What is "HTML" Anyway?

By Vince Barnes

Do you know what it stands for? And Why?

Somebody recently told me they were so dumb they didn't even know what "html" meant.  There are a couple of things I think are wrong with that sentiment.  Firstly, dumb means unable to speak, though I think he meant lacking intelligence.  To my way of thinking, lacking speech doesn't imply lacking brainpower any more than blindness does! Secondly, lacking the knowledge of any particular thing doesn't imply a lack of brainpower.  In China, there are little children who know what chicken and rice is called in Chinese.  If you don't, you shouldn't feel bad — I bet they don't know what it's called in English!  All this having been said, there are still those who feel the need to know what certain Web related things mean.  If you already know, please read on anyway — I bet there's some piece of fascinating trivia in here you didn't know!

Let's start with the original question.  The easy answer is that html is the language of web pages.  The trouble is that's incomplete!  Many moons ago, the use of typewriters to lay out text pages meant that changing a line required retyping a page.  Then some clever characters sat down and figured out how to use computers to manipulate the words on a page so that words, lines, blocks of text or entire paragraphs could be moved around at will, and the computer would again lay out the page for you.  They called it "Word Processing" and it was a big new deal!  It also included the ability to mark certain pieces of text to be printed bold or underlined or various other special treatments.  This was accomplished by using special sequences of characters, or codes, to indicate the beginning and ending of the bold (or whatever) text.  These codes were known as "mark-ups", and the collection of them was a Mark-up Language.  Since it was used in Word Processing, it was a Word Processing Markup Language.  With the addition of codes that would link a word or phrase to another document file, providing the ability to jump from one to the other (a system called "Hypertext"), came the creation of HyperText Markup Language or HTML.  It has been suggested (many times!) that the term "Hypertext" was influenced by the term "Hyperspace" used so much in Gene Roddenberry's popular Star Trek TV series.  I beg to differ.  "Hypertext", coined in 1965 by Ted Nelson (see http://www.geocities.com/tonychilvers/hypold/development.html and http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/elab/hfl0155.html ) predates Star Trek, which first aired in September 1966  (see http://www.startrek.com/information/timeline.asp?ID=70802 )  It is possible that Gene was influenced by Ted!

The birth of the World Wide Web is related to the release of Marc Andreesen's Mosaic browser (see http://www.geocities.com/tonychilvers/hypold/mosaic.html )   Note that the term "browser" is closely related to the concept of a "Web" of documents (pages) spread "World Wide" and through which one can "browse" by traversing "HyperText" links. This is a system conceived by Tim Berners-Lee (see http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/elab/hfl0007.html ).  Thus, the World Wide Web is a collection of document files ("Web Pages") linked to each other through the transport mechanism of the Internet.

CGI is another term that often brings confusion. CGI is a specification for an interface (say what???)  CGI stands for Common Gateway Interface.  It's actual a means of connecting from a Web Server program to a scripting language that can perform functions outside the Server's own capabilities.  Programs written to be accessed via a CGI interface are frequently referred to as CGI programs or even CGIs.  This leads to the notion that CGI is a language, which it is not.  Programs written for the CGI are often written in Perl, which is a script programming language.  "PERL" originally stood for Practical Extraction and Report Language and was design and written by Larry Wall (Larry has been known to say that it actually stands for "Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister"!)  Perl is a great scripting language and if you haven't yet, you should learn about it here: http://www.htmlgoodies.com/primers/perl/   

By the way, ASP, which stands for Active Server Pages uses another scripting language.  Based on Visual Basic, VB Script is the language of ASP.  They say that on the Internet things change so quickly that you have to measure time like you do for a dog's age, and count seven years for each calendar year.  No exception here, as ASP is now to be replaced by ASP.Net (Asp dot Net) (see Dot Net Introduction )  There's a tutorial coming to HTML Goodies soon (see I Want My ASP )

The world of computers is rife with acronyms.  There are so many, and they have been used so much, that some have become words in their own right.  Did you know that "Bit" derived from Binary digIT?   How about flops (FLoating point Operations Per Second)? And mime (Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extensions)?

Boot and Reboot , while not acronyms, derive from the expression "to pull up by its bootstraps" and refer to the process of loading an Operating System (OS) by first loading a small loader program from a predetermined place.  If you come across a computer expression you've not heard before, nod knowingly, say "Ahh yes!" then excuse yourself, run to a PC (Personal Computer <grin>) pull up a browser (thanks Marc) and go to webopedia.com  This way you'll avoid the embarrassment of not protecting yourself from a pulsing zombie.  I hate it when that happens!


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