NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2003
Web Pages for Beginners
Book excerpt: Absolute Beginner's Guide to Creating Web Pages, 2nd Edition
by Todd Stauffer and Que Publishing
submitted by Amy Sorokas
(click to email author)

The excerpt below is a sample chapter from Absolute Beginner's Guide to Creating Web Pages, 2nd Edition from Todd Stauffer and Que Publishing. This chapter covers the tools needed for creating a Web page and acquiring server space to host the site. This hands-on tutorial teaches readers the fundamentals of creating Web pages, along with more advanced ideas like message areas, chat, and e-commerce options to make the page look like it was created by a professional. Whether you are an experienced computer user or a beginner, this book provides you with all the information you need to have a Web page up in no time and is a great jumping off point for learning more advanced web technologies.

Note: These elements have been removed for the purpose of this article. To view the images and notes, tips and tricks included in the chapter text from the Absolute Beginner's Guide to Creating Web Pages, visit http://snurl.com/absolutebeginners and click on the link for sample chapters.

The Basic Tools
HTML documents are nothing more than plain-text documents with markup commands that instruct a Web browser to arrange and format text in certain ways. Other commands are used to add images, hypertext, and multimedia to the page, but those commands are still plain-text commands that are interpreted by the Web browser.

The plain-text nature of HTML documents means that all you really need to hand-code HTML is a text editor application. It can be something as simple and friendly as Windows Notepad or the Mac's SimpleText editor. You have similar choices in other operating systems-vi or emacs in any Unix and Unix-like OS, and TextEdit in MacOs X.

The main issue to remember is that your documents need to be saved as plain-text or ASCII documents, so your text editing application must be capable of saving such documents (as opposed to, say, Microsoft Word format or Rich Text Format). You can use a word processing application to create your HTML documents, as long as you save the documents as plain-text.

If you do opt to use a word processor (which I don't really recommend), note that many of them have the specific option of saving files as HTML documents. Generally, you don't want to do that because the word processor translates the page, as typed, into HTML, adding markup to maintain the appearance of the document in your word processor. In other words, it ignores the HTML markup that you've entered yourself and adds markup so that the page appears with the tags intact when displayed in a browser.

Instead, you should save the document as plain-text, text, or ASCII text, but with the filename extension .htm or .html (more on that later).

Ideally, though, you'd use either a text editor-which can be very basic or rather specialized-or an HTML editor that enables you to edit the HTML source code (the text and markup) directly. Let's look at each possibility.

Text Editors
As noted, you can opt to use the simple text editors included with your operating system. In Microsoft Windows, it's Notepad; in the MacOs it's SimpleText or TextEdit. Unix and Linux systems offer a number of text editors, from basic to sophisticated. If you'd like to move up to the next level, however, you'll find that a good programmer's text editor may be helpful in creating and organizing your HTML code. Popular editors for Microsoft Windows include TextPad ( http://www.textpad.com ), UltraEdit ( http://www.ultraedit.com) and EditPlus ( http://www.editplus.com ), among many others. The Macintosh has fewer text editors, although BBEdit and BBEdit Lite ( http://www.barebones.com ) are very highly regarded, for both MacOs 9 and MacOs X. (MacOs X also includes Unix-style text editors via its Terminal application.)

Most text editors you come across are designed to work well for HTML authoring, as well as other types of markup and programming. You'll find that some of them automatically recognize markup as such, turning them into different colors for easy viewing. Others may offer a toolbar button for displaying an HTML document in a Web browser (to test how it looks and whether hyperlinks are working correctly), a spell-checking feature, or other interesting options. Experiment a bit to find a text editor that really works well for you.

HTML Editors
The other type of editor you might consider downloading or purchasing is one that's specifically designed for HTML documents. These editors come in two basic flavors- source code editors and WYSIWYG editors . WYSIWYG, which stands for "What You See Is What You Get," means you're editing the Web page as it will look in a Web browser. In this case, you're not marking up text and adding HTML commands and elements, but rather typing text, importing images, and moving items around on the page, much as you'd do in a word processing or desktop publishing program.

Because Absolute Beginner's Guide to Creating Web Pages focuses on editing XHTML source code (the raw text and markup elements), WYSIWYG editors are not discussed in the book itself, but you can go online to find "Graphical Editors," a chapter that will introduce you to some of the more popular graphical editors, such as Dreamweaver and FrontPage. You'll find that a WYSIWYG editor is a great tool to have on hand for prototyping and editing Web sites. That said, it's important to learn the raw XHTML first, particularly if you aspire to do Web publishing professionally, because no WYSIWYG editor is perfect. They can't always adhere to the latest standards, they aren't all capable of more complex tasks (such as scripting or interactive elements), and sometimes you need to "dig into the code" to get them to work exactly as you'd like them to. If you want to go beyond a text editor, you might look into one that's specifically designed to help you edit HTML source code. For Microsoft Windows, some recommended editors include HotDog Professional and HotDog PageWiz (http://www.sausagetools.com), HandyHTML (http://www.silveragesoftware.com), and CoffeeCup HTML Editor (http://www.coffeecup.com). For Macintosh, popular options include PageSpinner (http://www.optima-system.com) and WebDesign (http://www.ragesw.com).

If you need to watch out for anything with HTML editors, it's that they're up-to-date and support the level of HTML (or XHTML) that you want to use for your authoring. For the purposes of this book, you should use an editor that supports HTML 4.01 Transitional or XHTML 1.0 Transitional, if it's an option. (If you're trying to create strict documents, you can use XHTML 1.0 Strict if the editor supports it). Older HTML editors may support an older standard, or may recommend elements or markup that don't conform to the newer standard. You can probably still use them; just be aware of the differences.

Copyright (c) 2003 by Que Publishing. Author Todd Stauffer. Reproduced with permission. Article reproduction coordinated by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group. Excerpted from: Absolute Beginner's Guide to Creating Web Pages, 2nd Edition, Todd Stauffer, ISBN: 0-7897-2895-8, US $18.95. For More Information or to Order Absolute Beginner's Guide to Creating Web Pages, 2nd Edition or any other Que Books visit http://www.quepublishing.com.

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