HTML is short for Hypertext Markup Language, the text-based language used to write Web pages. HTML tags are coding instructions embedded in the HTML document. A Web browser is designed to read the instructions, or tags, in order to render the page graphically. In other words, a Web browser translates these tags into visual effects that mold the way an HTML document looks to the viewer.
The simplest HTML tags arrange text into blocks, designate the font or letter-style, and size of the type. Bold, italic and underline are each identified within an tag that precedes the letter or word(s) to be effected. The tag appears again at the end of the chosen text with a slash to indicate the effect ends there. For example, see how the following sentence appears in HTML:
HTML tags are the core of Hypertext Markup Language. <b>HTML tags</b> are the core of Hypertext Markup Language.
The “b” stands for bold and HTML tags are always enclosed in angled brackets, with the closing tag starting with a forward slash. If the forward slash is forgotten, the remainder of the page will assume the effect.
In addition to changing fonts, tags also create hyperlinks, or clickable text. The hyperlink tag includes an embedded website address (URL or Uniform Resource Locator). By placing a hyperlink tag around a phrase or name, clicking on it will take the surfer to the desired address. This can be a remote website or another page within the same website.
HTML tags can also be used to take a surfer to another spot within the same page. This is handy for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or indexes that reside on a single page. By clicking on a question or an indexed subject, the visitor can jet to the exact information he or she needs without paging down through the entire document.
Other tags embed graphics, movies, sound effects, animation or Flash scripts in webpages. Frames, borders, background and page layouts are also designated by HTML.
On websites with multiple pages there are often characteristics the webmaster wants to repeat on each page. These might include the font type, website colors, background and text blocking or layout. Rather than repeat these tags on every page, HTML allows for a bit of code at the top of each page that points the browser to a master style sheet which contains the HTML tags that apply. A master style sheet is known as Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) because its effects can “cascade” across several pages.
In the middle 1990s when the Internet switched from a text-based environment to a graphical environment, thanks to HTML and Web browsers that interpreted the language, the only way to create a website was to manually code the pages using HTML tags and a text-based editor. Shortly HTML editors became available that did a lot of the coding for the user, making it easy for anyone to create a basic website. Today, ready-made scripts and forms can be embedded with a click, allowing anyone with basic needs to be their own webmaster.