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A short history of HTML


A short history of HTML

The Invention

Do you love Internet? If the answer to that question is yes, then you might know who invented the internet, right? This may or may not sound surprising that the same person who invented the internet, also invented HTML. He is Tim Berners-Lee.

Back in 1989, Tim was working at CERN: European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, Switzerland. As the name says, it has something to do with particles physics which I don’t have any idea about. But CERN was a place where all these particle physicists from all over the world used to meet and exchange their ideas and findings. Tim was there in the computer service section where he had this idea of a connected network via which all the physicist would be able to view and collaborate on the research papers without physically coming at CERN. Thus he invented HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Transfer Protocol, or, in another word, The Internet! I am sure Tim had no idea back then that non-physicist general people would post 500 million tweets every single day using his invention!

So, HTTP was developed. But Tim needed to provide a way to the scientists to able to read and cross reference research papers from their computer. Here, the ability to link one paper with another was one of the main focus so that everyone could find and read the paper easily which is referenced in another paper. Tim decided to do it with a markup language. He was looking for a language that would make it easier to format the document and view them directly from within the network other than having to download the file locally. And that is how the history of HTML began.

HTML wasn’t anything completely new to face of the earth. HTML was mostly based on SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) which was an established method for constructing document in structural units such as paragraph, headlines etc. Most of the tags of HTML was directly taken from SGML. Creating HTML based on SGML was a good move because SGML was already a broadly accepted language and it was easy for everyone. As HTML didn’t make things any complex, rather added the super power of linking one text with another; which wasn’t possible before, HTML was well received everywhere.

The Development

This might seem a little unusual, but HTML didn’t have any clear set of rules or definition at first. When Tim realized the huge potential that HTML has, he started talking to people on the internet. Dave Raggett from Hewlett-Packard’s Labs in Bristol, England, was very interested in the development of HTML he met with Tim regarding this. After a broad conversation with Tim about how HTML can be shaped for mass consumption, Dave developed HTML+. A slightly developed version which was released in 1992.

Release of HTML2

Later the same year, NCSA: National Center for Supercomputer Applications, was convinced by the idea of Internet. They saw the future potential too and decided to make their own web browser called Mosaic. Mosaic was released in 1993 and they extended the features of HTML which actually wasn’t in the main HTML definition. But they weren’t the only one to do this. A lot of other browsers also implemented features as they wished, to compete with other browser vendors. This was turning HTML into an ill-defined language as there was no clear documentation existed by that point of time. So, to prevent this, HTML2 was released the next year with clear definitions and features description.

W3C Formed

In 1994, Netscape browser was released and it was a huge success. Success to degree that many people thought Netscape was the inventor of the Internet! The tradition of implementing features on HTML was continuing. Netscape didn’t seem to care much about the main HTML definition or Web Community behind HTML. They kept inventing new HTML tag as they pleased! As web had become more popular, The need of standardization arose much greatly, for which the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was formed later the same year.

Year of Changes

1995 was a very important year for the web. A lot has happened that year. Firstly, HTML 3 proposed a lot of new tags which included tags for not only formatting the document but also styling them. Some people didn’t like it. You’re not supposed to be able to do that sort of things with HTML — they thought. Which led to two things. One, dismissal of HTML 3 draft (There were some other reasons behind as well) and Two, it gave birth of CSS in that same year. Other significant event includes the release of the most dominant browser of all time from Microsoft: The Internet Explorer! Yeah, Don’t laugh, That’s the truth.

Things started to changes in a different way after 1995. HTML 3.2 and HTML 4 came out within next 3 years, but the development was too slow. W3C was taking too long to standardize features that the industry and browser vendors demanded. Also, After the release of HTML4, the W3C team seemed to try to turn HTML into something like XML. They introduced XHTML which had added features and a strict guideline. Though they did it because they wanted HTML to have crystal clear structure, But not everyone liked it much. Even some of the browser vendors including Internet Explorer refused to implement it into their browser. Instead, vendors of major browsers met and formed an entirely new group for shaping the future of HTML, Which they named Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group or WHATWG for short.

WHATWG was fast for bringing changes and added features which made their standard of HTML more popular than XHTML that W3C was developing. So, the two groups were operating independently not caring about each other until W3C realizes that their idea of XHTML wasn’t just working well. Though W3C admitted that the road they took wasn’t the best one, but it still took them a while to drop XHTML. Finally, in 2009, W3C and WHATWG united together and started working on the coolest thing ever happened in the history of HTML, The HTML5. HTML5 is the current web standard that we are using today.


W3C and WHATWG are still operating and currently, they are working on HTML 5.1. Late in 2016, the draft of HTML 5.1 reached the ‘Proposed Recommendation’ stage. This is the last stage before it becomes the official standard. So, we might see that come around pretty soon.

That brings us to the current date. If you want to know the history of HTML in even more details, you can check out this article on W3C. You can also watch this video where Travis from DevTips explains all these in a really fun way.

I hope you’ve learned something from this. If you think I have misplaced any information or included any wrong information, please let me know. In the next post, we are going to learn about HTML links and images which are among the most important aspects of HTML. Feel free to ask me or suggest me anything. See you soon!

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