What Is HTML?

Hypertext Markup Language explained for non-developers

Web Coding with HTML

Logovski / Getty Images

HTML, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language, is the primary markup language used to structure content on the web. Every single web page on the internet has at least some HTML markup included in its source code, and most websites are comprised of many HTML or HTM files.

The language rules that HTML follows describe to a web browser how to display the text that makes up the web page. Without HTML to structure the content on the page, the text would appear formless, without the color, tables, formatting, lists, and headings that make it easier to read.

Knowing what HTML is, how it came to exist, and how the markup language is constructed shows the amazing versatility of this basic website architecture and how it continues to be a major part of how we view the web.

HTML is spoken with each letter pronounced, like aitch-tee-em-el.

Who Invented HTML?

HTML was created in 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee, the official creator and founder of what we now know as the World Wide Web.

Berners-Lee formulated the idea of sharing information no matter where a computer was located through the use of hyperlinks, HTTP (a communication protocol for web servers and users), and the uniform resource locator (URL) (a streamlined address system for every web page on the internet).

New versions of HTML have been released, the latest being HTML5. It's published as a W3C Recommendation.

What Does HTML Look Like?

HTML code on Lifewire.com

HTML is a combination of text, like what you see as you read this article, and items called tags. HTML tags are words or abbreviations surrounded by angle brackets (< and >), as in the image above.

The web browser uses HTML tags to know how to display each item on the web page. If a block of text is surrounded by a tag meant to create paragraphs, the browser understands that that text should appear as a paragraph. The same is true for the page's header area and the body of the web page, both of which also have associated tags.

Additional HTML tags might describe the color of the text or the position of an image, list items with bullets or numbers, link to other web pages and files, and make text bold, underlined, or organized into a table. HTML is also useful for writing symbols and embedding images, videos, and forms directly onto a web page.

All HTML tags are written as pairs so the browser knows exactly what text the tag applies to. An HTML tag must always include both starting and ending markers, as follows:


Web page readers don't see these tags, however, since they're really just instructions for the browser to interpret. Take for example the heading below, "How to Learn HTML." That text is all you see, but the hidden code that directs the way the text appears includes some other information between the starting and closing tags.

HTML tags can even be nested inside of other tags, like to create a hyperlink inside a paragraph or bold text in a heading.

How to Learn HTML

HTML is known to be one of the easiest computer languages to learn because a lot of it is readable by humans. You can start writing your own HTML web pages using a regular text editor, but there are also dedicated HTML editors that might do the job better.

One of the most popular places to learn HTML online is W3Schools. You can find tons of examples of various HTML elements and even apply those concepts with hands-on exercises and quizzes. There's information on formatting, comments, CSS, JavaScript, file paths, tag attributes, symbols, colors, forms, and more.

Codecademy and Khan Academy are two other free HTML resources worth checking out.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Fisher, Tim. "What Is HTML?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 25, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-html-3482374. Fisher, Tim. (2021, June 25). What Is HTML? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-html-3482374 Fisher, Tim. "What Is HTML?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-html-3482374 (accessed July 27, 2021).