What is HTML?

Most people have heard the term HTML and have a general idea that it has something to do with the web.  But as someone who wants to create the web you need to have a better understanding.  This article will explain what HTML is and why it’s important, and it just might do it without boring you into a coma.

What is HTML?

Defining HTML is by far the most boring part of understanding it, so lets keep this brief. HTML is the format in which documents on the web are written. HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. Let’s break that down into something digestible:

  • HyperText – Text with interactive references to other text or content (or, Words on Ritalin). These so-called references are what you probably know as hyperlinks.  Hyperlinks are what allows the web to be a web in the first place: they link documents together. Without Hyperlinks the documents, videos, and images that make up the web would be likes islands with no trade routes between them. In other words, Hyperlinks are what allows us to surf the web, and are responsible for countless hours of lost productivity (well, hyperlinks and FarmVille).
  • Markup Language – HTML is technically a computer language, but don’t let that scare you: it’s really easy! HTML is a very specialized language called a Markup Language which is used for describing, annotating, and structuring text. HTML exists for the same reason we space and indent paragraphs, quotes, and other sections of a written document: it provides context to the content, and breaks up long sections of text into manageable chunks. HTML also allows us to insert interactive content into our documents like images and videos.  So while writing HTML may sound as fun as diagramming a sentence, the payoff for understanding it is way cooler.

But keep this in mind: with the exception of people like us who create the web, humans don’t read HTML; web browsers do! HTML is designed to help browsers (like Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Internet Explorer) understand our content.

HTML is a Standard (That Everyone Interprets Differently)

HTML was created by a physicist names Tim Berners-Lee, but today is managed by a group called the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3. The W3 is a group of member organizations (still led by Berners-Lee) charged with creating and improving web standards.  The W3 publishes the HTML standards and leaves it up to the web browsers to interpret them.  The important thing to remember about HTML standards are:

  • HTML is still changing.  The language has gone through a number of versions over the years, the latest (and as of yet non-standard) version being HTML 5.
  • Not all web browsers interpret and display HTML the same way. This is one of the most difficult hurdles to pass in publishing on the Internet, and removing that room for interpretation is one of the reasons that HTML standards change.

As someone interested in creating HTML content and publishing it on the web, it’s important that you keep your finger on the pulse of the W3 and the web in general.  HTML and web browsers change rapidly, and you’ll have to learn to change with it.


HTML is a specialized computer language for describing and structuring text.  It’s a form of hypertext, which is a specialized type of document that provides references to other documents and content called hyperlinks.  HTML is a standard controlled by the World Wide Web Consortium, but it’s up to browser manufacturers to interpret that standard, so the way your HTML documents are rendered can differ from browser-to-browser.

Was that so difficult?  Let’s move on to something a little more interesting.

For More Information

[amazon_link id=”006251587X” target=”_blank” ]Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web[/amazon_link] [amazon_link id=”0596527322″ target=”_blank” ]HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide (6th Edition)[/amazon_link]