html 101

What You Need

All you need to get started is a plain text editor and a web browser (such as Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer). For learning purposes, you can work directly from your desktop, without access to a web server (though we'll cover uploading to a web server in a separate tutorial).

HTML is plain text. Therefore, you need to start with a basic text editor, such as Notepad for Windows or TextEdit for the Mac, both of which come with their respective operating systems.

Note: If you're using TextEdit for the Mac, note that it wants to save documents as "rich text" by default. But HTML is always plain text, so the default setting will result in documents that can't be displayed in a browser. Before you begin, go into TextEdit's preferences and select the "Plain Text" radio button, as shown here: 

 TextEdit preferences

However, you'll find that you can work much more cleanly and efficiently with an advanced text editor (also called a "programmer's editor"), such as :

High-quality text editors make the HTML editing process much easier by providing a wealth of shortcuts that prevent you from having to write every scrap of code manually.

When shopping for a text editor, be sure to get one that supports "syntax highlighting," which renders your HTML tags in a different color – this makes the editing process much easier. A good text editor will also greatly help with proper code indentation, which will make your code more readable.

Syntax highlighting

You'll find many more text editors for your operating system with a simple Google search.

You can also use a Web site creation and management application such as NVU (free), or Adobe Dreamweaver. These programs, known as WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors, allow you to create Web sites without typing in the actual HTML. They can also help when working with the more advanced aspects of HTML, such as tables, forms, and cascading style sheets. WYSIWYG applications let you toggle back and forth between "code mode" and "visual mode" – in code mode you can write HTML directly.

Do not use a word processing application such as Microsoft Word to edit plain text files – word processors work on binary documents, not text. Yes, you could take care to "Save as Plain Text" from your word processor, but we feel you'll be better served with a dedicated text editor than a word processor. Whatever you do, never use Word's "Save as HTML" feature – it'll create a rat's nest of tag soup you'll never be able to edit manually.