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. And once you've written an HTML document, you've nearly completed your first XHTML one, 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 and its progeny, XHTML. Of course, we've left out a lot of details and some tricks that you should know. Read the upcoming chapters to get the essentials for becoming fluent in HTML and XHTML.
Even if you are familiar with the languages, we recommend that 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/XHTML and their jargon, but you'll also be more productive later, flush with the confidence that comes from creating attractive documents in such a short time.
2.1 Writing Tools
Use any text editor to create an HTML or XHTML document, as long as it can save your work on a disk in text file format. That's because even though web documents include elaborate text layout and pictures, they're all just plain old text documents themselves. A fancier WYSIWYG editor or a translator for your favorite word processor is fine, too--although it may not support all the language features we discuss in this book. You'll probably end up touching up the source text they produce, in any case, and don't expect layout results like what you'd get with a page-layout application.
While it's not needed to compose documents, you should have at least one version of a popular browser installed on your computer to view your work. That's because, unless you use a special editor, the source document you compose won'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 document yourself with a browser. Besides, the popular ones are free over the Internet. We currently recommend Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Netscape Navigator, and Opera Software ASA.
Also note that you don't need a connection to the Internet or the Web to write and view your HTML or XHTML documents. You can 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 the HTML/XHTML'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 documents before you share them with others.
We strongly recommend, however, that you do get a connection to the Internet if you are serious about composing your own documents. You can 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.