HTML and CSS Reference
You can learn more about the W3C and read all of their public specifications, past and present, at their
website, w3.org . The specifications can be difficult to read because they're extremely technical in nature,
written primarily for computer scientists and software vendors who program web user-agents. But this kind
of standardization is essential for the widespread adoption of the Web, ensuring that websites function
properly across different browsers and operating systems. The Web is meant to be “platform independent”
and “device independent,” and adherence to web standards makes that possible.
The Evolution of HTML
HTML first appeared in 1990—built upon the pre-existing Standard Generalized Markup Language
(SGML)—as the foundational language for the newborn World Wide Web, but it wasn't formally defined
until 1993. It was further refined and extended with HTML 2.0, the first official HTML standard, in 1995.
Version 3.2 arrived in early 1997 with a slew of new features, and HTML 4.0 came shortly thereafter near
the end of the same year.
In those early years of the Web, the language specifications weren't always followed as closely as they
should have been. Different browsers supported different features of HTML, and introduced their own
nonstandard features just to get a leg up on the competition. Given the unruly landscape of the time,
authors didn't follow the standards any better than the browsers did. The early web was a tangle of
bloated, convoluted markup and proprietary, browser-specific functionality. Developers often resorted to
making multiple versions of their sites targeted to different browsers, or even worse, they built websites
that worked properly in only one browser and failed utterly in others. Ask an old timer about the Browser
Wars of the mid-90s and they'll regale you with frightening tales of forked scripts, nested tables, and pixel
shims. Those were dark days indeed.
Thankfully, this is no longer the case. The web browsers of today follow the standardized specs much
more consistently than in previous generations, encouraging authors to do the same, and thus advancing
the Web toward the ultimate goal of a truly universal medium.
As the Web really took off in the late 1990s, a few minor (but significant) changes to HTML 4.0 were
released in 1999 as HTML 4.01. After a decade of rapid innovation, HTML 4.01 was expected to be the
last complete specification of the HTML language. A new kid called XHTML had joined the class, and it
was praised as the wave of the future.
The Age of X
Around the turn of the century (way back in the year 2000), the W3C was convinced that the future of the
Web lay in eXtensible Markup Language (XML), a powerful language that allows authors to create
customized elements rather than relying only on the elements predefined by the language itself. Extensible
HTML (XHTML) is a reformulation of HTML following the more stringent syntax of XML. It was meant to
bridge the gap between HTML and XML, preparing web authors for this bright XML future everyone
expected to arrive any day now.