Note: This interview is 6 years old. It was part of a training resource for beginner interactive media students. Though some of the technology has changed, many of the principles discussed are still relevant.
- Websites are coded in HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language)
- Websites should be coded according to HTML standards
- Different website authoring tools bring their own “flavor” to the HTML they create
- Markup languages controls the presentation and appearance of text
- Web browsers read HTML code to present the web page content
- CSS (cascading style sheets) are used to control the appearance and positioning of page elements
REECE: I’ve got John with me… an absolute expert. He calls himself Internet Guru – that’s his business. How long have you’ve been programming for John… or building websites?
JOHN: I’ve been building websites for probably 12 years now.
REECE: 12 years, so you’ve seen a real change over that time because I have imagined that when you started you were actually hand-coding using HTML.
JOHN: When I started we were hand-coding in HTML version 1?
JOHN: Actually I think it was version 0.9 at that time and it’s now up to version 4. (Ed note: now version 5 – JP)
JOHN: It was hand-coding using a text editor and a lot of trial and error to get the pages to look the way you wanted them to.
REECE: And then gradually, obviously, authoring software came out and now, really, I can do a whole website and I don’t even have to know anything about HTML. Do you think it’s important that I do?
JOHN: I think it is. You see a lot of mistakes made in websites where people have used an authoring tool and they don’t understand what they are doing. Different authoring tools apply their own flavour of HTML to the way pages are constructed and sometimes the way they do it isn’t correct, it doesn’t fit into this HTML standards, the code could be bloated and so the page download is too large or in some cases, like with a program like Front Page, where it actually uses code but just isn’t use any longer and creates sites using redundant code, or propriety tags, that don’t work on all web browsers.
REECE: So where did the HTML come from?
JOHN: The idea of HTML was to create a simple markup language which allowed someone to write a document and give it to someone else. They could open it in a piece of software, which was later became known as a browser, and it would appear pretty much the same as it did on the other person’s page.
REECE: This is a thing about it, this is not really a programming language because we still got English in it, effectively, but around it we’ve got these tags which indicate what happens to the text, isn’t it?.
JOHN: Yes. It’s what’s known as a markup language. What it’s doing is controlling the presentation and the appearance of the text information that is in the page. Likewise, it is controlling the positioning and the sizing of pictures and, more recently, the positioning and sizing of video and flash and other multimedia contents.
REECE: Yes, so in getting down to it, it’s the bolds and italics, so the size of the font itself, and the style of the font is all indicated in those tags.
JOHN: You can do that within the tags.
JOHN: More recently it has been a move away from using HTML to control the appearance of the document and now they are using cascading style sheets or CSS. The advantage of CSS is that it creates more succinct code. The code is lighter, it allows you to control the formatting of an entire website by changing one CSS rather to having the change every single web page. However, there are still plenty of websites out there which use the older fonts tags, bold tags, those sort of things, but the recommendation now is to not so much to use those tags, but using style sheets instead.
REECE: But still irrespective, you going to have to know what HTML is to do that with the cascading style sheets or not
JOHN: Yes exactly. Knowledge of HTML is very important .