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The World Wide Web (also known as "WWW" or simply "the Web") is an amazing innovation in computer communications. Any computer connected to the Internet is able to use the Web, enabling you (the computer user) to view pages of text and graphics, hopping from page to related page, browsing information and pictures stored on computers scattered across the globe! As you know, you move from page to page by following "links" .. selecting highlighted words (usually by "clicking on them").
When you select a link (usually by "clicking" on a highlighted phrase), your web browser software transmits a request to the computer that "hosts" the desired web page. This request asks the remote computer to send back the information that will enable your computer to display the page. This information is stored on the host computer as a special text file, which contains the text that comprises the content of the page, and instructions hinting at how the information should be displayed, as well as information that tells your computer where to find any special items that are contained on the page, such as graphics. Seconds after the page has been requested, the special file is transmitted to your computer.Your Web browser software interprets the information and displays the page on your screen. If the page contains special items that your software is configured to display (such as graphics), your Web software then issues requests to the host computer for those items, which are subsequently returned and displayed.
Note that your computer is not actually communicating with the remote computer for longer than an instant at the time the page is requested, and then for just a short time later to receive the computer description of the page. After your computer has received the information, your computer is no longer connected to the "host" computer, regardless of how long you examine the page, or what other links you follow from the page. The information describing the page, including all the text, graphics and addresses (or "URLs") of the links in the page are temporarily stored on your own computer. There is no need for further interaction with the host.
When you surf the World Wide Web, you do so through a software program, such as Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer, or Lynx. This program is known as a "Web browser". Each different web browser package will behave similarly (not identically) to other browser software packages. Some browsers will be capable of displaying graphics and/or differing sizes and fonts for type, while other browsers might not be able to display anything but plain text.
In order that people using very different computer systems and software with varying abilities can use the World Wide Web, a standard "language" has evolved, known as hyper-text markup language (or HTML). This language contains commands which give each browser "hints" about how each bit of text should be displayed. The commands are only "hints", simply because of the varying characteristics of each different browser package. For example, the page you are now looking at is titled "How it Works". The title will be displayed in fairly large, bold type if you are using a browser capable of displaying different type sizes. The interesting thing is this .. the HTML description for this page does not have a command that says "make this line large and bold". Instead it contains a command that tells your web browser, "this is the main heading". It is up to the browser software to display the heading in an appropriate manner. Thus, when it displayed this page, your browser software was not explicitly told how to display the heading, but simply told that "How it Works" is a heading ("hinting" that it should be given prominence on the displayed page). If you are using a web browser that is incapable of displaying different type sizes or styles, the heading might appear exactly the same as the rest of the type on the page. If this is the case, your browser software has simply ignored the "hint" because it was incapable of accommodating it. While it will soon be apparent that this creates an obstacle in the design of attractive web pages, this is also the feature which has made the World Wide Web a success without precedent. By making the browser software responsible for the details of how a page should look, providing only "hints" of the structure of the page, HTML allows the Web to be independent of computer hardware or software, and therefor used by anyone who has direct access to the Internet.
This feature presents a quandary for the html page designer/programmer. The designer cannot know for certain exactly how the pages will look, and must use only good form and proper style to ensure that the designed pages will be attractive and meaningful on a wide variety of web browsers, running on many different computer systems, with a wide range of graphical capability. This is a distinct departure from "traditional" media, such as print or television, where the results of a design are determined entirely in the design itself. Another implication of this feature is this: the primary goal of designing good web pages lies in creating meaningful content, not in creating stunning designs and graphics. While creative design and graphics are a goal in WWW design, not all browsers will be capable of displaying the pages as they were intended.
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