When you write a normal document using a word processor like Microsoft Word/Office, your text is saved in a file with a special format. It is not simply saved as the string of words you typed since the document needs to preserve things like the font you chose, the size of the text, which words are in bold, which italics, and so on. The special format includes not only your words, but all these extra information so that the next time Word opens your document, it can display the document with the exact appearance you created earlier.
In the same way, web pages are simply strings of words put in a special format that web browsers are able to display. While the format of Word documents is simply called "Word format" (or "doc format"), loosely speaking, one might say that web pages are formatted using "HTML". Take the paragraph of text in the box below for example:
If you were to peek into the raw code for the above words, you will see the following:
Notice that it is more or less like the text given earlier, except that there is additional information embedded. For example,
the portion that says
<a href="http://www.thesitewizard.com/html-tutorial/what-is-html.shtml"> (which I placed in a different
font above to make it easier to spot) tells the web browser that what follows, until
</a> is reached, is to be regarded as a link
pointing at the web address http://www.thesitewizard.com/html-tutorial/what-is-html.shtml
When the web browser sees this information, it makes the words "explaining common terms like... [etc]" appear as the blue underlined text that represents a clickable link. The rest of the text is just displayed as-is.
Just as you do not have to know the nitty-gritty of the "doc format" in order to create a document in Microsoft Word, learning HTML is optional for creating websites.
You can simply use a web editor to create your website, the same way you use Word to create a normal document. The web editor allows you to type your text in the usual way, underline your text, make it bold, add pictures, and so on, using an easy-to-use interface. Tutorials for the most-used web editors can be found on thesitewizard.com in the following pages:
You should also read How to Make / Create Your Own Website: The Beginner's A-Z Guide because there are other things involved in making your own website besides designing the web pages.
For those who are curious, "HTML" stands for "Hypertext Markup Language". Basically, it's just a means for formatting your document. There's nothing esoteric or fancy about it, just as there's nothing special about the Word format or any other document format.
Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, allow you to specify things like the font you want on your page, the size of your text, whether the page is to have 2 columns, whether your text is to be in bold or italics, and so on. In other words, it is the part that lets you control the appearance of your web page.
You may be used to the Microsoft Word "doc" format, where everything from the text you type to the appearance of the document is specified in a single file, transparent to you. On the web, the raw information is specified in HTML and most of the appearance is determined by the CSS.
If you use a web editor like those I mentioned above, you won't have to bother with which parts goes into the HTML portion and which parts goes into the CSS portion. Everything will be taken care of by the editor.
For those who like to know the gory details, you can read my Introduction To Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). However, if you are using a web editor, you don't need that information since the editor does everything for you, so don't worry if that article is too technical. (It wasn't written for the absolute newcomer.)
Since the HTML/CSS combination is analogous to the data found in a Word document, it is good only for displaying information.
If you want your web pages to do different things depending on the situation, you will need a programming language. For example, some websites want to provide a membership facility where people can log into the site, and access certain information. Other sites provide a feedback form so that visitors can contact them. All these things require facilities that a simple document format cannot do.
Apart from the above difference, from the point of view of a non-programmer, there's not much point asking what the difference is between the languages, say, between PHP and Perl. It would be like asking what the difference is between English and German, or some other human language. They're just different languages that you can use to write web-based programs. Each computer language has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Learning a programming language is vastly different from creating a website whether with a web editor or directly in HTML. Although I have tutorials for things like learning to write programs in PHP (and the other languages), many people will find programming a difficult undertaking, unless they already have a programming background or an inclination towards programming.
Other pre-written programs can be found in the relevant sections on thefreecountry.com. There are too many pages on that site to list here, so you should just go to one of the following index pages and look for the program you need. (Note: the word "script" in the context below merely means "program".)
Once you're ready to begin, please read the How to Start / Make a Website: The Beginner's A-Z Guide. Don't worry. Like this article, the guide is designed for the ordinary person, so you don't need to be an uber-geek to understand or follow it.
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