The History of HTML
A markup language combines text as well as coded instructions on how to format that text and the term "markup" originates from the traditional practice of 'marking up' the margins of a paper manuscript with printer's instructions. Nowadays, however, if you mention the term 'markup' to any knowledgeable web author, the first thing they are likely to think of is 'HTML'.
So from whence came the stuff that web pages are made of?...
In the Beginning
HTML —which is short for H
anguage— is the official language of the World Wide Web and was first conceived in 1990. HTML is a product of SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) which is a complex, technical specification describing markup languages, especially those used in electronic document exchange, document management, and document publishing. HTML was originally created to allow those who were not specialized in SGML to publish and exchange scientific and other technical documents. HTML especially facilitated this exchange by incorporating the ability to link documents electronically using hyperlinks
. Thus the name Hyper
text Markup Language.
However, it was quickly realized by those outside of the discipline of scientific documentation that HTML was relatively easy to learn, was self contained and lent itself to a number of other applications. With the evolution of the World Wide Web, HTML began to proliferate and quickly spilled over into the mainstream.
Soon, companies began creating browsers —the software required to view an HTML document, i.e., a web page— and as they gained popularity it gave rise to competition and other web browsers. It may surprise some that back in late 1995, Netscape
—which now plays a distant second to the King Kong of browsers, Internet Explorer
Thus began the so-called 'browser wars' and, along with seeing who could implement more 'bells and whistles' than the other guy, browser makers also began inventing proprietary HTML elements
that only worked with their browsers. Some examples of these are the
tags (scrolling text) which originally only worked with Internet Explorer and the
tags (blinking text) which still only works with Gecko-based browsers such as Firefox
A side effect of all this competition was that HTML became fragmented and web authors soon found that their web pages looked fine in one browser but not in another. Hence it became increasingly difficult and time consuming to create a web page that would display uniformly across a number of different browsers. (This phenomenon remains to some extent to this very day.)
Meanwhile, an organization known as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C for short) was working steadily along in the background to standardize HTML. Several recommendations were published by the W3C during the late 1990s which represented the official versions of HTML and provided an ongoing comprehensive reference for web authors. Thus the birth of HTML 2.0 in September 1995, HTML 3.2 in January 1997 and HTML 4.01 in December 1999.
By now, Internet Explorer (IE) had eclipsed Netscape Navigator as the browser to use while surfing the net due to its superior capabilities but also largely due to the fact that the IE came bundled with the Windows operating system. Essentially when people bought computers using the Windows OS, it had the 'internet installed on it'. This tended to suit people just fine since the typical newcomer to computers was someone who was tentatively striking forth to take on this intimidating new-fangled technology that was crammed to the rafters with indecipherable acronyms, software help files that made no sense and buggy programs. Hence, the more 'instant' solutions this new technology offered, the better it was.
As the World Wide Web approached adulthood hosting a wide variety of would-be and professional web page authors, it became increasingly apparent that cyberspace was filling up with a lot of badly written HTML.
This was due to some laziness and inexperience but was also the product of another instant solution involving web authoring tools, most particularly WYSIWYG editors, which tended to produce bloated and messy source code. As the browser wars continued —although by now it was pretty much of a massacre— the lead browser had developed capabilities akin to a junkyard dog which could gobble up any half-baked web page that it came across. This was all very fine and well but the resources (program source code, RAM on the user's computer, etcetera) required to run a browser that can consume just about anything was exhorbitant compared to what could be. And as the market dictated the shape of things to come, future browsers were bound follow the lead dog thus encouraging more junk code to fill up the web.
To remedy this situation, the W3C came up with a more regimental form of HTML with the intention to create a rigid standard to which web authors were encouraged to conform. This was supporting an effort to eventually 'clean up' or streamline the World Wide Web and ultimately replace presentational elements
with another documentational structure known as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
. In theory, once this transformation occurred, the web would place less demand on the next generation of web browsers and most specifically it would accomodate the low processing power of new portable devices such as PDAs. Hence the birth of the next generation of HTML called XHTML
, the ' X ' representing that this version of HTML was based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language) instead of SGML.
So which should you use? HTML or XHTML?...