HTML Basics:
About HTML

Title: Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101
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Why is HTML better than a word processing format for the Internet?

Advantages of HTML

  • Any browser can display any HTML document.

  • Text will wrap to fit the space available for display.

  • Hyperlinks make it easy to view related materials.

Disadvantages of HTML

  • Actual appearance of the page on the viewer's monitor or when printed is not known by the author and cannot be completely controlled by the author. (This drives many authors crazy!)

  • Older browsers do not understand newer HTML extensions.

  • The tag markups make the raw source code harder to read and to edit than a word processing document.

Where you are:
JegsWorks > Lessons > Web

Before you start...

Project 1: Browser BasicsTo subtopics

Project 2: HTML Basics
    HTML CodeTo subtopics
    About HTML
    What You Need
    Code by handTo subtopics
    FrontPage/FPXTo subtopics
    Images in HTMLTo subtopics
    FormattingTo subtopics
    TablesTo subtopics
    ConvertTo subtopics
    ExercisesTo subtopics


HTML standards

The rules for HTML grow and change constantly. Browsers must race to catch up. The organization W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) publishes recommendations (also called standards) for each version of HTML. The most current version is HTML 4.01. The next generation is XHTML 1.0 (EXtensible HyperText Markup Language).

New features are introduced with each new HTML Version. HTML 2.0 introduced forms and HTML 3.2 introduced tables.

With HTML 4.0 authors can take advantage of new features like:

  •   Cascading Stylesheets (CSS) to control and format all the parts of the page.
  •   JavaScript lets you write tiny computer programs that actually create parts of the page.
  •   Dynamic HTML (DHTML), combining CSS and JavaScript lets you write interactive pages that change based on what the user does. 

These advanced features are worth textbooks of their own and are not covered in HTML Basics. If you already have some knowledge of HTML, you might want to take a peek at my Cascading Stylesheets demo and my DHTML demo.

As new tags and methods are added, older features are eventually phased out and deprecated. This awkward word means that future HTML standards may not include the deprecated tag at all. Eventually browsers may not even recognize it. Thus, an HTML author has a problem with no perfect solution. Old code tags may eventually not work in newer browsers while older browsers do not understand the cool new features.

Page appearance

Working with web pages is different from working with printed documents. The author of an ordinary document on paper knows the size and color of the paper. He can make specific choices about the color and size of the text, width of the margins, where a page breaks, etc. He can know what the results will be. An HTML author cannot know exactly how the document will be displayed on the viewer's monitor. There are many factors involved.

The table below shows some of the things that will be different for different people who are viewing the same HTML page. These characteristics often make a difference in how an HTML document displays on a monitor.


Some Possibilities

Computer type

PC, Mac, main frame, hand-held…

Operating system

Windows (many different versions), System 7, Unix, Linux, OS X…

Monitor size

Desktop, hand-held, WebTV (a variety of sizes for each type)

Color depth

Gray scale, 16 colors, 256 colors, 16 million colors…

Screen resolution

640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, 640 x 332…

Window size

Full screen or any size smaller than that

Display hardware

Screen, speaker, Braille pad

Navigation hardware

Keyboard, mouse, voice, stylus


Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, Lynx…(a variety of versions for each)

Customized browser settings

Custom choices for the default fonts, font size, text color, background color, link colors, images shown or not, personal stylesheet

Scripting & plug-ins

The browser allows or does not allow JavaScript, Active X, Java applets, Flash plug-in, …

In theory, any browser can display any HTML document in a way that makes sense, though it may not be pretty. This will work if:

  • Author of the page followed HTML standards
  • Authors of the browser followed the same HTML standards

When these conditions are met, the different parts of the document are shown in a way that is suitable for the particular equipment and the viewer's personal needs. The page author does not have to worry about what equipment is used to view the page or what customized settings the browser has. Super!!

In reality, there are problems.

  • Non-standard code: HTML authors may use code that does something cool, but that is not in the HTML standard. Only certain browsers understand it. Sounds and video may not play unless additional programs have been installed.
  • Non-standard practice: HTML authors don't follow HTML standards well. They often try to achieve a certain look for the page by using HTML code for purposes besides what it was designed for. This results in problems for some viewers, sometimes minor and sometimes severe.

    Common problems:

    • Using tables for placement on the page >> text reading software gets confused
    • Setting text size small >>Text may be too small to read on some systems.
    • Setting text color but not background color >> Text may blend into the viewer's customized default background.
    • Setting page width >> In a small window the page may run out of sight to the right.
    • Using images for text or including information in an image >> Information is not available to a text-only browser like those used by blind people or if browser has images turned off.
  • Non-compliant browser: Browser creators do not stick to what the HTML standards call for. They add new bells and whistles that other browsers cannot handle. For example, IE added page transitions which make the page appear gradually in various ways. 
    Browsers may also fail to handle some standard HTML code correctly. For example, Netscape is infamous for having problems with nested tables (tables inside of tables), of which this site has many.
  • Customization:  Some people want to change the way their browser displays pages. They might like to see their own favorite font instead of what the page's author chose. They may set a particular background color or image. People with vision difficulties may need a really large font size or specific colors for text and background.

Creative minds have expanded what HTML can do, what browsers can do, and what computers can do. It is hard to keep things simple any more. So be forewarned - the HTML pages that you write may not work well for everyone. Keep it as simple as you can to let the most people use your page.

Default font

In most browsers for Windows, the default font is Times New Roman.  Non-Windows computers may not have this font. The browser will substitute its own default font.

H1 and P styles as shown by default in IE