What is HTML, an introduction

Don't let the jargon get you down, we're here to cut right through it. We start with a basic overview of HTML - what it is and what it does.

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Developed by scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, HTML is the ‘hidden’ code that helps us communicate across the World Wide Web. HTML actually stands for "HyperText Markup Language", and as scary as that may sound, it simply means that it is a language that authors web pages using ordinary text.

Despite what many people believe, HTML is not a complex programming language. It is a standardised system for tagging text files to achieve font, colour, graphics, and hyperlink effects on web pages. It basically tells a web browser how to display words and images on a web page and provides the overall structure and framework for any web page.

HTML Files

Every web page online is a HTML file. A website will often contain many html files that link to each other. Each HTML file is just a plain-text file, but with a .html file extension instead of .txt, and is made up of many HTML ‘tags’ as well as the content for a web page.

HTML is written in plain text, which means you don’t need any fancy software programs to write out code. It is also not case sensitive, so you can use either lowercase or uppercase.


When writing HTML, you add ‘tags’ to the text in order to create a structure. These tags tell the browser how to display the text or graphics in the document. They are angled brackets. Inside these tags are words or letters that tell the computer what to display. For example <p> will tell the browser to start a new paragraph. These words or letters are called ‘elements’.

Container and empty tags

There are two kinds of tags: container and empty. The container tag always wraps around text or graphics and comes with an opening and a closing.

<html> - opening tag

</html> - closing tag

As you can see there is a slash (/) on the closing tag, which tells the browser that the tag has ended.

An empty tag stands alone. For example the tag <br /> is one that adds a line break. Empty tags do not have to be wrapped around text and do not need a closing tag (although self-closing tags are supported in later versions of HTML).

So there you have it

So, HTML is essentially text content with tags that are used to specify the meaning of the content within a document and the relationship of each piece of content to each other. HTML is most commonly used with CSS (cascading style sheets) and Javascript which manipulate the content within the HTML for either visual or functional purposes.

From a small business owner, to a student creating an online project, or even individuals working on a blog, HTML knowledge can be incredibly useful. Although the thought of having to learn a programming language may seem daunting, the great thing about HTML is that it uses common words and language, so it’s fairly simple to pick up. 

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