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Getting started with HTML


This is a short introduction to writing HTML. What is HTML? It is a special kind of text document that is used by Web browsers to present text and graphics. The text includes markup tags such as <p> to indicate the start of a paragraph, and </p> to indicate the end of a paragraph. HTML documents are often referred to as “Web pages”. The browser retrieves Web pages from Web servers that thanks to the Internet, can be pretty much anywhere in World.

Many people still write HTML by hand using tools such as NotePad on Windows, or TextEdit on the Mac. This guide will get you up and running. Even if youdon’t intend to edit HTML directly and instead plan to use an HTML editor such as Netscape Composer, or W3C’s Amaya, this guide will enable you to understand enough to make better use of such tools and how to make your HTML documents accessible on a wide range of browsers. Once you are comfortable with the basics of authoring HTML, you may want to learn how to add a touch of style using CSS, and to go on to try out features covered in my page on advanced HTML

P.S. a good way to learn is to look at how other people have coded their html pages. To do this, click on the “View” menu and then on “Source”. On some browsers, you instead need to click on the “File” menu and then on “View Source”. Try it with this page to see how I have applied the ideas I explain below. You will find yourself developing a critical eye as many pages look rather a mess under the hood!

For Mac users, before you can save a file with the “.html” extension, you will need to ensure that your document is formatted as plain text. For TextEdit, you can set this with the “Format” menu’s “Make Plain Text” option.

This page will teach you how to-
  • -start with a title
  • -add headings and paragraphs
  • -add emphasis to your text
  • -add images
  • -add links to other pages
  • -use various kinds of lists

If you are looking for something else, try the advanced HTML page.

Start with a title

Every HTML document needs a title. Here is what you need to type:

<title>My first HTML document</title>

Change the text from “My first HTML document” to suit your own needs. The title text is preceded by the start tag <title> and ends with the matching end tag </title>. The title should be placed at the beginning of your document.

To try this out, type the above into a text editor and save the file as “test.html”, then view the file in a web browser. If the file extension is “.html” or “.htm” then the browser will recognize it as HTML. Most browsers show the title in the window caption bar. Add headings and paragraphs

If you have used Microsoft Word, you will be familiar with the built in styles for headings of differing importance. In HTML there are six levels of headings. H1 is the most important, H2 is slightly less important, and so on down to H6, the least important.

Here is how to add an important heading:

<h4>An important heading</h4>

and here is a slightly less important heading:

<h4>A slightly less important heading</h4>

Each paragraph you write should start with a <p> tag. The </p> is optional, unlike the end tags for elements like headings. For example:

<p>This is the first paragraph.</p>

<p>This is the second paragraph.</p>

Adding a bit of emphasis

You can emphasize one or more words with the tag, for instance:

This is a really <em>interesting</em> topic!

Adding interest to your pages with images

Images can be used to make your Web pages distinctive and greatly help to get your message across. The simple way to add an image is using the <img> tag. Let’s assume you have an image file called “peter.jpg” in the same folder/directory as your HTML file. It is 200 pixels wide by 150 pixels high.

<img src="peter.jpg" width="200" height="150">

The src attribute names the image file. The width and height aren’t strictly necessary but help to speed the display of your Web page. Something is still missing! People who can’t see the image need a description they can read in its absence. You can add a short description as follows:

My friend Peter

The alt attribute is used to give the short description, in this case “My friend Peter”. For complex images, you may need to also give a longer description. Assuming this has been written in the file “peter.html”, you can add one as follows using the longdesc attribute:

My friend Peter

You can create images in a number of ways, for instance with a digital camera, by scanning an image in, or creating one with a painting or drawing program. Most browsers understand GIF and JPEG image formats, newer browsers also understand the PNG image format. To avoid long delays while the image is downloaded over the network, you should avoid using large image files.

Generally speaking, JPEG is best for photographs and other smoothly varying images, while GIF and PNG are good for graphics art involving flat areas of color, lines and text. All three formats support options for progressive rendering where a crude version of the image is sent first and progressively refined.

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