We didn't spend hours studiously poring over some reference book before we wrote our first HTML document. You probably shouldn't, either. HTML is simple to read and understand, and it's simple to write, too. So let's get started without first learning a lot of arcane rules.
To help you get that quick, satisfying start, we've included this chapter as a brief summary of the many elements of HTML. Of course, we've left out a lot of details and some tricks you should know. Read the upcoming chapters to get the essentials for becoming fluent in HTML.
Even if you are familiar with HTML, we recommend you work your way through this chapter before tackling the rest of the book. It not only gives you a working grasp of basic HTML and its jargon, you'll also be more productive later, flush with the confidence that comes from creating attractive documents in such a short time.
Use any text editor to create HTML documents, as long as it can save your work on disk in ASCII text file format. That's because even though HTML documents include elaborate text layout and pictures, they're all just plain old ASCII documents themselves. A fancier WYSIWYG editor or an HTML translator for your favorite word processor are fine, too--although they may not support the many nonstandard HTML features we discuss later in this book. You'll probably end up touching up the HTML source text they produce, as well.
While not needed to compose HTML, you should have at least one version of a popular World Wide Web browser installed on your computer to view your work, preferably Netscape Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. That's because the HTML source document you compose on your text editor doesn't look anything like what gets displayed by a browser, even though it's the same document. Make sure what your readers actually see is what you intended by viewing the HTML document yourself with a browser. Besides, the popular ones are free over the Internet. If you can't retrieve a browser copy yourself, get a friend to give you a copy.
Also note that you don't need a connection to the Internet or the World Wide Web to write and view your HTML documents. You may compose and view your documents stored on a hard drive or floppy disk that's attached to your computer. You can even navigate among your local documents with HTML's hyperlinking capabilities without ever being connected to the Internet, or any other network, for that matter. In fact, we recommend that you work locally to develop and thoroughly test your HTML documents before you share them with others.
We strongly recommend, however, that you do get a connection to the Internet and to the World Wide Web if you are serious about composing your own HTML documents. You may download and view others' interesting web pages and see how they accomplished some interesting feature--good or bad. Learning by example is fun, too. (Reusing others' work, on the other hand, is often questionable, if not downright illegal.) An Internet connection is essential if you include in your work hyperlinks to other documents on the Internet.