HTML: The Definitive Guide

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Our Function
Our Audience
Text Conventions
Is HTML 3.2 Really a Big Deal?

0.1 Our Function

Learning HTML is like learning any new language, computer or human. Most students first immerse themselves in examples. Think how adept you'd become if Mom, Dad, your brothers, and sisters all spoke fluent HTML. Studying others is a natural way to learn, making learning easy and fun. Our advice to anyone wanting to learn HTML is to get out there on the World Wide Web with a suitable browser and see for yourself what looks good, what's effective, what works for you. Examine others' HTML source files and ponder the possibilities. Mimicry is how many of the current webmasters have learned the language.

Imitation can take you only so far, though. Examples can be both good and bad. Learning by example will help you talk the talk, but not walk the walk. To become truly conversant, you must learn how to use the language well and how to use the language appropriately in many different situations. You could learn that by example, if you live long enough.

Remember, too, that computer-based languages are more explicit than human languages. You've got to get the HTML syntax correct, or it won't work. Then, too, there is the problem of ``standards.'' Committees of academics and industry experts try to define the proper syntax and usage of a computer language like HTML. The problem is that HTML browser manufacturers like Netscape and Spyglass choose what parts of the standard they will use and which parts they'll ignore. They even make up their own parts, which may eventually become standards.

To be safe, the better way to become HTML fluent is through a comprehensive language reference: a resource that covers the language syntax, semantics, and variations in detail, and helps you distinguish between good and bad usage.

There's one more step leading to fluency in a language. To become a true master of HTML, you need to develop your own style. That means knowing what's not only appropriate, but what is effective. Layout matters. A lot. So does the order of presentation within a document, between documents, and between document collections.

Our goal in writing this book is to help you become fluent in HTML, fully versed in the language's syntax, semantics, and elements of style. We take the natural learning approach with examples: good ones, of course. We cover every element of the currently accepted version (2.0)[1] of the language in detail, as well as many of the so-called ``extensions'' the popular HTML browsers support, explaining how each element works and how it interacts with all the other elements.

[1] Contrary to popular misbelief, there is no HTML version 3.0. See "Is HTML 3.2 Really a Big Deal?" later in this Preface.

And, with all due respect to Strunk and White, throughout the book we give you suggestions for style and composition to help you decide how best to use the language and accomplish a variety of tasks, from simple online documentation to complex marketing and sales presentations. We'll show you what works and what doesn't; what makes sense to those who view your pages, and what might be confusing.

In short, this book is a complete guide to creating documents using HTML, starting with basic syntax and semantics, and finishing with broad style directions that should help you create beautiful, informative, accessible documents you'll be proud to deliver to your browsers.

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