Use the source, Luke
- By Joe Klemmer
- May 11, 2000
With the wonderful range of Web development tools available — from simple
WYSIWYG editors to multisite management applications — it is quite easy
to build rich, full-featured, sophisticated Web sites.
This is, for the most part, a good thing.
However, there is a downside to using tools like FrontPage, NetObjects
Fusion or Dreamweaver. It's not a problem with the tools themselves. The
problem is a lack of knowledge of HTML by many who use them to develop Web
Everyone who does any work building Web sites should have a fairly good
understanding of HTML specifications and Cascading Style Sheets.
Sure, today's Web development tools let you get away without knowing
HTML or CSS. Point, click, drag, drop, publish, and then it's Miller Time.
Nevertheless, I maintain that even if you never hand-code a Web page in
your life, you still need to understand the basic, fundamental foundation
of HTML in order to get the best out of the medium in which you are working.
When I started working on the Web in late 1994/early 1995, most of the
Web development tools were just text editors with a little functionality,
such as prefabricated tag generators, added on. Most people used vi or Notepad
to write HTML.
Now I'm not saying that everyone should go back to using text editors.
It would be impossible to do so and maintain still any fairly large site.
It is, however, helpful to know what to look for, and where to look,
when something doesn't look right ("Why is that table not aligned correctly?")
or when visitors to your site have problems ("The menu on your site doesn't
work!"), yet it all looks fine and works well for you. Understanding how
the code works will allow you to make better use of the WYSIWYG tools, too.
There is another problem where being able to understand the source code
for a Web page will come in very handy. Most of the WYSIWYG development
tools have a tendency to generate source that is not optimized and may add
lots of extra text that can bloat the size of your pages. This isn't something
most people who are writing the pages notice.
Generally, the Web developer has a local-area network connection to
the Web server, so pages just pop right up. However, most of the time your
site will be visited by people connected to the Internet via a much slower,
dial-up service. Extra text and even extra white space can slow a page down
enough so that users will just hit the stop button.
Everyone knows about keeping the graphics small to help speed up downloads,
but how many know about the performance issues that occur because of the
way HTML is rendered?
Understanding the source is, as Obi-Wan might have said, the key to
understanding the Web.
— Klemmer is a senior Unix system administrator and security analyst
at the Strategic and Advanced Computing Center at Army headquarters. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.