What Is HTML?

Hypertext Markup Language explained for non-web developers

Web Coding with HTML

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HTML, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language, is the primary markup language used to structure content on the web. Every single web page on the internet has at least some HTML markup included in its source code, and most websites are comprised of many HTML or HTM files.

The language rules that HTML follow describe to a web browser how to display the text that makes up the web page. Without HTML to structure the content on the page, text would appear stale and without form, with no color, tables, formatting, lists, headings, etc.

Whether or not you intend to build a website is irrelevant. Knowing what HTML is, how it came to exist, and the basics of how the markup language is constructed, goes to show the amazing versatility of this basic website architecture and how it continues to be a major part of how we view the web.

If you're online, then you've come across at least a few instances of HTML, probably without even realizing it.

HTML is spoken with each letter pronounced, like aitch-tee-em-el.

Who Invented HTML?

HTML was created in 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee, the official creator, and founder of what we now know as the World Wide Web.

He came up with the idea of sharing information no matter where a computer was located, through the use of hyperlinks (links that connect one resource to another), HTTP (a communication protocol for web servers and web users), and the URL (a streamlined address system for every web page on the internet).

HTML v2.0 was released in November of 1995, after which were seven others to form HTML 5.2 in December of 2017. It's published as a W3C Recommendation.

What Does HTML Look Like?

HTML code on Lifewire.com

HTML is a combination of text, like what you see here on this page, and items called tags. HTML tags are words or acronyms surrounded by angle brackets (< and >), like you see above.

An HTML tag is used by the web browser to know what to do with an item on the page. If a block of text is surrounded in a tag meant for paragraphs, then the browser will understand that the developer of the page wants those sentences to appear as a paragraph. The same is true for the page's header area and the body of the web page.

Other HTML tags might describe the color of the text or the position of an image. Tags can also be used to list items with bullets or numbers, to link to other web pages and files, and to make something bold or underlined, or organized into a table. HTML is also useful for writing symbols and embedding images, videos, and forms directly onto a web page.

All HTML tags are written as pairs so that the browser knows what to contain within any specific tag. For an HTML tag to be used correctly, there must be both a beginning and an ending tag, like this:

<tag>content</tag>

You can think of it like an opening and closing statement, or like an uppercase letter to start a sentence and a period to end it. However, instead of displaying the tags, the browser hides the markup language since it's really just instructions, not something readers need to see.

For example, to explain the heading that starts the section below, there's an opening tag that reads <h3> and a closing one that looks like this: </h3> (but those details are hidden from view). The text written within those parameters describe how the heading should appear once the page is fully loaded in the browser.

HTML tags can even be nested inside of other tags, like to create a hyperlink inside a paragraph, or bold text in a heading.

How to Learn HTML

HTML is said to be one of the easiest languages to learn because a lot of it is human readable and relatable. You can start writing your own HTML web pages using a regular text editor, but there are also dedicated HTML editors that might do the job better.

One of the most popular places to learn HTML online is W3Schools. You can find tons of examples of various HTML elements and even apply those concepts with hands-on exercises and HTML quizzes. There's information on formatting, comments, CSS, JavaScript, file paths, tag attributes, symbols, colors, forms, and more.

Codecademy and Khan Academy are two other free HTML resources worth checking out.