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HTML Hackers Primer
guide containing bare minimum raw HTML theory needed to publish online
updated August 5, 1998


Web Server

OK first thing is you need to have a system with a web server running and access to the directory where files for your web site reside. If this system is to be accessible to the entire world wide its usually provided to you by paying some Internet Service Provider (ISP) somewhere on the end of a phone line. If you are really adventurous you can set up a web server on you own machine. Anyway web server setup is a bit of a black art, but suffice it to say, this step needs to be done before you can proceed.

File Transfer

You need to be able to create, destroy, and alter the files in the directory on the web server that corresponds to your web site. When first setting up files in the web site directory, it can be pretty disorienting. When setting up often you are not sure exactly what your web address is, and what default file is expected to exist when someone visits your page. Furthermore, if the directory is empty initially, its easy get lost in the wrong directory when trying to create your first web page file.

The deal is you need to figure out how to create and destroy files in the directory that your web page is served from. If its your own machine, you can use a text editor to create a new file and save it directly. If you are creating a web site on an Internet Service Provider's system on the other end of a phone line, you need to mess about with utilities that can upload and download the files between your system and theirs.  FTP utilities which follow the Internet standard UNIX File Transfer Protocol are the most common for doing this. Fetch is an excellent one for Macintosh. For PC, um, DOS shell and cryptic commands can work. With AOL, they have a dedicated user interface to do this (its ugly compared to Fetch for Macintosh, but with AOL you have no choice). Anyway, understanding how to transfer files is fundamental to being able to create a web site. Read you manual, or call your ISP to make sure you completely understand how to do this before proceeding. Note, for turbo geeks, they like to use a telnet remote login technique to actually edit files right on the ISP system without transferring anything. Telneting is a powerful but cryptic technique, ask your nearest UNIX freak if this is something you think you have the stomach for.

Editing files

Beware of the sexy web page editors. They will hide the real power of the web from the author and confuse you when they generate incongruous HTML that obfuscates the basic concepts needed to publish a web page. Use a simple text editor. My favorite editor is BBedit for the Macintosh, but SimpleText is good enough to get you started. On the PC Notepad is my buddy. With Unix I use vi, or sometimes emacs (for harry chested UNIX freaks). Know your text editor and it will set you free. If you must start using advanced snazzy editors, remember a text editor can always be used to edit any HTML document no matter where it came from. Which means if suddenly you need to make a change and your snazzy editor is not available, you are still empowered when only the simplest tools are available.

Hello World

Ok enter the following exactly into a text editor, save using the suggested file name for your default web page (e.g. index.html, default.htm, ...) and transfer it if necessary to the directory where the web server will serve it from ...


Here's where we find out if you cleared the fundamental hurdles already discussed. Now try and bring up the web page that this file should now represent. If you don't get the two word web page "Hello World", you're screwed! Ha Ha Ha Ha. Well maybe you need to recheck the steps discussed above and try again.

That's all for now. From this point on mostly tricks and tips should follow later.

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