When you start out writing HTML, most training classes, books, and web pages will tell you you need a “text” editor. But what exactly is a text editor? Many people assume that if you can read letters on your computer, that means that you are reading text. For the purposes of writing HTML, this is not always the case.
Types of Computer Text
Text on a computer can be formatted in many different ways, some of the best known types of text are:
- Notepad or TextEdit files
- Word documents
- Acrobat files (PDF)
- Graphics (that include text)
- Web pages (or HTML)
Notepad or TextEdit Files
Notepad (for Windows) and TextEdit (for Macintosh) are programs that write standard text that the computer sees as text. These programs are not terribly complicated, with few features. You can’t change the look and feel of your text with these programs.
You are writing, essentially, ASCII text, which is unformatted letters that the computer reads. You can use Notepad or TextEdit to write your Web pages. On the PC, Notepad files are written with the
.txt extension. On the Mac, TextEdit files have the TextEdit icon and can have the
.txt extension, but the extension is not required.
Word documents and documents written by other word processors are more complicated. You have the option to change the look and feel of your text, such as the font color and face, the leading of the lines, paragraph and line breaks, and much more. You can even embed graphics into Word documents.
When you write a Word document, you are writing text with code embedded in the document. These hidden codes tell the computer where you want your font to change color, how to embed the graphic, and what font face to use for the entire document. The only way to use Word to write your web documents is to either save the document as text (and write out all the HTML) or use the built-in feature that Word now has to save as a web page. This results in either HTML or XML depending upon your version of Word. On the PC, Word documents have the extension
.doc. On the Mac, Word documents use the Word icon, and may have the
.doc extension, but it’s not required.
Note: if you are on a Mac and using iWork or Pages, all the above is still true. The only difference is that the files are saved with a
.pages extension. Pages does not write HTML by default any more than Word does.
Acrobat Files (PDF)
Adobe Acrobat files (PDF) are written in several ways. You can use the Acrobat program to build your files directly, but the most common way is to layout your document in a layout program or word processor and then print the document to the Acrobat file. Acrobat is a proprietary document layout format. To the computer, the PDF files will seem like images. You can’t do anything but look at them. Only if you have an editing program like Adobe Acrobat, can you edit them.
The text in PDF files, for the computer’s purposes, has been changed into something not text. The entire document is encoded into a PDF file that can be read by Acrobat Reader, and edited by Acrobat. You cannot write HTML files with Adobe Acrobat. PDF files have the .PDF extension and have the Acrobat icon.
Graphics that Include Text
Graphics can go on web pages, and you can even make graphics that include (or are) text. But these are not web pages. Graphics are built in a graphics program such as Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. Once text is put in an image, the computer can no longer distiguish that text as text. It is only part of the image. There are many extensions that are graphic files, but the most common ones on the web are
HTML files are, like Notepad and TextEdit files, straight ASCII text. The main difference between HTML and text files is that you add special HTML codes in < and > brackets to call them out to the browser. In a sense, you are writing a lot of the special codes and information that Word documents write, but the information is not hidden.
You can write HTML files with many different programs. There are programs that look like Word and hide all the HTML tags from you. There are other programs that leave them in, but color code them, and many different combinations. HTML is how you write your web pages. An HTML file has the extension
.htm and usually has a web browser icon (such as Internet Explorer or Safari).
To write HTML, you need to use either Notepad or TextEdit (text editors) or an HTML editor.
HTML and Text Editors
When you write a web page, you have to use a web editor or text editor. In other words, an editor that outputs ASCII text or HTML. If you write your web page in Word, Word will automatically save the document as a
.doc file, and this is not text as the computer sees it. This is, as I mentioned above, textual characters with special formatting codes hidden in the document to tell the computer how to print and display the page. (Note, Word now has an option to save files as web pages, which puts them into either HTML or XML depending upon the version of Word you have.)
But the best tools out there for writing web pages are the ones that were created to do that—Web Editors. And this doesn’t mean spending a lot of money. There are great web editors that are completely free. Find the Perfect Web Page Editor