If you want to learn Web development, you have to learn HTML and CSS first, there’s no way around it.
HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language and is the foundation of any Web page.
When you type a URL in your browser, it connects to a Web Server and downloads the page and that page is written, you guess, in HTML.
HTML is the language used to define the structure and content of a Web page.
And in doing so it’s different from other languages since it’s not really a programming language in the sense that you use it to define a behavior and complete tasks, but it’s a markup language used to create a document with a clear syntactical structure.
At its core HTML is static because once a page has been downloaded from a Web server, it won’t change. However, you can embed scripts to alter the page after it’s been downloaded.
Thanks to HTML you can create well-structured pages, embedding images and presenting data in a way that other computer programs can easily understand.
All in all, it’s a fairly easy language to learn: its syntax is quite simple and straightforward, it’s got a well-defined and documented standard and really it only takes some practice to understand what you can do with it, but I’d dare to say that it’s something you can easily pick-up in no more than a weekend.
Ok, and what about CSS
CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, is a language used to describe the presentation of a document written in a markup language, most notably HTML.
Basically, with HTML you define the structure and content of a Web page. With CSS you define how it looks. Easy, right?
In the early days of the WWW, HTML was used for everything: content, structure, and presentation.
However this lead to websites which were a mess to maintain and written so poorly that the same page would look different in different browsers — I have to admit this wasn’t solely the programmers’ fault, since the browser war was in full force.
This lead to the adoption of CSS as a way to separate the content of a web page from the way it looks, allowing programmers and Web designer to better separate roles while making it easier to maintain larger websites.
The way CSS works is it offers several attributes which you can use to modify the aspect of the elements you define in your HTML.
For example, you can set the width, color, border, font, etc, of any element on a page. And you can do so in a variety of ways, targeting a specific element, or all elements of the same type, or just elements contained in a parent element. It’s incredibly powerful!
While HTML has a fairly limited syntax and it’s very easy to grasp, CSS takes a little more time and patience, first and foremost because it’s got a bigger syntax and also because you have to acquaint yourself with the cascading part of the language (i.e. you can define an attribute on an element and it will be applied not only to that element but to its descendants, too).
Again, it’s just a matter of time and practice and I believe that with the right amount of effort you can learn the basics of CSS in no more than a weekend and get good at it in a couple of weeks.
HTML and CSS: a marriage made in heaven
Learning HTML and CSS will allow to quickly write beautiful looking Web pages. Sure, they’ll be static pages, meaning that they won’t allow for much interaction with the user and you won’t be able to connect it to a dataset to present dynamic data.
But still, there’s plenty you can do with them and once you get the gist of it, you’ll be ready to tie them with your chosen programming language to make powerful dynamic websites.
The way it works is you have your web app, which might be written in any programming language.
When a user requests a page to your Web server, your app quickly connects to a database to retrieve any dynamic data it might need, accomplish any task that it has to and spits out some HTML. In that HTML there will be a reference to tell the browser to download one (or several) CSS stylesheet that you’ll have previously written to make your website look good.
And since there’s your Web app running on the server, the user will be able to send it any data through HTML forms to accomplish whatever it is that your app allows them to do. It could be a signup form, a comment form or — and I really wish it to you — a payment form to pay for your app!
Here’s what many people new to programming don’t know: learning how to program is a lifelong journey, but it’s also a skill you’ll retain for life and that will allow you to create endless products. Here the sky really is the limit, it’s just a matter of dedication.
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