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HTML: The Definitive Guide

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HTML and the World Wide Web
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1.3 HTML: What It Is

HTML is a document-layout and hyperlink-specification language. It defines the syntax and placement of special, embedded directions that aren't displayed by the browser, but tell it how to display the contents of the document, including text, images, and other support media. The language also tells you how to make a document interactive through special hypertext links, which connect your document with other documents--on either your computer or someone else's, as well as with other Internet resources, like FTP and Gopher.

HTML Standards and Extensions

The basic syntax and semantics of HTML are defined in the HTML standard, currently Version 3.2. HTML is a young language, barely five years old, but already in its third iteration. Don't be too surprised if another version appears before you finish reading this book. Given the pace of these standards matters, one never knows when or if a new standard version will come to fruition.

Browser developers rely upon the HTML standard to program the software that formats and displays common HTML documents. Authors use the standard to make sure they are writing effective, correct HTML documents. Nonetheless, commercial forces have pushed developers to add into their browsers--Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, in particular--nonstandard extensions meant to improve the language. Many times, these extensions are implementations of future standards still under debate. Extensions can foretell future standards because so many people use them.

In this book, we explore in detail the syntax, semantics, and idioms of HTML 3.2, along with the many important extensions that are supported in the latest versions of the most popular browsers, so that any aspiring HTML author can create fabulous documents with a minimum of effort.

Standards Organizations

Like many popular technologies, HTML started out as an informal specification used by only a few people. As more and more authors began to use the language, it became obvious that more formal means were needed to define and manage--to standardize--HTML's features, making it easier for everyone to create and share documents.

The World Wide Web Consortium

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was formed with the charter to define the standard versions of HTML. Members are responsible for drafting, circulating for review, and modifying the standard based on cross-Internet feedback to best meet the needs of the many.

Beyond HTML, the W3C has the broader responsibility of standardizing any technology related to the World Wide Web; they manage the HTTP standard, as well as related standards for document addressing on the Web. And they solicit draft standards for extensions to existing Web technologies, such as internationalization of the HTML standard.

If you want to track HTML development and related technologies, contact the W3C at http://www.w3.org/. Several Internet newsgroups are devoted to the Web, each a part of the comp.infosystems.www hierarchy. These include comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html and comp.infosystems.www.authoring.images.

The Internet Engineering Task Force

Even broader in reach than W3C, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is responsible for defining and managing every aspect of Internet technology. The World Wide Web is just one small part under the purview of the IETF.

The IETF defines all of the technology of the Internet via official documents known as Requests For Comment, or RFCs. Individually numbered for easy reference, each RFC addresses a specific Internet technology--everything from the syntax of domain names and the allocation of IP addresses to the format of electronic mail messages.

To learn more about the IETF and follow the progress of various RFCs as they are circulated for review and revision, visit the IETF home page, http://www.ietf.org/.


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