Professional Software Consulting
HTML and CSS: Client Side Programming

HTML - or Hyper Text Markup Language - is the lingua franca of the internet. Of all the technologies related to the internet, it is practically impossible to write an application without it. Even a Flash application must be called from HTML. However, while HTML was originally intended as a way to create web pages that were visually appealing, it has far too many shortcomings to be used by itself: pages that only use HTML tend to be bland and simplistic.

Cascading Style Sheets - or CSS - is one of the most common technologies used to add pizazz to a web page. For example, the menus you see at the top of this page are done via CSS. Without the CSS tags, the menu would be a rather cumbersome set of lists. CSS also allows formatting information to be removed from the HTML file and placed into a separate file, thereby allowing re-use. This facilitates a uniform look and feel across the entire website, as well as making changes significantly easier and less error-prone.

CSS and HTML programming is challenging because different browsers interpret such programming in slightly different manners. Because client-side languages are run in the browser, and the browser is a program written by a team of developers, decisions made to either conform or not conform to the standard make life difficult for web developers. The reasons why this is done varies. Oftentimes it is because the browser programmers think their way of doing a particular function is better or more elegant; other times it is because the functionality they've dreamed up isn't addressed by the standard.

With server side technologies, no mention is ever made of browser compatibility, but with client side technologies, it is almost impossible to talk about it without bringing up this subject. Making a website compatible with every browser in existence is practically impossible since new browsers, not to mention new versions of existing browsers, frequently interpret HTML and CSS differently. I'm not saying that a 100% browser compliant application is impossible, I'm saying is that nobody would fund the effort, assuming they can even find developers who would be willing to do it.

The typical solution is to pick the most common browsers and version in the market, and conform to those. For example, this website was designed to work in Firefox versions 2 and 3, as well as Internet Explorer versions 6 and 7. Even then, there are still certain things to appear and behave differently between the browsers, so the web designers job is to ensure that despite these differences, the user experience is basically the same.

Once these basic technologies are understood, there are still decisions that need to be made with regards to color scheme and arrangement, to name a few, but these are better left to a front-end designer who specializes in the artistic craft of websites, as opposed to those of use who work on the technical aspects.

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