As the Web grew in popularity in the 90s, the intent to apply a specific design to a website grew as well. Web developers relied upon specific HTML tags to enhance webpages:
<basefont>defined a font for a whole HTML document
<font>defined a typeface, a color, and a size for the text it contains
<center>horizontally centered all its content
<big>increased the size of the text
<strike>rendered text with a strikethrough
Several HTML attributes could also be used:
bgcolordefined a background color on the element
textdefined the text color
marginattributes could be used to add space on any side of the element
Why avoid tables
But most of all, in order to create columns, visually align elements, and generally position elements relatively to each other, Web developers used the
<table> element to design their webpages because it naturally provided a visual grid:
This approach was cumbersome for several reasons:
- HTML tables are verbose: they require a lot of boilerplate code
- the markup was semantically wrong: tables should be used for multidimensional data
- changing the layout required to change the markup: if we wanted to move the left column to the right, we had to modify the HTML structure
- tables were prone to syntax errors: rows and cells need to be ordered and nested in a specific way to be valid
- the markup was unreadable: tables were nested within tables to provide additional columns within columns
That is why using tables for layout purposes was slowly abandoned, and CSS was used instead.
What CSS is
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. Its purpose is to style markup languages (like HTML or XML). Therefore, CSS is worthless on its own, unless associated with an HTML document.
CSS brings an HTML document to life, by choosing fonts, applying colors, defining margins, positioning elements, animating interactions, and much more.
How CSS works
How CSS works is by selecting an HTML element (like a paragraph), choosing a property to alter (like the color), and applying a certain value (like red):
The word “Style” can be deceiving. You might think CSS is only used to change the text’s color, size, and font. But CSS is able to define an HTML document’s layout, by defining heights, widths, inner and outer margins, positions, columns…
Where do I write CSS?
CSS as an attribute
You can write CSS directly on an HTML elements, by using the
CSS in the <head>
You can use a
<style> tag in the
<head> of your HTML document:
CSS in a separate file
You can write your CSS in a separate file with a
.css extension, and then link it to your HTML by using the
<link> HTML tag.
It is the HTML document who “calls” the CSS file, in this case a file called
style.css located in the same folder as the HTML file.
This 3rd method of using a separate CSS file is preferred.
Why not style directly in the HTML?
Because we want to separate the content (HTML) from its presentation (CSS).
If you want to visualize the purpose of this distinction, head towards the wonderful CSS Zen Garden: each design uses the exact same HTML but a different CSS each time.
It makes maintenance easier as well: the same CSS file can be used for a whole website. It provides flexiblity: focus on the content on one side, the styling on the other. SEO purposes, different concerns.