A Guide to HTML Authoring

Or So how do I write a Web page then?

I use a PC running DOS and Windows. The majority of long-established web users use UNIX running on mainframe computers although use of Windows and Macs is now growing. There are many resources for UNIX, but there still aren't so many for PCs. This page concentrates on resources for the PC. I know nothing about UNIX anyway.


How do I start?

If you're a CompuServe member, the quickest way to start is to use the Home Page Wizard (HPWiz) which you can download by using the GO HPWIZ command in CompuServe. It only runs on Windows and provides limited functions but is very easy to use.

If you're not a CompuServe user, MakePage will create a very basic homepage for you to save and use. It is slightly tricky to use with Netscape (you have to Edit | View Source and then Ctrl+Copy it and Paste it into a file) but offers you some customised links to start off with.

Slightly more advanced (but uses some of the enhanced Netscape features) is WWW Newbies Web Page Creator which has room for three paragraphs and a list of five links (you can add more by editing it yourself afterwards).

There's some good information, of particular but not exclusive relevance to CompuServe members, at TrekWorld. This site includes links for icons and counters, as well as information on CompuServe's Home Page wizards.

There are also a number of programs that will write in HTML for you, rather like a word processor. For more information, see Gabriel's home page which has a link to Gabriel's list of HTML Editors, with links to download or checkout the World Wide Web FAQ, which not only includes a list of editors with comments and download links but also has a wide range of other WWW and HTML authoring information. It can also be downloaded as a ZIP file (and in other formats) for downloading and offline browsing and printing. This is the UK mirror - the principal site is at www.boutell.com/faq/.

You can also check Yahoo's list of HTML Editors for Windows


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What's all this HTML stuff anyway?

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. It's a subset of SGML (you don't want to know). It's a very basic system of "marking-up" text to tell a reader program (known as a "browser" client) how to display text, but unlike your word processor this text can then be displayed on any system from a PC to a mainframe, running DOS, Windows, Unix or whatever. An HTML document is in the form of a simple text file with tags included. For example the tags <H1> ... </H1> tell browsers to display the text between the tags as a level one heading.

The purists will say that using an editor will not result in correct markup or enable you to do exactly what you want. If you want to learn more about using the HTML tags, NCSA has a good Beginner's Guide which will start you off.

Even more basic is Eamonn Sullivan's Crash Course on writing documents for the Web.

More sources can be found on the W3 Consortium's How to put information on the web page.

Writing Your Own Home Page? has some useful links to get you started including a stack of HTML links, Icons, Backgrounds and information on how to implement a Web Counter.

Also it's worth taking a look at Mark Maimone's Welcome to the World Wide Web! slides and Jukka Korpela's Learning HTML 3.2 by Examples.

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I want to know more about HTML

There are a number of different "levels" of HTML (each being capable of more sophisticated control than the previous one) and the current definitive level, announced as a draft in May 1996 and adopted as a standard in January 1997, is Level 3.2 (Wilbur) which includes many of the enhancements offered by Netscape and Microsoft. The latest draft standard is Level 4.0 (Cougar).

Technical Reference

HTML Level 2.0 is defined in a document called RFC (Request for Comments) 1866. You can retrieve this by anonymous ftp from ds.internic.net/rfc/ (filename rfc1866.txt) (set your browser to "Save to disk" first) or view it. There's also a HTML version with clickable links.

HTML Level 3.2 is defined in a document called HTML 3.2 Reference Specification - W3C Recommendation 14-Jan-1997 and HTML Level 4.0 is defined in a document called HTML 4.0 Specification - W3C Working Draft 8-July-1997.

The HyperText Markup Language page from The W3 Consortium is the definitive site for HTML information, including specifications on the various HTML levels.

Information in slightly more user-friendly form on the HTML specifications can be found at the Sandia National Laboratories, which also includes the longest list of other HTML references that I have seen.

I found one of the most well laid-out HTML Level 2.0 formal references to be the HTML WebMaster Reference Tree created by dtd2html. For the more up-to-date versions of HTML, similar information is at Ian Graham's Document Type Definitions page. I also really liked the Bare Bones Guide to HTML.

The Willcam Group (who run training courses) have an HTML tag reference online that has interesting user-friendly descriptions of HTML Level 2.0, Level 3.0 MSIE and Netscape tags. I am not sure that it is technically totally convincing but I certainly found it the easiest and most complete HTML tag reference that I've read.

For more help on these references, try out Diane Gorman's DTD Commentary, but these resources are not for the faint-hearted.

Netscape's own descriptions of the Netscape extensions can be found on its Extensions to HTML page.

Help for the less advanced user

These are the ones I find more useful!

The World Wide Web Frequently Asked Questions (mentioned above) has a mine of useful information and links, and can be downloaded as a zip file for offline browsing. There are a number of mirror sites and the URL given is at Oxford University. You can find a link to the closest mirror on the About the WWW FAQ Page.

If you're running Windows on a PC, you can download Stephen Le Hunte's HTML Reference Library in Windows Help format which seems to be quite complete and helpful. It's available by anonymous ftp from ftp.swan.ac.uk/pub/in.coming/htmlib/ (filename htmlib22.zip for the Windows 3.1 version or htmlib9522.zip for the Windows95 version). There are a number of mirror sites, details from http://hjs.geol.uib.no/news/htmlib/htmlib.htm. There's also a Discussion forum.

Microsoft publish a page Microsoft Internet Explorer 2.0 HTML Support which lists most of the common HTML codes including Internet Explorer enhancements with examples and explanations. Warning: although it tries to show Netscape and HTML Level 3.0 tags, it's incomplete and only shows those tags that are supported by Internet Explorer. Some of its explanations would probably be regarded as controversial! and others (eg BASE) are just plain wrong.

A good detailed source is the Introduction to HTML and URLs from the HTML Documentation Collection of the Information Commons at the University of Toronto. Checkout the index if there's a particular tag you want to know more about.

Another basic source to look at is HyperText Markup Language (HTML) from HyperNews (and the other information at that site is also of interest).

Also worth looking at is the Webmaster Reference Library: HTML 3.0 and Netscape (subtitled "thou shalt not use Netscapisms! What to use instead for a similar effect (and what not to use at all)") which compares Netscape extensions to HTML Level 3.0. In fact the Webmaster Reference Library has quite a lot of interesting information worth checking out, including a searchable index.

David Baker's WWW Authoring Information pages has links to more information.

Darren Maczka has quite a nice little HTML Hints and Tips page.

You can also checkout Nathan Torkington's An Information Provider's Guide To HTML. He describes this document as "an introduction to the HyperText Markup Language (HTML). It is intended to be a gentle primer for information providers who want to know the background, purpose and functionality of the language. It is not intended to be a first introduction to the Web, nor a definitive guide to the markup language."

For information on particular issues (such as tables, forms, cgi, text formatting, special symbols, colours), you could also checkout Dr. Clue's HTML/CGI Guide.

If you want to see how different browsers implement the various levels of HTML, checkout BrowserCaps, which also has links to the technical details and validators. You can also see a table of HTML tags and extensions supported by some of the common browsers provided by the DBasics Software Company.

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What should I write?

What you write is a matter of personal preference but if it isn't something that particularly interests you, maintaining your pages will become boring! Page design is more of a skill and there are a number of resources to help you there. In particular, you might like to take a look at:

If your page is difficult to read, people will not read it. The Netscape Extensions and HTML Level 3.0 allow you to set background pictures and change the colours of backgrounds and fonts. These need to be used with care. A Use of Colour FAQ is maintained by Mark Koenen.

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How do I find pictures for my page?

Graphics do make a page look more interesting, but they also take time to load and cannot be seen by many readers with text-only browsers. Before adding images to your page, bear in mind:

You can link to or download icons at or from:

In addition the CSC Image Library has Backgrounds, Bullets, Buttons, Icons, Logos, Images, Divider Lines, Links to other Image Libraries and the option to download the entire library (about 1.1MB) (I found this link on the TrekWorld page and felt it had to be here too).

Checkout Yahoo's Icons List for more.

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How do I write a form?

Writing a form is easy, it's making it do something that's difficult. For that you need to know about something called "CGI" or "Common Gateway Interface". Given that CompuServe doesn't allow homepage users access to CGI, I haven't tried it and it's therefore beyond the scope of this page. If you're interested, some of the pages referred to in my section I want to know more about HTML should provide assistance or try CGI - The Common Gateway Interface.

If you need help writing a form, checkout the Web Communications Forms Tutorial which will take you through the process.

Alternatively there's The-Inter.net's Online Form Creator which will write the HTML code for a form for you and create the CGI script needed to process the form. Since I can't use it (yet) I haven't tested these claims, but it seems to be worth a look.

If you don't have access to CGI, all is not lost. You can create a form that uses "mailto:". The results of the form are Emailed to the author's account. There are problems, however, because not all browsers support mailto: forms and, unlike a CGI form, a mailto: form gives no feedback, leaving your reader unsure whether the message has been sent. While most recent browsers including Netscape, Spry Mosaic, Quarterdeck Mosaic and Lynx (above version 2.3.7) support "mailto:" forms, not all do (and in particular NCSA Mosaic and earlier versions of Lynx do not). If you want to check whether your browser does, please consult the List of Browsers which support mailto:. For information on creating a mailto: form without access to CGI, checkout Creating a mailto: Form. The Email response to a mailto: form will be rather cryptic once it arrives, but from the same page you can get a (freeware) form manager, mailto: Formatter 4.01, that will decipher the message for you. The Online Form Creator referred to above offers a work around for those that haven't access to CGI that involves creating a mailto: form.

For more, see the Web Page Form Links page from Surfing Links.

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How do I write a table?

Tables were introduced by Netscape 1.1 and the specifications for tables have now been just about agreed for HTML Level 3.0. The latest versions of Netscape and Mosaic support tables but there are still many browsers that do not.

A table is a set of data arranged in rows and columns. Tables aren't just for presenting data in table format. They can also give you added control over layout.

A good starting point for reference is Netscape's page Tables as Implemented in Netscape 1.1 and a good staring point in learning to write a table is Netscape's Table Sampler - a "tutorial by example" which seems to work quite well.

The trouble with tables is that there is no perfect way to create a table that will display neatly in a browser that does not support tables, and without care it can end up completely illegible. Alan Flavell has collected some thoughts about the display of forms on non-table browsers and drafted some very useful hints.

If you're lazy or unenthusiastic, a neat way to "cheat" is to use Sam Choukri's TableMaker. You fill in a form to say how you want to lay out your form and TableMaker generates the form and shows you the finished product and the code required to make it. Use the View Source function on your browser and cut and paste the code into your page, or print the TableMaker result. Choukri also has a ColorMaker which I haven't looked at which he describes as "for an easy way to make a colorful Web page".

For the official HTML Level 3.0 tables specifications, see the Tables draft from the W3 Consortium's Technical Reports section.

For more see the Web Page Table Links page at Surfing Links.

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What's a frame and how do I write one?

Frames were introduced by Netscape Communications in the beta version of Netscape Navigator version 2.0 and I think that they are still only supported by Netscape. They allow web pages to be divided into multiple separate scrollable regions. For more information, checkout the Introduction to Frames in Netscape's Creating Net Sites.

Charlton Rose has a nice tutorial on Netscape Frames which is worth looking at.

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How do I put a password on my pages?

Passwords are generally a server issue, and not strictly part of HTML. Nevertheless this question comes up so often in the html authoring newsgroup that I thought I'd add some useful links here.

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This is Andrew's Web Resources - HTML Authoring Page. For further information, contact me:

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This page is © 1995-98 Andrew Hougie. The right of Andrew Hougie to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Last revision: 22:06:38 on Sunday, 13 July, 2003
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W3C Wilbur Checked!

Validated by W3C HTML Validation Service to HTML Level 3.2 (Wilbur) on 24 November, 1996.

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