When you save something on a computer, it saves it to a file. The information inside that file may be in one of many different formats. The file name extension, which is the part of the name after the last period in the file name, usually indicates which format is used inside the file.
For example, Microsoft Word stores files with a.doc extension. Most files that you see on a computer, or that are attached in an email, with a.doc extension can be used by any Microsoft Word program on most any computer. It could also be used by any program that understands the format used by Microsoft Word such as Open Office.
Another example would be a file that you save using Microsoft Excel. These files usually have an.xls extension. Any program that understands the Microsoft Excel format can read and understand those files. Programs that use these specific file types must understand the format of these files before they can make sense of them.
In other words, If someone writes me a message in secret code, it’s hard to understand that message until they give me the key to break the code. Programs that understand Excel or Word know the ‘key’ to break the code.
Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and many other programs store the files in a binary format. I won’t go into detail of what this means, but basically, if you were to look at the contents of a binary file without using a program that can understand the ‘code’ used for that file, it would look like gibberish. Binary format usually breaks the contents of the files into machine language, 1′s and 0′s, so that the computer understands it.
Text Editors store their contents in human readable form. It uses characters just like you and I are used to seeing. If you were to look at the contents of a text file, you would be able to read it assuming it’s in English or another Human language that you understand.
Text Editors, by themselves, do not allow you to format any of the text. In other words, you can’t bold a line or change the font size or change the font color or add pictures or anything like that. You can only have text – letters, numbers, special characters such as commas, periods, exclamation points, etc. You can also have spaces, tabs and line feeds or carriage returns (what you get when you hit the ‘enter’ or ‘return’ key on your keyboard).
With that said, some text editors will let you format the text, but to save that formatting so that it will be there the next time you open the file, you must save it in a different format such as Rich Text Format (.rtf). Rich Text Format files, or any other file format besides text, will not work on the internet.
Since text files are so easy to read, most any kind of computer can read it. Most, if not all, computers and computer operating systems understand straight text files. Since the internet is a large network of all different kinds of computers, text files are used for communication between all these computers.
If I send you a text file, you can read it on your computer. It doesn’t matter if I have Windows or a Mac or a Linux or any other kind of computer operating system, you should be able to read that file.
But, until recently, if I sent you a Microsoft Word file, you might not be able to read it on a Mac or Linux. This has changed because we now have programs that understand the Microsoft Word format on all these other computers. Microsoft has recently come out with the.docx format and unless you have upgraded your old Word programs, you may not be able to read those files in the new format.
So, since there are different file types that some computers don’t understand; and since most, if not all, computers understand text files, the internet is based on text-only files. Websites are built with text-only files.
For this reason, you need to use a text editor to build web pages. You shouldn’t use programs like Microsoft Word to build web pages. (Microsoft Word has a ‘Save as a Web Page’ option, but it’s not a good idea. I’ll explain why in a later post.)
Some programs are called HTML editors. These are just text editors with more bells and whistles aimed at building HTML pages. These are OK to use since they are really text editors underneath.
If I were just starting out building web pages, I would use notepad on my Windows PC or TextEdit on my Mac. Eventually, if you write enough web pages, you will want to move up to more advanced text editors that have other features built-in, but Notepad and TextEdit will do everything you need to start building web pages. Just make sure to save your files in.html or.txt format.