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HTML for DesignersHypertext Markup Language, commonly known as HTML, is nothing more than a set of layout codes added to ASCII text that specify the way the text is displayed. Moreover, HTML commands add references that link a document to other Web documents or e-mail addresses. HTML is derived from the coded markup language SGML, which stands for Standard General Markup Language.
The words language and code may give the impression that HTML is a programming language, a description that immediately creates resistance and may frighten off many a Web designer. Actually, HTML is simply a markup language in which logical codes, always placed between angle brackets (< >), determine the appearance of the Web page and all the text it contains.
Users of the page-layout program QuarkXPress who have worked with layout programming software will be quite familiar with these codes.
In short, do not be put off by the seeming complexity of Web vocabulary. Designing and laying out Web pages using HTML is definitely not a high-tech task that requires learning all sorts of codes by heart.
The HTML editors currently available make the work much more pleasant without sacrificing quality. For those who refuse to type in a single line of code, there are even WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) HTML editors available. This book offers examples of what you can do with Web site creation programs such as Adobe GoLive and its competitors, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage, which fulfill the WYSIWYG promise on the Web.
Learn the Basics to Get Better ResultsWhy, you may ask, don't I restrict myself to this WYSIWYG category of layout programs? Well, there are two important reasons for learning HTML theory. First, having a sound basic knowledge of the HTML commands is an advantage during the layout process. If you understand the structure and underlying principles of a technology, you can gauge and perform your actions better. Compare it to driving a car: If you know what the clutch does, you can learn how to use the clutch pedal faster and more efficiently. The same applies to creating a document using HTML codes. The second reason HTML knowledge is indispensable lies in the WYSIWYG editors themselves. These software programs do not support the complete arsenal of HTML commands, so the designer must gain extensive knowledge of HTML and its conventions if he wants to create a well-structured, creative Web site.
HTML's Ancestor, SGMLThe foundation of HTML was formed on the basic principles of the general markup language SGML. This language takes into account that on the Internet, all computers and operating systems must display information uniformly. Whether you have a computer that runs on Microsoft Windows operating system, an Apple Macintosh, or a Unix-based system, the Internet knows no boundaries in terms of system diversity-one of the reasons for the explosive growth of the Web.
The two pillars of the Web are HTML and TCP/IP, the Internet's communication protocol that handles data transfer in the form of "packets." Since system independence was a must from early on, the creators of HTML scrounged around for a standard at the International Standards Organization, or ISO, Institute-and SGML was its contribution. ISO is known for its certification activities-for example, the ISO 9000 and goof norms-but the institute has also contributed a large number of standards to the world, and one of them is SGML. This general markup language is used by numerous American government agencies to structure documents.
SGML is also found in page-layout programs such as Adobe FrameMaker. SGML's logical construction served as the starting point for the developers of the HTML code set, since it was an ideal basis for system-independent markup. The installed fonts and basic settings of a Web message recipient's system have little or nothing to do with the Web itself, but a markup language that makes logical formatting a priority is a must. Mind you, the reader is the one who determines the display font and the font size in her browser. If you could specify that a Web page must be read using Helvetica, what about the poor users who have other fonts installed instead? This limitation is the price we pay for the total system independence of the Internet and, specifically, Web protocol. The universality of the Web allows everyone to choose their own settings and fonts so they can more easily read the information. Until documentsharing programs such as Adobe Acrobat are used on all computer platforms, we will have to go on living with this restriction.
Code LanguageHTML files are pure text or ASCII documents to which markup labels or "tags" have been added. Tags can be divided into two categories:
- "Styles," for the visual layout
- "Anchors," for references to other HTML documents, audio or film clips, e-mail addresses, and the like.
The methodology was discussed as early as 1945 by Vannevar Bush and later worked out by Alan Kay and his associates in the Xerox PARC laboratory. Obviously, tags are not displayed on Web pages viewed on a browser, since visible markup codes would disrupt the legibility of the text. To make a distinction between the textual ASCII text and the coded ASCII text, all markup codes are placed between two angle brackets-the less-than (<) and greater-than (>) characters.
This technique has been used for years by typesetting systems and was even built into word processors such as WordStar, one of the first word processors from the early '80s. QuarkXPress also uses its own markup tags, with which copy can be precoded in a word processor.
Solo and in PairsHTML tags are generally used in pairsone tag to turn the instruction "on" and a second tag to turn it off. The latter can be recognized by the slash (
/) character placed immediately after the first angle bracket. If you want to display a bit of text in bold, in HTML it must be coded as follows:
The first tag,
<B>, indicates that the text that follows must be displayed in bold. The second tag,
</B>, cancels this style so that the text following it is displayed as normal (unformatted) text. Without the closing tag, all the remaining ASCII text on the page would be displayed in bold.
Clearly, it's a must to create a Web page with precision-tracking down an incorrect or missing markup label can be quite a chore. It's just as it was with photographic typesetting in the past: If the typesetter forgot to cancel the typesetting instruction "font corps 24" with a second instruction, an endless roll of paper (or, even costlier, a roll of film) came out of the developing machine and would have to be thrown out immediately. Fortunately, if incorrect codes are entered while creating an HTML page, the designer can still check the page by opening the Web browser.
Complex HTML pages that contain lists and tables may require a lot of searching. The huge number of tags that go into forming a table means that you quickly lose any overview of the table, and one incorrect revision can create serious problems. It always helps to insert comments tags (<!-->), which are invisible on the actual Web page, at crucial places within your coding to explain formatting details....