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coolhunk.peperonity.net

HTML is not a language.

Despite the claims of many, I find the idea that HTML is a programming language completely ridiculous. HTML is a code. Nothing more nothing less. Trying to qualify the word language with the 'mark up' prefix merely underlines how even the creators couldn't justify its meaning. It is merely a simple method of encoding formatting and text.

It seems to some that with the addition of a few formatting commands, a code becomes a language. If this were true then ASCII would also be a language: it's first 32 codes mostly being formatting commands... Heck, this definition would make MORSE code a language, since it too has basic formatting embedded into it. (eg: Full stop).

The idea that one can program in a formatting language is so incredibly bizarre, that I am shocked as to: a) how many people believe such rubbish, and b) why they defend their beliefs with so much venom.

Tell me why you think you can program in HTML... and I'll add it here.

On 11th September 2001 Jeff wrote:
In regards to your (mini) diatribe on HTML not being a language:

I think you are missing something here. HTML may not be a PROGRAMMING language, but it
is a language, none the less.

Webster's defines language as 'a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by
the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings'.

By this definition (which was the functional basis of SGML from which HTML was designed),
HTML is certainly a language. Just like Morse Code is a language. In fact codes in
general are languages, just like languages are codes. (Code from Webster: a system of
signals or symbols for communication)

If you want to debate whether HTML is a programming language, you may want to decide if
'C' or Java are programming languages. Then compare the compiler (or interpreter) to
the browser's interpreter and see if you don't find quite a few conceptual/semantical/
behavioural parallels. From an abstraction perspective, you may find yourself
changing your mind...

Just my thoughts on the matter.



Thanks for your comments Jeff, I found them really interesting. (Oh, and if you're feeling short changed - there's plenty of (much longer) diatribes on the opinions section of the site!)

Firstly let me say I see exactly where you're coming from. My more recent work has shown a great deal of overlap between what has classically been called PROGRAM and DATA. I agree entirely that HTML is a language for describing the format of a page, however I still cannot bring myself to see it as a programming language.

I also see your point that HTML is interpreted by the browser, in a similar way as say, BASIC commands would be processed by a BASIC interpreter. Taking this further, I can see that a BASIC program which contained nothing but a long list of PRINT statements might be akin to web page source!

However if programming were as simple as HTML encoding, or the BASIC PRINT example, writing a letter to the bank manager would also be programming! (See the ASCII point above). Sure the letter, relies on his interpretation, but the letter itself isn't much of a program!

Further there is more to programming than strict adherence to syntax and the pre-sequencing of (in this case) formatting rules. What makes programming special, and sets it firmly apart from HTML is that fact that programming is *conditional sequencing*. Because HTML has no variables there can be no conditional statements and HTML is effectively neutered.

HTML coding can certainly feel very similar to programming - in fact it often feels like a very easy form of the art - precisely because there's a whole lot missing! The web has demanded PERL, JAVA and JAVASCRIPT and this underlines the fact that there are very important programming concepts which were left out from the definition of HTML.

HTML is missing something - an interpreter cabable of allowing the HTML code itself to take and process information. This is actually a very good thing. It is the very passivity of both HTML and email which have made them safe to use - its only when you start adding scripting, variables, conditionals and loops that these items turn from harmless data into possibly dangerous tools for internet mayhem!

Interestingly the end user can supplement the code by his own actions. Certain emails manage to get themselves sent around the world continuously and (as mentioned elsewhere on the site), web links could be used to funnel users to target sites to cause DoS ('denial of service') attacks.

So, I certainly agree that there is a blurring of the distinction between program code and data happening here, but I also hope you take my point that HTML lacks a few really very important programming concepts.


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