspects of their pages, for example, that some piece of text would be a heading or some other piece would be straight text. Also, there were ways to make text bold or italic, among a few other effects, but that's where their control ended.
In the scientific environments where the Web was born, people are more concerned with the content of their documents than the presentation. In a research report, the choice of type faces (or fonts, as we call them in this book) is of little importance compared to the scientific results that are reported. However, when authors outside the scientific environments discovered the Web, the limitations of Web document formats became a source of continuing frustration. Authors often came from a paper-based publication environment where they had full control of the presentation. They wanted to be able to make text red or black, make it look more spacedout or more squeezed, to center it or put it against the right margin, or anywhere else they wanted. Many Web designers come from a desktop publishing background, in which they can do all of these things, and more, to improve the appearance of printed material. They want the same capabilities when they design Web pages. However, such capabilities have been slow to develop - slow by Internet speed standards, that is. So designers have devised techniques to sidestep these limitations, but these techniques sometimes have unfortunate side effects. We discuss those techniques and their side effects later in this chapter.
This book is about a new method for designing Web pages. CSS works with HTML (the HyperText Markup Language), which is the primary document format on the Web. HTML describes the document's structure; that is, the roles the various parts of a document play. For example, a piece of text may be designated as a heading or a paragraph. HTML doesn't pay much attention to the document's appearance, and in fact it has only very limited capability to influence appearance. CSS, however, describes how these elements are to be presented to the reader of the document. Now, using CSS, you can better specify the appearance of your HTML pages as well as make your pages available to more Web users worldwide. The release of CSS greatly enhances the potential of HTML and the Web.
A style sheet is a set of stylistic guidelines that tell a browser how an HTML document is to be presented to users. With CSS, you can specify such styles as the size, color, and spacing of text, as well as the placement of text and images on the page. Plus a whole lot more.
A key feature of CSS is that style sheets can cascade. That is, several different style sheets can be attached to a document and all of them can influence the presentation of the document. In this way, the author can create a style sheet to specify how the page should look, while the reader can attach a personal style sheet to adjust the appearance of the page for human or technological limitations, such as poor eyesight or a personal preference for a certain font.
CSS is a simple language that can be read by humans - in contrast to some computer languages. Perhaps even more important, however, is that CSS is easy to write. All you need to know is a little HTML as well as some basic desktop publishing terminology: CSS borrows from that terminology when expressing style. So those of you who have experience in desktop publishing should be able to grasp CSS very quickly. But if you're new to HTML, desktop publishing, and/or Web page design, don't despair. You are likely to find CSS surprisingly easy to grasp. The book includes a brief review of basic HTML as well as tips on page design.
To understand how revolutionary CSS is, you first need to understand Web page design as it has been and the problems that CSS can help solve. In this chapter, we begin with a brief tour of the Web and the problems Web designers and others have faced prior to the introduction of CSS. Then we quickly review the basics of HTML. For those of you who are already publishing on the Web, this all may be old news. For those of you who are new to the idea of designing Web pages, this should help put things in perspective. In Chapter 2, "Enter CSS," we step you through the basics of how to use CSS. In subsequent chapters, we delve more deeply into CSS, covering how you can specify the text, background, color, spacing, and more in the design of your Web pages.
The Web is a vast collection of documents on the Internet that are linked together via hyperlinks. The Internet consist of millions of computers worldwide that communicate electronically. A hyperlink is a predefined link between two documents. The hyperlinks allow a user to access documents on various Web servers without concern for where they are located. A Web server is a computer on the Internet that serves out Web pages on request. From a document on a Web server in California, the user is just one mouse click away from a document that is stored, perhaps, on a Web server in France. Hyperlinks are integral to the Web.Without them, there would be no Web.
Users gain access to the Web through a browser. A browser is a computer program that lets users browse, or "surf," the Web by fetching documents from Web servers and displaying them to the user. To move from one document to another, the user clicks on a highlighted (often underlined) word or image, that represents a hyperlink. The browser then retrieves the document that is at the other end of the hyperlink and displays it on the screen. For example, a user could be in a document about baroque music and click the highlighted words Johann Sebastian Bach which is linked to "Bach's home page" (on the Web, all celebrities - as well as everyone else who wants one - have a home page). When the browser has fetched Bach's home page (instantly in the best case) it will appear on the user's screen.
Development of the Web
The Web was invented around 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee with Robert Cailliau as a close ally. Both of them were then working at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics. Tim is a graduate of Oxford University and a long-time computer and software expert, and is now Director of the WorldWideWeb Consortium (W3C) an organization that coordinates the development of the Web. He also is a Principal Research Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT LCS).And he's our boss. Robert is a 20-year veteran at CERN, where he still works. It was Robert who organized the first Web conference in...
Since its introduction in 1996, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) has revolutionized web page design. Now, in 2004, most web pages use CSS, and many designers base their layouts entirely on CSS. To do so successfully requires a good understanding of how CSS works. The purpose of this book is to describe how designers can take full advantage of CSS 2.1, which is the newly released update of the specification.
CSS's journey from an idea to a specificationand then on to a specification designers can rely onhas been long and arderous. The creator of the CSS Zen Garden (described in Chapter 12, "From HTML extenstions to CSS") describes it this way:
Littering a dark and dreary road lay the past relics of browser-specific tags, incompatible DOMs, and broken CSS support. Today, we must clear the mind of past practices. Web enlightenment has been achieved thanks to the tireless efforts of folk like the W3C, WaSP and the major browser 1 creators.
Indeed, we believe the web is a more enlightened place now that CSS have matured to a stage where it can be used for advanced layouts in a range of browsers. This book will tell you all you need to know to start using CSS.
Posted March 28, 2001