This introductory article from my Computers and Internet pack provides a brief overview of what HTML is and what it is used for. It is not an actual tutorial that shows you how to “do” HTML; that particular topic will be covered in later articles. However, it does explain some information about the advent of the World Wide Web and traces the development of HTML up to the beginning of the 21st century.
Presentation of HTML
HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is a language called “marking” (from “structuring” or “markup”) whose role is to formalize writing a document with formatting tags. The tags can indicate how it must be submitted on paper, and they also establish links with other documents. HTML allows reading documents on the Internet from different machines, thanks to the HTTP protocol, allowing network access to documents identified by unique addresses known as URLs.
Called World Wide Web (WWW) or simply Web (English word meaning canvas) the “virtual canvas” formed by the various documents (called “web pages”) linked them via hyperlinks. The pages are usually organized around a home, playing a central point in navigation using these links. This set of Web pages linked by hyperlinks around a home page is commonly called a website. The Web is a huge living archive that consists of a myriad of websites offering different kinds of pages that may contain formatted text, images, sounds, video, or other types of media.
The Web is composed of web pages stored on servers, i.e. machines connected to the Internet which are permanently responsible for providing the web pages requested. Each of these web pages and more generally any online resource (image, video, music, animation, etc.) is tagged with a unique address called a Universal Resource Locator or URL. The key for navigation within web pages is the browser, i.e. the client software that can interrogate the server, request the correct files, and lay out the information through the instructions on the HTML page.
The major browsers currently used on the Internet include the following:
- Mozilla Firefox
- Microsoft Internet Explorer
- Netscape Navigator
HTML is a standard
It is important to understand that HTML is a standard. Specifically, these recommendations have been published by an international consortium: the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The official HTML specifications therefore describe not only the “instructions” of HTML, but also their implementation, i.e. their translation into computer programs to enable the consultation of Web pages regardless of operating system or the architecture of the computer.
However, it is also important to note that there is always room for interpretation on the part of browsers, which explains why the same Web page may appear differently from one browser to another. Moreover, sometimes certain kinds of software can add slightly different HTML instructions that are not part of the W3C specifications. Thus web pages containing this type of instruction can be perfectly displayed on one browser but may be totally or partially illegible on the other, hence the need to create web pages complying with the recommendations of the W3C to allow access by the many.
Versions of HTML
HTML was developed by Tim Berners-Lee, then a researcher at CERN from 1989. This organization officially announced the creation of the Web on Usenet in August 1991. However, it is only from 1993 that we consider the state of HTML advanced enough to talk about language (HTML is symbolically called HTML 1.0). The browser used at the time was called NCSA Mosaic.
RFC 1866, dated November 1995 was the first official version of HTML, i.e. HTML 2.0. After the brief appearance of an HTML 3.0, which was never released officially, the HTML 3.2 standard became official on January 14 1997. The most significant thing about HTML 3.2 was the standardization of tables and a large number of other elements that facilitated the presentation of data on web pages.
On 18 December 1997, HTML 4.0 was published. Version 4.0 of HTML standardized and included things like style sheets and managers (frames). The HTML version 4.01 appeared on 24 December 1999 and made some minor changes to HTML 4.0.