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Should I use an HTML editor or stick with Notepad?

Marching up the learning curve, where do I go now?



2:08 am on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

During the last two weeks, with much assistance from this site as a lurker, I have managed to find a domain name, register it, get it re-directed to the free 5mb that my ISP provides, write a very small html page in notepad and get it into the ISP's 5mb space.

Frankly, I'm just pretty proud of myself, considering I didn't even know what HTML was last week. There have been many times I wanted to beat my head into a wall with frustration, but I got it done!

My question now is how to begin developing more than that 1 page "coming soon" that I put up. I learned a little bit of HTML from a site called "NCSA - A Beginner's Guide to HTML". While it covered the basics thoroughly I don't know where to go to learn more, or most importantly achieve fluency with HTML. I see two options, either learn HTML throughly from scratch, or find some type of HTML editor that can be toggled back and forth from the source code to editor so that I can use it and then reverse-engineer what it did.

Which would you reccomend to me? And where should I go to learn more HTML and/or what editor program might fit the bill? Unless of course you have a third option?

And thanks for providing a place like this where a newb can ask the dumb questions without fear.


9:22 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member suzyuk is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Should I use an HTML editor or stick with Notepad?

use an editor, but use a text editor! not necessarily a WYSIWYG unless that's what suits you

WYSIWYG = Dreamweaver, FrontPage etc..
Text Editor = NoteTab, Textpad, HTML-Kit

A text editor that just happens to have a preview pane is a good choice when learning ~ (in fact I liked it so much I've stuck with it! :))

A text editor which colors your syntax, builds in HTML Tidy as an option (great for finding those unclosed tags at the click of a button) and also a preview pane (in any browser) is one I haven't yet found a better substitute for

that means HTMLKit (chami.com) gets my vote ~ highly customizable too once you get the length of knowing what you want to customise!

Good Luck


9:28 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Congratulations, it sounds like you're off to a great start!

I'll cast my vote with those who say stick to a text editor for now -- you'll never regret knowing html and css inside and out. Eventually, you may want to begin using a WYSIWYG like Dreamweaver for its ability to automate or speed up mundane tasks -- but WYSIWYGs are not good tools for learning (i.e., by toggling between design and code view). Even the best of 'em write invalid code, or enourage you to use their built-in buttons and shortcuts that write invalid code. Get the html/css down first, then use a WYSIWYG as a tool. A cabinetmaker has to know how to build a cabinet before a nailgun or electric screwdriver will do him much good, y'know?

Bookmark these and use them often:

Initially, you should run every single page you write past the validators. That way you'll start out learning what's valid code and what's not, rather than developing bad habits that you'll have to train yourself out of later.

Oh, and get yourself Mozilla or Firefox and test your code against them primarily, then tweak as needed for Exploder. If you code for Exploder only, you'll develop very bad habits and learn very bad coding practices.


10:00 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I started to learn HTML many years ago with WYSIWYG editors such as Frontpage, which was decent to publish pages in the short term, but then as I learned more and enjoyed greater control over the code by using the Source View, I switched to a commercial HTML editor (not WYSIWYG) called HomeSite, which was great, but in the end, now that I program in HTML + CSS + PHP fluently, I use a simple yet powerful freeware called HTML Kit. It also has tons of community free modules.

If you can, try to master the HTML language instead of mastering a web application.


10:12 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

strange that topstyle has not yet been mentioned. it helps you write both html and css, has a built in validator and plenty of other features

back when i used DW i learnt very little. starting using topstyle and my skills really took off, therefore i cant recommend it enough


10:33 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

For me the process went:

Started tinkering with WYSIWIGS, but because I'm a bit "anal" (or so people tell me - mostly slobby slackers tell me this ;) - I ended up becoming frustrated by the limitations of the WYSIWIGS, and realised I was going to have to get in and "crunch the code" if I was going to make my pages do what I wanted them to.

Looking at the code that the WYSIWIG generated scared the bejeezers out of me, because the code was so obtuse. So I decided to start looking around at "help" sites, and began to really just how unneccessarily obtuse the WYSIWIG code was.

So I switched to coding out of Notepad, first starting with very simple pages, and slowly working my way up to more complex pages. Eventually I went to a dedicated HTML text editor (the oft mentioned Homesite), because it had a really nice feature set, (and a cute coder-chick I was dating at the time recommended it).

Reasons to stick to hand coding:

- You really get to understand the mechanics of whats going on inside a web page.

- Far higher degree of control of what you web page is doing.

- It's actually easier to slide in other people's "tricks" that you pick up from viewing their source, and that expands your capabilities a hundredfold (you don't have to constantly re-invent the wheel).

- It eases the learning curve for when you start getting into more complicated pages that use script and such, and makes it FAR easier to understand more complicated languages such as PHP, and believe me, that's a huge advantage in the long run.

- Hand coding is faster than fighting with a WYSIWIG. No. Really. After years of building pages, I have a massive list of "code snippets" that I can cut and paste into a new page. I can set up all the functionality and layout in moments, and then just plug in the content. With a WYSIWIG, I find myslef wrestling with the tendency of the editor to do what it thinks I want done, instead of what I really want done, and this just wastes my time.

However, for those die hard hand coding bit twiddlers out there I sell customizable propeller hats and we'll embroider your logo on them :)

- Propellor heads get paid more for contract work.

Some resources for learning code:

(just google these)

- w3schools.
- webmonkey
- codebrain (for java scripts and such - turn on your ad-blocking and spyware protection before you go there though).
- a list apart (Zeldman can be a bit coocky and arrogant, but he's earned the right - he's always doing some cool stuff on the front edge of web development)

And finally, the resource that every webmaster just have at the top of their bookmarks:

Web Pages That Suck - avoiding pitfalls by seeing other people train wrecks on the web, with good explanations of WHY certain pages are utter failures.

Just my 2 bits.


10:38 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I throw my vote to the text-editor brigade too.

the time argument is a little bit of a non-issue too. Ok, so you take marginally more time preparing a cleanly-coded "first page" but then mostly it's copy and paste after that anyway.

I have a 2000+ page site which has three types of page layout. It's not as if I hand code every single page when only the content is different. And a WYSIWYG editor can't write content for you....


11:01 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

TopStyle Pro CSS / XHTML / HTML Editor

Learn to create standards-compliant sites.

[bradsoft.com ]

I originally learned using Web Studio along with the W3Schools website. Gradually realised the output HTML was not the best so I too just started using notepad.

Then I found Topstyle and have not looked back. It has many features that any webmaster would find useful.

Remember that you need to know CSS as well which makes this a very powerful tool.

[edited by: engine at 11:59 am (utc) on Oct. 18, 2005]


11:08 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member billys is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Dreamweaver's expensive, but I never had a problem with it validating. Perhaps some could hand code a bit faster - but I doubt it. I've redesigned sites in about 10 minutes using dreamweaver, as long as you understand what you want, it's pretty simple.

Admittedly I do go back and look over the code, but that's an afterthought.


11:13 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'd have to agree with IncrediBill on this one. Now that you know what HTML is and the basics, you know how to diagnose and fix if something goes wrong or needs tweaking.

Time spent learning the ins and outs of css and advanced HTML/XHTML can be better spent making actual page (or learning what makes a decent website design layout).

It really depends on "why" you are making a web page. If it is a learning experiment, then I would say stick with a text editor and hack away. If you are trying to launch a business, I would say switch to dreamweaver or another WYSIWYG editor that will allow you design visually.

I learned HTML from using the old hotdog HTML editor (not wysiwyg) and I'm definitely glad I learned it, but now I am just not a "coding" type person. I am a visual person that likes to see the layout I'm working on and spend less time on the "why it works" - more time on "working on the next thing". So for me, dreamweaver works perfectly and was money well spent.

If you have the time and the inclination to mess around with HTML and its inner workings and you have no deadline, then a text editor should work just fine for you.


11:37 pm on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Look what you've started ;)

I see Dreamweaver is misunderstood by a lot of folk in this thread!

Dreamweaver is THE best CSS editor out there ATM, period.

DW is THE best site-manager.

DW does NOT spit-out crap mark-up, and if it does it's 'cos you're not using it correctly.

DW is a GREAT learning tool, packaged, as it is, with the O'Reilly language reference at your fingertips.

DW pays for itself, quickly.

They're just the headlines, there's a lot of meaningful, and useful time-saving tools under-the-bonnet.

That's not to discount the uses of all suggestions made so far - I'll use Notepad++ and/or HTML-Kit for quick-edits/drafts but when it comes to rapid project work, DW is the daddy.


12:13 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Dreamweaver is THE best CSS editor out there ATM, period.

DW is THE best site-manager.

DW does NOT spit-out crap mark-up, and if it does it's 'cos you're not using it correctly.

DW is a GREAT learning tool, packaged, as it is, with the O'Reilly language reference at your fingertips.

DW pays for itself, quickly.

I won't argue that DW is a "good" editor but the best? I can agree it is the "best" for you because the best tool is the one that meets your needs. For me the best tool is Notetab and it's associated clip libraries. I can quickly build an xhtml/css site with zero html bloat that will accomondate a few pages to 1000s of pages. Because I build the site in modules I am able to make changes to one page or site wide with minimal effort. I am sure others have their "best" editor.


4:09 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I taught myself HTML and I use Homesite. It's very good and well worth the money.


4:23 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

1. First you want to learn html, which is pretty easy.

2. Then you will start to learn about css, which is not as easy.

3. Then you will learn about standards and cross-browser compatibility, making websites starts to become more of a chore than fun.

4. Then you will desire to learn about javascript, which is programming. Don't confuse learning html or css with programming, html and css are simply a process of memorization, programming is a whole other world.

5. Then you will realize that javascript is nothing next to server-side scripts. This will require much programming knowledge. Much harder than javascript.

6. Then you will want to make some money from all your hard work, this will lead you into advertising and the cut-throat seo world.

If your ready to go down the above road, then go with a good text-editor and never lay eyes on a WYSIWYG editor.

If your not ready to make the above commitment, then I suggest you follow incrediBILL's advice. His advice makes step 6, step 1.


5:12 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I recommend learning CSS at the same time you are learning HTML .. I wished I had done that.

And read WW a LOT! I have learned more here than anywhere else on the web.

I do agree that knowing code (rather than WYSIWYG) is crucial. I use Dreamweaver (for a number of reasons like the search and replace and its ability to show SSI), but I seldom use it in design mode. Sometimes for typing in content it's useful, but it does have quirks.

A FREE editor designed with similar functions to DW is NVU (just add the dot com). They have a linux version and a windows version.


7:25 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Has anyone tried using synthaSite.com - currently in Beta? What are your thoughts on the product?


7:48 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

one of Dreamweaver's most powerfull tools is to be able to replace text in the source code site-wide

handy for those functions you use a lot in PHP and then decide a few months later you want to pass it extra variables ;)


7:49 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

yay! My personal favorite is using emacs, a real text editor. Seriously, there is a reason why so many programmers use it and vi. Besides having to learn one to do anything on a *nix box they save you huge amounts of time once you get over the learning curve. And I also like setting up apache and php to run on my own box. It is great to have a local development environment and it's also nice to be able to play with the config files someplace that it doesn't matter.

Some people might say that some of this is premature for you but that is basically what I did when I got started from cold. I was following advice from friends who were linux hackers and I think that I really benefited from it in the long run.


9:21 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Suzy UK: Thanks for your post, the features of HTML Kit you mentioned were exactly what I have been looking for.

After about an hours testing I haven't seen by any means all of what it can do but I have seen enough to uninstall my old editor and switch to the new one.


10:08 am on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I also started out in Notepad, but the lack of undo system and code highlighting was an issue.

Having been using Crimson Editor for a couple of years I am very happy with it (it's free, also a bonus).


12:08 pm on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The choice between WYSIWYG and hand-coding is a very personal one, which is why everyone is getting hot under the collar about this fairly simple question. Twist makes some very good points.

I think it comes down to what you want to do with html, and how much time you are likely to spend using it. WYSIWYG is the best option if you're going to be putting up pages occasionally. Hand-coding with a text editor is best if you want to spend more than a few hours each week on web building.

I hear a lot of people saying that WYSIWYG saves time, and I don't agree that this is always true. Once you get to grips with CSS and server-side code, your pages can be very lean indeed. The proportion of html code versus the amount of text should be minimal anyway, if you're doing it right. So it's not as though there is tons of html to laboriously type out every time.


12:22 pm on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Sure, WYSIWYGs can save time, even with lean code. I use my text editor a LOT, but when a client sends me content for his pages, containing many paragraphs of running copy, I can just copy-and-paste the text into design view in Dreamweaver, and DW nicely wraps open and close paragraph tags around all the paragraphs without touching anything else. Then I can go through and change headings to the appropriate header tag with a single click, plop in any images or graphics, and I'm good to go.

I'm firmly in the column of those who believe every web designer should -- no, must -- know html and css well enough to hand-code, but the right tools can save time and make our job easier and faster. What's best is using the right tool for the right task at the right time.


2:28 pm on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

So - what a fun thread.

Nobody asked you, Gatwick... What do you want to achieve when you change this site from a "coming soon" page? Do you want to build a site or do you want to build a career?

I think we should be told before throwing our views into the ring about Front Page vs. Coffecup HTML don't you? Jumping in without the facts is pretty standard stuff on forums :@)


5:53 pm on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Do stick with "raw" HTML, but not Notepad. Grab one of the other text editors out there, such as UltraEdit, HTML Kit, or (my favorite) EditPad. Syntax highlighting, auto-indent, block-indent, good find/replace, and a tabbed interface are the main features to look for, in my opinion. EditPad isn't free, or at least the Pro version isn't. But it has the handiest interface I've ever used, and that counts for a lot.

As others have pointed out, you've learned all the tough stuff. The rest is just fun - hard work sometimes, but fun.

Dreamweaver is THE best CSS editor out there ATM, period.

Although I never understood why anyone would need a CSS editor, I would have to say that Dreamweaver has to take a back seat to Firefox with the "Edit CSS" feature of the Web Developer extension. That's the best way I can think of to start styling a completely unstyled page.


9:01 pm on Oct 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

WOn't get into the 'best' wysiswg editor, 'cos I don't use them, found it easier to learn HTML, CSS and anything else I need, rather than use paint by numbers. But that's another story.....

What is a HTML editor?
Oh, you probably mean a WYSIWYG editor.

An HTML editor edits HTML!
I use Arachnophilia 4 (didn't like the version 5).
It is an HTML text editor, with various aids for adding HTML. There is a preview button, so you can see what you have done, just like saving and refreshing the browser. But it is definitly not a WYSIWYG....;)


4:17 am on Oct 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Become an elitist...master html & css with notepad.


5:37 am on Oct 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

What!? No one uses a pencil and pad of paper anymore?

Sure, I know it doesn't render in any browser, but it does give you the opportunity to be "away from the computer" which just may give you time to consider whats been written on the pad.

Having an HTML reference manual nearby would also be handy.


6:37 am on Oct 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

Do whatever feels most comfortable. The finished product is more important than the tool.

(Personal note: If I still wrote HTML code by hand as I did back in 1995, my site would probably be a quarter of its current size and produce a quarter of its current income.)


11:29 am on Oct 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Recently I've come to discover that I barely use Dreamweaver's features. I sit here all day editing in code view, uploading & previewing my pages when necessary. It's all hand-coded CSS, PHP and a little Javascript. It's nice to have some code validation every time I refresh.

The only feature I'm really using are the templates, which I guess would be best replaced with a PHP SSI where required.

Apart from that I guess any free editor out there can allow multiple files to be edited with nice tab bars and markup PHP, HTML and CSS code as nicely as Dreamweaver.

Do these other editors have a similar site upload and allow something like "file cloaking" - preventing particular files from being uploaded, and check the file date before uploading!


1:53 pm on Oct 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Reading the messages above, I seem to be the only one using OpenOffice.


4:13 pm on Oct 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

wow...trying to read through the thread. Kinda looks like a debate going on.

To the original poster; A great place to learn html and more for free online is www. w3schools .com

Not sure if ok to post like that but it's a great site to learn.

This 67 message thread spans 3 pages: 67

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