Learning Hypertext Markup Language--most commonly known by its acronym, HTML--is like learning any new language, computer or human. Most students first immerse themselves in examples. Think how adept you'd become if Mom, Dad, your brothers, and sisters all spoke fluent HTML. Studying others is a natural way to learn, making learning easy and fun. Our advice to anyone wanting to learn HTML is to get out there on the World Wide Web with a suitable browser and see for yourself what looks good, what's effective, what works for you. Examine others' HTML source files and ponder the possibilities. Mimicry is how many of the current webmasters have learned the language.
Imitation can take you only so far, though. Examples can be both good and bad. Learning by example will help you talk the talk, but not walk the walk. To become truly conversant, you must learn how to use the language appropriately in many different situations. You could learn that by example, if you live long enough.
Remember, too, that computer-based languages are more explicit than human languages. You've got to get the HTML syntax correct, or it won't work. Then, too, there is the problem of "standards." Committees of academics and industry experts try to define the proper syntax and usage of a computer language like HTML. The problem is that HTML browser manufacturers like Netscape and Microsoft choose what parts of the standard they will use and which parts they will ignore. They even make up their own parts, which may eventually become standards.
To be safe, the better way to become fluent in HTML is through a comprehensive language reference: a resource that covers the language syntax, semantics, and variations in detail, and helps you distinguish between good and bad usage.
There's one more step leading to fluency in a language. To become a true master of HTML, you need to develop your own style. That means knowing not only what is appropriate, but what is effective. Layout matters. A lot. So does the order of presentation within a document, between documents, and between document collections.
Our goal in writing this book is to help you become fluent in HTML, fully versed in the language's syntax, semantics, and elements of style. We take the natural learning approach with examples: good ones, of course. We cover every element of the currently accepted version (3.2) of the language in detail, as well as all of the current "extensions" supported by the popular HTML browsers, explaining how each element works and how it interacts with all the other elements.
And, with all due respect to Strunk and White, throughout the book we give you suggestions for style and composition to help you decide how best to use the language and accomplish a variety of tasks, from simple online documentation to complex marketing and sales presentations. We'll show you what works and what doesn't; what makes sense to those who view your pages, and what might be confusing.
In short, this book is a complete guide to creating documents using HTML, starting with basic syntax and semantics, and finishing with broad style directions that should help you create beautiful, informative, accessible documents that you'll be proud to deliver to your browsers.
We wrote this book for anyone interested in learning and using HTML, from the most casual user to the full-time design professional. We don't expect you to have any experience in the language before picking up this book. In fact, we don't even expect that you've ever browsed the World Wide Web, although we'd be surprised if you haven't at least experimented with this technology. Being connected to the Internet is not necessary to use this book, but if you're not connected, this book becomes like a travel guide for the homebound.
The only things we ask you to have are a computer, a text editor that can create simple ASCII text files, and copies of the latest, leading World Wide Web browsers--Netscape and Internet Explorer. Because HTML is stored in a universally accepted format--ASCII text--and because the language is completely independent of any specific computer, we won't even make an assumption about the kind of computer you're using. However, browsers do vary by platform and operating system, which means your HTML documents can and often do look quite different depending on the computer and version of browser. We will explain how certain language features are used by various popular browsers as we go through the book, paying particular attention to how they are different.
If you are new to HTML, the World Wide Web, or hypertext documentation in general, you should start by reading Chapter 1, HTML and the World Wide Web. In it, we describe how all the World Wide Web technologies come together to create webs of interrelated documents.
If you are already familiar with the Web, but not HTML specifically, or if you are interested in the new features in HTML, start by reading Chapter 2, HTML Quick Start. This chapter is a brief overview of the most important features of the language and serves as a roadmap to how we approach the language in the remainder of the book.
Subsequent chapters deal with specific language features in a roughly top-down approach to HTML. Read them in order for a complete tour through the language, or jump around to find the exact feature you're interested in.