The greatest thing about learning HTML is that you've got all the tools you need already (if you're reading this online). HTML or Hypertext Mark-Up Language was originally designed to display academic papers in a dynamic format. Original HTML documents were fairly boring, but they had the interesting and new feature of being able to display hyperlinks. Hyperlinks are pretty much taken for granted now, but when HTML was first showcased, the ability to have an article about beavers and to hyperlink the word beavers and with a link to another source of information was incredibly useful, and amazing. No longer did readers have to trudge along at the pace of authors. If a reader found a paper on TCP/IP and was really interested in LAN networking, in the course of reading the paper the user could click on links and specify his own path for instruction. Imagine being able to read a paper on any topic and skip around to what was interesting to *you* the reader, rather than following a pre-determined structure imposed by an author!
The simplest HTML document can be created in any text editor. On Windows the easiest to use is Notepad (Start → Programs → Accessories → Notepad.exe, or through Start → Run then type 'Notepad.exe'). HTML documents are created as standard documents that are encoded in a special way and placed on a web server. The web server enables the documents to be presented at a specific URL (or web address). HTML pages can then easily be viewed in a browser from any computer connected to the internet. In order to learn HTML you don't need any web server, but if you want to put a web site online eventually you'll need to investigate one of the many free web providers (like Geocities or others).
So lets get started. The most basic HTML document has 3 parts, the html encoding (to tell web browsers (like Firefox, Netscape or Internet Explorer) what type of document they're viewing), the header (containing the document title and other information used by the browser), and the body (which contains the items for display).
Here's what a basic HTML document looks like:
<html> <head> </head> <body> </body> </html>
And that's it. You'll notice that HTML is composed of pairs of tags (items between the '<' and '>' marks (less than symbol and greater than symbol)). HTML is transmitted across the ethernet as a single stream of text. White space is ignored, thus the HTML has to specify where things like line breaks and the pieces of the document and header are located. For this, HTML uses tags. More on tags in the second article. For now open up notepad and save the above series of tags (from <html> to </html>) as "first.htm".
Make sure you use the 'Save As' function in notepad and use the double quotes around your title so that notepad doesn't save the document as a .txt or text file, but as a .htm or HTML document. Save the document to your desktop, close notepad and double click on the first.htm icon on your desktop. Your web browser will open the document. It should look like a plain document with no text, perfect! In your web browser go to 'View' then 'Source' and notepad should open up with the text you just typed in. Congratulations, you've just created your first HTML document!