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What You Need to Get Started Making Web Pages

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This chapter is from the book

Web publishing doesn't require expensive or complicated tools. In fact, you'll find that you can get away with using just a simple text editor, like those that come with Windows, Unix, or the Mac OS. In addition, you can find useful downloadable shareware applications to help you with HTML, graphic images, and multimedia. Beyond the basic tools, you also need to look into Internet services if you plan to make your Web pages available on the Internet.

This chapter discusses the following:

  • The different types of editors for creating Web pages
  • Tools for graphics, animation, and scripting
  • How Web server space works
  • Obtaining Web server space and uploading files to that space

The Basic Tools

As discussed in Chapter 1, "Fundamentals of Web Publishing," 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 (see Figure 3.1) 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 Mac OS X.

Figure 3.1 HTML pages can be edited in simple text editors such as Windows Notepad.

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.


ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, a standard method for representing English letters and numbers in computing. The most universal format for text documents on computing platforms, it's the basis of many files being read by different sorts of computers, such as HTML documents.

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 (see Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2 If you use a word processor for your pages, save them as text, not as HTML. Otherwise, your element tags appear when the page is viewed in a Web 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.


Where do you find these programs? Throughout the next few sections, you'll see the Web sites associated with the individual editors that are recommended. But if you'd like to do a little surfing on your own, try http://www.download.com/, which offers links to the vast majority of shareware, freeware, and demonstration applications available for all the different computing platforms.

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 Mac OS 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, shown in Figure 3.3) 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 Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. (Mac OS X also includes Unix-style text editors via its Terminal application.)

Figure 3.3 In UltraEdit you can manage multiple text files, see HTML codes in special colors, and access a quick reference panel of HTML elements.

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 this book focuses on editing XHTML source code (the raw text and markup elements), WYSIWYG editors are not discussed until Chapter 20, "Graphical Editors." 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). The latter is shown in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4 WebDesign is a Mac HTML editor that makes it easy to edit HTML source code.

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.


Some editors can support different compatibility modes, so you may find an option in the preferences to format pages as strict, transitional, XHTML 1.0, or HTML 4.01. In other cases, the editor may only support one specification, so it's good to know which one.

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