Philip Northeast's Web Design Tips

HTML Keeps Getting Better

The purpose of HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language, is to tell  browsers how to display web pages.

There are three basic elements in an HTML web page; structure, appearance and content.  In a simple web site these happily co-existed in the one HTML file. The growth in size and complexity of web sites meant separating these functions made managing them more efficient.


The introduction of Cascading Style Sheets, CSS, allowed web developers to move the appearance instructions to an external file. This simplifies the HTML page and also allows HTML pages in large sites a common set of declarations to control the page’s appearance. This gives a consistent look across the whole site. This makes maintenance a matter of editing one file, rather than making changes on every web page in a site.


The other major development is the maturing of readily available Content Management Systems ( CMS), such as WordPress. They remove the content from the HTML file leaving only the HTML structure.  The HTML structure is saved to a PHP file. This is a programming language used in the web server.  All the magic happens in the server when a browser requests a web page. The WordPress software on the server retrieves the content for that page and inserts into the HTML structure in the PHP file, and applies the appearance instructions from the CSS file, to create an HTML page  the browser understands.

A CMS has another benefit, because as web sites grow often the number of people involved increases. WordPress manages multiple users in a variety of roles from site design to content creation.

So what is left for HTML?   Plenty!

HTML is still the foundation for all web pages. Separating styling and content management makes a page’s underlying HTML structure more obvious for web designers, and even search engines.  This gives a better picture of the overall HTML page structure without the clutter of the details of content and styling.

One example is the introduction of standard names for HTML elements for common structures such as navigation, page headers and footers. This makes their function clearer to web developers and  search engines.