A Look at Four Web Standards

There are many different markup languages for webmasters to choose from these days. All have their own standards dictated by an organization known as W3C. In this article we are going to look at four of the most common markup languages and their standards. The markup languages that will be covered in this article are HTML, XHTML, XML, and CSS.

HTML:

Intro:

In the first section of this article, we will look at HTML. HTML is the oldest of the four languages and stands for Hypertext Markup Language. Its main purpose is to structure a web document by denoting sections of the document with certain tags. In HTML, there is usually a header section, which contains the title and description as well as some META tags for search engine spidering purposes. Next there is a body tag which contains the main content of your document. Paragraphs, descriptions, and pictures would usually go in this section. Last of all, there is a footer to an HTML document. This is usually there additional links or any additional information that does not belong in the body go.

History:

Although HTML has been expanded and changed since its initial creation, it was originally created by physicist Tim Berners Lee in 1980 while he was working as an independent contractor for CERN. Since the world wide web at that time was mainly a way for scientists to share research data, HTML did not gain much notice until the end of the 80s and into the 90s. It was not until 1990 that the World Wide Web (W3) was proposed and accepted by CERN. The year 1991 marked the first year where an HTML standard was made public. This early version of HTML had relatively few tags(some which are still available today), such as the basic “href” link tag and the “img src” image tag that could be used to define parts of a webpage and where certain elements could be inserted into an HTML document. HTML continued to improve and expand throughout the 1990s. People began to take more and more notice of HTML standards as the World Wide Web gained popularity among the masses. HTML specifications have since 1996 been maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium(W3C). In 2000, HTML standards became international and spread across the globe. The latest version of HTML that is widely accepted is 4.01.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

There are two flavors of HTML standards, strict and transitional. The difference between them is that transitional is much more of a loose standard and ignores many things that strict would consider errors or warnings. Transitional is widely accepted and is favored among most webmasters and designers as it allows for more elements in the document than strict. The advantage that HTML has over other standards is that it is the easiest to follow and one that most webmasters should be familiar with. HTML knowledge is generally considered a requirement to build any kind of website, no matter how complex or simple. The disadvantage of HTML is that by itself it is quite limited is what it can do. It does not provide the variety of descriptive tags and elements that something like XHTML or XML can provide. While beginners may be content with HTML, more advanced designers will want to learn other markup languages and standards.

XHTML:

Intro and History:

The next markup language we are going to look at is XHTML. XHTML stands for Extensible Hypertext Markup Language and is similar to HTML. However, XHTML also conforms to XML standards. XHTML standards are generally more strict than HTML and because of this, real XHTML documents can be easily auto-processed and generated with a variety of XML tools. XHTML, although not technically HTML, is considered by many the rightful heir to HTML. However, W3C considers XHTML as separate from HTML and continues to develop HTML 5.0 . XHTML became a W3C recommendation on May 31, 2001. Many former HTML writers have now switched to XHTML because of the advantages allowed by following the XML standards.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

One of the most apparent advantages of XHTML comes from the inclusion of XML namespaces which allow web designers to define separate elements and attributes to each namespace. These function as modules in XHTML that can be called from anywhere. It is similar to functions or classes in a programming language such as C++. This allows much added flexibility for web designers. XHTML also reduces the load on syntax parsers. Because it is far more strict that regular HTML, there is less variety in the way you can use XHTML tags. This, in turn, eliminated the need for complex parsers to handle the different ways syntax can be written. One drawback of XHTML against HTML is that it is not as widely supported as HTML. Many browsers do not support strict XHTML or only support one version of it. Because of this and the fact that XHTML is harder to abide by than HTML, many web designers continue to stick with transitional HTML standards.

XML:

Intro and uses:

The next markup language we will look at is XML which stands for extensible markup language. This language allows designers and programmers to specify their own tags and is therefore much more flexible than HTML in terms of what can be done with it. Outside of webpages, many things such as level design for flash games and even flat-file databases are designed in XML. XML is particularly useful for sharing information across different systems as XML parsers are widespread and the XML format has widely been used as a specification language for certain data.

Advantages over HTML:

While HTML had descriptor tags such as “<title>” that allowed you to specify the title, it did not allow you to create tags such as “<author>” to specify the author of a document. In HTML, the tag was either there or it wasn’t. XML solved many of these problems by letting people create tags for author, contributors, and other things. For web designers who wanted more control over their web documents, XML was a natural choice to switch to once it became available.

Standards:

There are two levels of XML standards that can be abide by. They are well-formed and valid. A well-formed XML document conforms to all of XML’s syntax rules whereas a valid document also follows all of XML’s semantic rules. To be valid, an XML document cannot contain any undefined tags. To pass the W3C validator, a document using XML standards must be a valid document.

Disadvantages:

One point of notice is that XML does not itself provide a way of displaying the contained data. The design of a document in terms of looks still must be guided by something such as HTML or CSS. XML is just a markup that defines and puts data in specific tags that make it easier to process. Because it is not a language that is meant for display, XML is generally a more specialized markup language that is reserved for those who are more interested in formatting data. Many web designers do not need this in a regular webpage and find it easier just to stick to regular HTML standards.

CSS:

Intro and History:

The last language and standard we are going to look at is CSS. CSS stands for cascading style sheets and is completely used for the display of a webpage. CSS is a mixed bag as it is powerful for certain things, but not all that useful for others. Many times a webpage will have CSS tied in with HTML for rendering. CSS was officially adopted by W3C in 1998 and has since slowly spread across the world wide web.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

CSS is better than HTML in terms of design as it is less intensive on the processing(divs over tables) and it allows you to place things precisely where you want them down to the last pixel, which is something you generally cannot do with HTML. However, CSS standards are not the same across browsers and there are many bugs reported within Internet Explorer and Firefox that have required CSS filters or hacks to fix. The standard is getting more widespread and browsers are slowly adopting the CSS standard more but it has not become as commonplace as many web designers had hoped. For many things, people still use tables instead of divs because tables are easier to make and combined with CSS within the table, positioning can be nailed down pretty accurately. The loading times and processing power advantages that CSS provides over HTML are pretty much negligible in this age of DSL and high-speed cable modems. The lack of browser-wide support for its standard, the complexity that is takes to implement multiple column designs, and the lack of properties for some things like floats, generally prevent CSS from replacing HTML as the most commonly used design language.

In conclusion:

Out of the four languages mentioned above, HTML continues to be the most dominant one used online. Partially because it was the first one and people are hesitant to change and partially because browsers and other various issues has kept the others back from replacing HTML.

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