The Web was a pretty boring place in its early days. Web pages were constructed from plain old HTML, so they could display information, and that was about all. Folks would click a link and then wait for a new web page to load. That was about as interactive as it got.
That’s why most of this book is about jQuery. It lets you do so much, so easily. Another great thing about jQuery is that you can add advanced features to your website with thousands of easy-to-use jQuery plug-ins. For example, the FancyBox plug-in (which you’ll meet on Advanced Gallery with jQuery FancyBox) lets you take a simple page of thumbnail graphics and turn it into an interactive slideshow—all with a single line of programming!
For a full-fledged introduction to HTML and CSS, check out Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML by Elisabeth Freeman and Eric Freeman. For an in-depth presentation of the tricky subject of Cascading Style Sheets, pick up a copy of CSS: The Missing Manual by David Sawyer McFarland (both O’Reilly).
<title>Hey, I am the title of this web page.
<body>Hey, I am some body text on this web page.
It may not be exciting, but this example has all the basic elements a web page needs. This page begins with a single line—the document type declaration, or doctype for short—that states what type of document the page is and which standards it conforms to. HTML actually comes in different versions, and you use a different doctype with each. In this example, the doctype is for HTML5; the doctype for an HTML 4.01 or XHTML document is longer and also includes a URL that points the web browser to a file on the Internet that contains definitions for that type of file.
There are five types of HTML commonly used today: HTML 4.01 Transitional, HTML 4.01 Strict, XHTML 1.0 Transitional, XHTML 1.0 Strict, and HTML5 (the new kid on the block). All five are very much alike, with just slight differences in how tags are written and which tags and attributes are allowed. Most web page editing programs add an appropriate doctype when you create a new web page, but if you want examples of how each is written, you can find templates for the different types of pages at www.webstandards.org/learn/reference/templates.
It doesn’t really matter which type of HTML you use. All current web browsers understand each of the five common doctypes and can display web pages using any of the five document types without problem. Which doctype you use isn’t nearly as important as making sure you’ve correctly written your HTML tags—a task that’s helped by validating the page, as described in the box on Validating Web Pages.
XHTML was once heralded as the next big thing for web designers. Although you’ll still find people who think you should only use XHTML, the winds of change have turned. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has stopped development of XHTML in favor of HTML5. You can learn more about HTML5 by picking up a copy of HTML5: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald or HTML5: Up and Running by Mark Pilgrim (both from O’Reilly).
In the example on the previous page, as in the HTML code of any web page, you’ll notice that most commands appear in pairs that surround a block of text or other commands. Sandwiched between brackets, these tags are instructions that tell a web browser how to display the web page. Tags are the “markup” part of the Hypertext Markup Language.
The starting (opening) tag of each pair tells the browser where the instruction begins, and the ending tag tells it where the instruction ends. Ending or closing tags always include a forward slash (/) after the first bracket symbol (<). For example, the tag <p> marks the start of a paragraph, while </p> marks its end.
For a web page to work correctly, you must include at least these three tags:
The <html> tag appears once at the beginning of a web page (after the doctype) and again (with an added slash) at the end. This tag tells a web browser that the information contained in this document is written in HTML, as opposed to some other language. All of the contents of a page, including other tags, appear between the opening and closing <html> tags.
The head of a web page, surrounded by <head> tags, contains the title of the page. It may also provide other, invisible information (such as search keywords) that browsers and web search engines can exploit.
The body of a web page, as set apart by its surrounding <body> tags, contains all the information that appears inside a browser window: headlines, text, pictures, and so on.
Within the <body> tag, you commonly find tags like the following:
You tell a web browser where a paragraph of text begins with a <p> (opening paragraph tag), and where it ends with a </p> (closing paragraph tag).
The <strong> tag emphasizes text. If you surround some text with it and its partner tag, </strong>, you get boldface type. The HTML snippet <strong>Warning! </strong> tells a web browser to display the word “Warning!” in bold type.
The <a> tag, or anchor tag, creates a hyperlink in a web page. When clicked, a hyperlink—or link—can lead anywhere on the web. You tell the browser where the link points by putting a web address inside the <a> tags. For instance, you might type <a href=“http://www.missingmanuals.com”>Click here!</a>.
The browser knows that when your visitor clicks the words “Click here!” it should go to the Missing Manual website. The href part of the tag is called an attribute and the URL (the Uniform Resource Locator or web address) is the value. In this example, http://www.missingmanuals.com is the value of the href attribute.
At the beginning of the Web, HTML was the only language you needed to know. You could build pages with colorful text and graphics and make words jump out using different sizes, fonts, and colors. But today, web designers turn to Cascading Style Sheets to add visual sophistication to their pages. CSS is a formatting language that lets you make text look good, build complex page layouts, and generally add style to your site.
Think of HTML as merely the language you use to structure a page. It helps identify the stuff you want the world to know about. Tags like <h1> and <h2> denote headlines and assign them relative importance: A heading 1 is more important than a heading 2. The <p> tag indicates a basic paragraph of information. Other tags provide further structural clues: for example, a <ul> tag identifies a bulleted list (to make a list of recipe ingredients more intelligible, for example).
CSS, on the other hand, adds design flair to well-organized HTML content, making it more beautiful and easier to read. Essentially, a CSS style is just a rule that tells a web browser how to display a particular element on a page. For example, you can create a CSS rule to make all <h1> tags appear 36 pixels tall, in the Verdana font, and in orange. CSS can do more powerful stuff, too, like add borders, change margins, and even control the exact placement of a page element.
A single style that defines the look of one element is a pretty basic beast. It’s essentially a rule that tells a web browser how to format something—turn a headline blue, draw a red border around a photo, or create a 150-pixel-wide sidebar box to hold a list of links. If a style could talk, it would say something like, “Hey, Browser, make this look like that.” A style is, in fact, made up of two elements: the web page element that the browser formats (the selector) and the actual formatting instructions (the declaration block). For example, a selector can be a headline, a paragraph of text, a photo, and so on. Declaration blocks can turn that text blue, add a red border around a paragraph, position the photo in the center of the page—the possibilities are endless.
Of course, CSS styles can’t communicate in nice, clear English. They have their own language. For example, to set a standard font color and font size for all paragraphs on a web page, you’d write the following:
This style simply says, “Make the text in all paragraphs—marked with <p> tags—red and 1.5 ems tall.” (An em is a unit or measurement that’s based on a browser’s normal text size.) As Figure I-1 illustrates, even a simple style like this example contains several elements:
Selector. The selector tells a web browser which element or elements on a page to style—like a headline, paragraph, image, or link. In Figure I-1, the selector (p) refers to the <p> tag, which makes web browsers format all <p> tags using the formatting directions in this style. With the wide range of selectors that CSS offers and a little creativity, you can gain fine control of your pages’ formatting. (Selectors are an important part of using jQuery, so you’ll find a detailed discussion of them starting on Selecting Page Elements: The jQuery Way.)
Declaration. Between the opening and closing braces of a declaration, you add one or more declarations, or formatting instructions. Every declaration has two parts, a property and a value, and ends with a semicolon.
Property. CSS offers a wide range of formatting options, called properties. A property is a word—or a few hyphenated words—indicating a certain style effect. Most properties have straightforward names like font-size, margin-top, and background-color. For example, the background-color property sets—you guessed it—a background color.
Value. Finally, you get to express your creative genius by assigning a value to a CSS property—by making a background blue, red, purple, or chartreuse, for example. Different CSS properties require specific types of values—a color (like red, or #FF0000), a length (like 18px, 2in, or 5em), a URL (like images/background.gif), or a specific keyword (like top, center, or bottom).
You don’t need to write a style on a single line as pictured in Figure I-1. Many styles have multiple formatting properties, so you can make them easier to read by breaking them up into multiple lines. For example, you may want to put the selector and opening brace on the first line, each declaration on its own line, and the closing brace by itself on the last line, like so:
It’s also helpful to indent properties, with either a tab or a couple of spaces, to visibly separate the selector from the declarations, making it easy to tell which is which. And finally, putting one space between the colon and the property value is optional, but adds to the readability of the style. In fact, you can put as much white space between the two as you want. For example color:red, color: red, and color : red all work.
There are plenty of free programs out there for editing web pages and style sheets. If you’re still using Notepad or TextEdit, give one of these a try. Here’s a short list to get you started:
HTML-Kit (Windows, www.chami.com/html-kit) is a powerful HTML/XHTML editor that includes lots of useful features, like the ability to preview a web page directly in the program (so you don’t have to switch back and forth between browser and editor), shortcuts for adding HTML tags, and a lot more.
CoffeeCup Free HTML Editor (Windows, www.coffeecup.com/free-editor) is the free version of the commercial ($49) CoffeeCup HTML editor.
TextWrangler (Mac, www.barebones.com/products/textwrangler) is free software that’s actually a pared-down version of BBEdit, the sophisticated, well-known text editor for the Mac. TextWrangler doesn’t have all of BBEdit’s built-in HTML tools, but it does include syntax-coloring (highlighting tags and properties in different colors so it’s easy to scan a page and identify its parts), FTP support (so you can upload files to a web server), and more.
EditPlus (Windows, www.editplus.com) is an inexpensive ($35) text editor that includes syntax-coloring, FTP, auto-completion, and other wrist-saving features.
CoffeeCup (Windows, www.coffeecup.com) is a combination text and visual editor ($49). You can either write straight HTML code or use a visual interface to build your pages.
Expression Web Designer (Windows, www.microsoft.com/expression/products/StudioWebPro_Overview.aspx) is Microsoft’s entry in the web design field ($149). It includes many professional web design tools, including excellent CSS features.
To use this book, and indeed to use a computer, you need to know a few basics. This book assumes that you’re familiar with a few terms and concepts:
Clicking. This book gives you three kinds of instructions that require you to use your computer’s mouse or trackpad. To click means to point the arrow cursor at something on the screen and then—without moving the cursor at all—to press and release the clicker button on the mouse (or laptop trackpad). To right-click means to do the same thing with the right mouse button. To double-click, of course, means to click twice in rapid succession, again without moving the cursor at all. And to drag means to move the cursor while pressing the button.
If you’re on a Mac and don’t have a right mouse button, you can accomplish the same thing by pressing the Control key as you click with the one mouse button.
When you’re told to ⌘- click something on the Mac, or Ctrl-click something on a PC, you click while pressing the ⌘ or Ctrl key (both of which are near the space bar).
Menus. The menus are the words at the top of your screen or window: File, Edit, and so on. Click one to make a list of commands appear, as though they’re written on a window shade you’ve just pulled down.
Keyboard shortcuts. If you’re typing along in a burst of creative energy, it’s sometimes disruptive to have to take your hand off the keyboard, grab the mouse, and then use a menu (for example, to use the Bold command). That’s why many experienced computer mavens prefer to trigger menu commands by pressing certain combinations on the keyboard. For example, in the Firefox web browser, you can press Ctrl-+ (Windows) or ⌘-+ (Mac) to make text on a web page get larger (and more readable). When you read an instruction like “press ⌘-B,” start by pressing the ⌘-key; while it’s down, type the letter B, and then release both keys.
Operating-system basics. This book assumes that you know how to open a program, surf the web, and download files. You should know how to use the Start menu (Windows) and the Dock or Apple menu (Macintosh), as well as the Control Panel (Windows), or System Preferences (Mac OS X).
Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this one: “Open the System→Library→Fonts folder.” That’s shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to open three nested folders in sequence, like this: “On your hard drive, you’ll find a folder called System. Open that. Inside the System folder window is a folder called Library; double-click it to open it. Inside that folder is yet another one called Fonts. Double-click to open it, too.”
Similarly, this kind of arrow shorthand helps to simplify the business of choosing commands in menus, as shown in Figure I-2.
This book is designed to get your work onto the web faster and more professionally; it’s only natural, then, that much of the value of this book also lies on the web. Online, you’ll find example files so you can get some hands-on experience. You can also communicate with the Missing Manual team and tell us what you love (or hate) about the book. Head over to www.missingmanuals.com, or go directly to one of the following sections.
As you read the book’s chapters, you’ll encounter a number of living examples—step-by-step tutorials that you can build yourself, using raw materials (like graphics and half-completed web pages) that you can download from either www.sawmac.com/js2e or from this book’s Missing CD page at www.missingmanuals.com/cds. You might not gain very much from simply reading these step-by-step lessons while relaxing in your porch hammock, but if you take the time to work through them at the computer, you’ll discover that these tutorials give you unprecedented insight into the way professional designers build web pages.
In an effort to keep this book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you’ve suggested. We also note such changes on the book’s website, so you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like. Go to http://tinyurl.com/jsjqtmm to report an error and view existing corrections.
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