A History of HTML

HTML originated as an idea to simplify sharing scientific research data. It's morphed into an essential development tool for building modern web pages.
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  • HTML is a standard design language for web and digital content.
  • Developers usually stack HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
  • HTML has been in use for about 30 years and will likely remain a key digital development language in the future.

What Is HTML?

Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML for short, is a key element of modern web development.

This digital language defines and structures essential elements of web content. Those elements include:

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    Text formatting
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    Website navigation

HTML wraps markups or tags around web elements that a developer wants to customize.

Markup languages produce human-readable formatted results. HTML uses the less than and greater than signs (< and >), also known as angle brackets, to tag text. A backslash before the greater than sign closes the tag (/>).

For example, this basic tag: <b>bold</b> would define the text inside it as "bold."

Markup languages produce human-readable formatted results.

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If you learn HTML and combine individual HTML functions, it allows you to customize web pages or apps. But, in practice, HTML is usually combined with other technologies, like Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript, to develop modern websites and apps.

However, tech experts and educators don't classify HTML as a programming language. That's because HTML doesn't use variables or conditional statements like C++ or Python. Keep reading to learn more — specifically, what HTML is used for today, the history of HTML, and what's next for this digital language.

Origin of HTML


Computer science professor Tim Berners-Lee of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, proposed the use of a digital hypertext system to improve the sharing of digital research documents and information.

Berners-Lee noted that high turnover at CERN resulted in a loss of productivity. With so much personnel churn, "the introduction of the new people demands a fair amount of their time and that of others before they have any idea of what goes on [and] the technical details of past projects are sometimes lost forever." In response, one of his goals for developing what became HTML was to develop a "web of notes with links (like references) between them."

Instead of keywords, Berners-Lee suggested using hypertext to access data. These highlighted phrases or icons would link to relevant information. He also proposed that hyperlinks could link to images or videos.

According to a 2021 story by The Guardian, his then-bosses at CERN labeled the idea "vague but exciting." Despite their unenthusiastic response, Berners-Lee wrote the first version of HTML in 1993. His invention changed the way the world wide web looks and feels. It also changed the way people communicate and interact.

Berners-Lee wrote the first version of HTML in 1993

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Berners-Lee still works in the industry. He is a professor at Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of his current priorities is helping people reclaim their data privacy from big tech.

History of HTML Versions

Like the history of spoken and written languages, the history of HTML indicates that this digital language will also continue evolving. Here's a brief history of HTML and how versions of this language have changed in the decades since its creation.

Hypertext Markup Language is an application of Standard Generalized Markup Language, or SGML. The history of Generalized Markup Language, or GML, goes back to IBM in 1969. Much of the interest and efforts to develop these technologies centered around improving the creation, storage, management, and access to text-based information.

1993: HTML 1.0

This version of HTML supported basic text and image control elements. It did not have the capability to support tables or fonts.

1995: HTML 2.0

This version of HTML saw improved markup tags. The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3 for short, was also established in October 1994. The W3 created and enforced standards and rules for the world wide web.

1997: HTML 3.2

This version of HTML improved tags and offered better support for new form elements. Version 3.2 also implemented support for CSS, which has features that improve the look of HTML tag rendering in browsers.

1999: HTML 4.01

HTML 4.01 extended support for CSS. This version allowed for external styling sheets. That change meant that you could now develop an external CSS file, and that this file could be included in the HTML itself. Version 4.01 also expanded support for new HTML tags.

2014: HTML 5

HTML5 is "designed to do virtually anything you want to do online without having to download browser plugins or other software," according to Hubspot. This version of HTML has two key elements:

  1. Updated HTML language.
  2. Larger set of technologies work with HTML5.

Together, these updates allow you to build complex websites and apps.

Future of HTML

HTML is likely to remain an important development tool for the foreseeable future. In the past, HTML updates came slowly. But about two years after the introduction of HTML5, an updated version, HTML 5.1, was released. W3C published the HTML development on GitHub. This move allowed the development community to provide feedback.

According to a survey by W3Techs, nearly 91% of websites surveyed use HTML5. That includes some of today's largest websites and tech companies. Google, Netflix, and Amazon all use HTML5 as the foundation of key websites, projects and products.

According to a survey by W3Techs, nearly 91% of websites surveyed use HTML5.

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In fact, almost all modern websites use HTML5. HTML5 is also used in game development and apps. HTML5 can also support better website navigation and vector graphics.

Noteworthy updates to HTML 5.1 include:

  • Support by all common browsers.
  • Allows developers to integrate image files from different sources.

Frequently Asked Questions About HTML

What type of language is HTML?

Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML for short, is not a computer programming language. Instead, developers use HTML to markup, define, and structure web pages. HTML data indicates to the browser if an element on a web page is text, a heading, or a link.

Computer experts don't view HTML as a programming language because it doesn't have programming logic, conditional statements, or the ability to manipulate data. In combination with Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, which controls the color, text and size of elements on a webpage, HTML and CSS are foundational elements of web design.

Is HTML easy to learn?

Although easy is a subjective measure, most people can learn the basic principles of HTML in a few days. In a week or two, most people can understand HTML more deeply. And with a couple of months of practice, most people become comfortable enough to work on more complex HTML-based projects.

One aspect that makes HTML easy to learn is that no special software or apps are needed, and you don't need to connect to the internet. You can use a basic text editor to write HTML code.

Where can I learn HTML online?

Several free online HTML courses are available from popular learning websites. They include:

Feature Image: virusowy / E+ / Getty Images