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Web Design Technologies

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This section of the site features articles published between 2002 and 2004. They remain here for reference purposes and may contain information that is out of date.

In this article I will introduce the technologies used in Web Design and how they fit together to build effective web sites.

The meanings of abbreviations related to this topic can be found at the bottom of the page.

Overview

There are two kinds of technologies used in web sites; Client Side and Server Side. Client Side means the processing of the technology is done in your web browser. Server Side means the processing is done by the web server; the computer that sends the web page to your browser (e.g. www.miswebdesign.com is the name of the computer serving this page to you).

In this article I will only be dealing with Client Side technologies; the ones your web browser understands. These include HTML, XHTML and CSS. Don't worry if you have no idea what any of these abbreviations mean, that's why I've written this article.

DHTML is a technology that allows programs to be written which are executed inside the web browser. I will be dealing with DHTML in a later article.

HTML

HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language.

HTML is a way of labelling text so that a computer can understand what it means and figure out what it should do with it. HTML was created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 and is now looked after by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In order to label text with HTML a series of "tags" are used. These tell your browser what the text in between them is. For example, the following HTML tells the web browser that the text "HTML" is important.

This document uses <strong>HTML</strong>.

The browser you are using now shows this HTML like this:

This document uses HTML.

In most visual browsers you will see the text "HTML" above in bold formatted text. If you are using a speech browser then you should have been informed of the strong emphasis.

By using HTML "tags" to "mark-up" an entire document a HTML page is created, such as this one. There are many tags in use that together create HTML, a Hyper Text Markup Language.

If you would like to learn more about HTML (Technical Level: Beginner/Intermediate) see HTML Help by The Web Design Group.

XHTML

HTML has been succeeded by a new technology, eXtended Hyper Text Markup Language or XHTML. XHTML is a big part of the future of the World Wide Web. Through a W3C project called "The Semantic Web" the intention is that through XHTML and a number of other new technologies web pages will be understood by computers as-well as humans, allowing you to use the Internet in ways never thought possible in 1990.

For an introduction to The Semantic Web (Technical Level: Basic/Beginner) see this Scientific American Article or (Added 5th November 2002) this BusinessWeek Article.

For detailed information about the Semantic Web (Technical Level: Advanced) visit the W3C Semantic Web Activity.

CSS

Although HTML and XHTML can also be used to tell visual browsers how they should display the page, it should only truly be used to show what the text is, not how it should be displayed. To tell browsers how to display the page, it's presentation, the W3C has created Cascading Style Sheets, which we are going to look at now.

CSS provides the ability to control how documents are presented visually, whether it is on a computer screen, a television set, a printer or any other visual mediums.

For example, the following CSS property is used to set the font.

font-family:Arial, sans-serif;

With the above property the web browser would use Arial if it was available, and it's default "sans-serif" font if not.

A major advantage of CSS is that it allows a single file, a style sheet, to be used for an entire site which only needs to be downloaded once. This means that download times improve for users and pages don't take as long to load. You may have noticed that pages on this site do not take long to display, that is because all presentation for the site is done with CSS.

If you would like to learn more about CSS (Technical Level: Intermediate) see Cascading Style Sheets by The Web Design Group.

For detailed information about CSS (Technical Level: Advanced) visit the W3C CSS Activity.

Abbreviations

Abbreviations related to this topic:

HTML
Hyper Text Markup Language
XHTML
eXtended Hyper Text Markup Language
CSS
Cascading Style Sheets
DHTML
Dynamic Hyper Text Markup Language
W3C
World Wide Web Consortium
WDG
Web Design Group