25+ HTML Paramount Practices for Beginners

Author: | Posted in CSS, Freebies, HTML 4 Comments

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The most complicated aspect of running Nettuts+ (where is source which we posting here) is accounting for so many dissimilar skill levels. If we post too many superior tutorials, our beginner spectators won’t benefit. The same holds true for the conflicting. We do our best, but always feel free to pipe in if you feel you’re organism neglected. This site is for you, so speak up! With that said, today’s tutorial is specifically for those who are just diving into web development. If you’ve one year of knowledge or less, hopefully some of the tips listed here will help you to become better, quicker!

1: Always Close Your Tags

  1. <li>Some text here.
  2. <li>Some new text here.
  3. <li>You get the idea.
Notice how the wrapping UL/OL tag was absent. Additionally, many chose to leave off the closing LI tags as well. By today’s standards, this is just bad practice and should be 100% avoided. Always, always close your tags. Otherwise, you’ll encounter corroboration and malfunction issues at every turn.

Better

  1. <ul>
  2. <li>Some text here. </li>
  3. <li>Some new text here. </li>
  4. <li>You get the idea. </li>
  5. </ul>

2: Declare the Correct DocType

doctype

When I was younger, I participated quite a bit in CSS forums. Whenever a user had an issue, before we would look at their situation, they HAD to perform two things first:

  1. Validate the CSS file. Fix any necessary errors.
  2. Add a doctype.

Most of us choose between four dissimilar doctypes when creating new websites.

  1. <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd”>
  2. <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd”>
  3. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd”>
  4. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd”>
There’s a big discussion currently going on about the correct choice here. At one point, it was measured to be best practice to use the XHTML Strict version. Though, after some research, it was realized that most browsers relapse back to regular HTML when interpreting it. For that reason, many have selected to use HTML 4.01 Strict instead. The bottom line is that any of these will keep you in check. Do some examine and make up your own mind.

3: Never Use Inline Styles

When you’re hard at work on your markup, sometimes it can be alluring to take the easy route and sneak in a bit of styling.

  • <p style=”color: red;”>I’m going to make this text red so that it really stands out and makes people take notice! </p>

Instead, finish your markup, and then reference that P tag from your external stylesheet.

Better

  1. #someElement > p {
  2. color: red;
  3. }

4: Place all External CSS Files Within the Head Tag

Technically?, you can place stylesheets wherever you like. Though, the HTML requirement recommends that they be placed within the document HEAD tag. The primary advantage is that your pages will apparently load faster.

  1. <head>
  2. <title>My Favorites Kinds of Corn</title>
  3. <link rel=“stylesheet” type=“text/css” media=“screen” href=“path/to/file.css” />
  4. <link rel=“stylesheet” type=“text/css” media=“screen” href=“path/to/anotherFile.css” />
  5. </head>

5: Consider Placing Javascript Files at the Bottom

5-javascriptbutton

Remember — the prime goal is to make the page load as rapidly as likely for the user. When loading a script, the browser can’t continue on until the entire file has been loaded. Thus, the user will have to wait longer before noticing any development.

If you have JS files whose only purpose is to add functionality — for example, after a button is clicked — go ahead and place those files at the bottom, just before the closing body tag. This is completely a best practice.

Better

  1. <p>And now you know my favorite kinds of corn. </p>
  2. <script type=“text/javascript” src=“path/to/file.js”></script>
  3. <script type=“text/javascript” src=“path/to/anotherFile.js”></script>
  4. </body>
  5. </html>

6: Never Use Inline Javascript. It’s not 1996!

Another ordinary practice years ago was to place JS commands straight within tags. This was very ordinary with simple image galleries. Essentially, a “onclick” attribute was appended to the tag. The value would then be equal to some JS method. Unnecessary to say, you should never, ever do this. Instead, transfer this code to an external JS file and use “addEventListener/attachEvent” to “listen” for your preferred event. Or, if using a framework like jQuery, just use the “click” method.

  1. $(‘a#moreCornInfoLink’).click(function() {
  2. alert(‘Want to learn more about corn?’);
  3. });

7: Validate Continuously

7-validation

I recently blogged about how the idea of validation has been completely misconstrued by those who don’t completely understand its purpose. As I mention in the article, “validation should work for you, not against.”

However, especially when first getting started, I highly recommend that you download the Web Developer Toolbar and use the “Validate HTML” and “Validate CSS” options continuously. While CSS is a somewhat easy to language to learn, it can also make you tear your hair out. As you’ll find, many times, it’s your shabby markup that’s causing that strange whitespace issue on the page. Validate, validate, validate.

8: Download Firebug

8-firebug

I can’t recommend this one sufficient. Firebug is, without doubt, the best plugin you’ll ever use when creating websites. Not only does it provide unbelievable Javascript debugging, but you’ll also learn how to pinpoint which elements are inheriting that extra padding that you were unaware of. Download it!

9: Use Firebug!

9-usefirebug

From my experiences, many users only take benefit of about 20% of Firebug’s capabilities. You’re truly doing yourself a disservice. Take a couple hours and scour the web for every commendable tutorial you can find on the subject.

Resources

10: Keep Your Tag Names Lowercase

Technically, you can get away with capitalizing your tag names.

  1. <DIV>
  2. <P>Here’s an interesting fact about corn. </P>
  3. </DIV>

Having said that, please don’t. It serves no purpose and hurts my eyes — not to mention the fact that it reminds me of Microsoft Word’s html function!

Better

  1. <div>
  2. <p>Here’s an interesting fact about corn. </p>
  3. </div>

11: Use H1 – H6 Tags

Admittedly, this is something I tend to relaxed on. It’s best practice to use all six of these tags. If I’m honest, I frequently only execute the top four; but I’m working on it! :) For semantic and SEO reasons, force yourself to replace that P tag with an H6 when appropriate.

  1. <h1>This is a really important corn fact! </h1>
  2. <h6>Small, but still significant corn fact goes here. </h6>

12: If Building a Blog, Save the H1 for the Article Title

12-h1title

Just this morning, on Twitter, I asked our followers whether they felt it was smartest to place the H1 tag as the logo, or to instead use it as the article’s title. Around 80% of the returned tweets were in errand of the latter method.

As with anything, decide what’s best for your own website. Though, if building a blog, I’d recommend that you save your H1 tags for your article title. For SEO purposes, this is a better practice – in my opinion.

13: Download ySlow

13-yslow

Particularly in the last few years, the Yahoo team has been doing some really great work in our field. Not too long ago, they released an extension for Firebug called ySlow. When activated, it will examine the given website and return a “report card” of sorts which details the areas where your site needs enhancement. It can be a bit harsh, but it’s all for the greater good. I extremely recommend it.

14: Wrap Navigation with an Unordered List

14-wrapunorderedlist

Each and every website has a navigation section of some sort. While you can definitely get away with formatting it like so:

  1. <div id=“nav”>
  2. <a href=“#”>Home </a>
  3. <a href=“#”>About </a>
  4. <a href=“#”>Contact </a>
  5. </div>

I’d encourage you not to use this method, for semantic reasons. Your job is to write the best possible code that you’re capable of.

The UL tag is meant to contain a list of items.

Better

  1. <ul id=“nav”>
  2. <li><a href=“#”>Home</a></li>
  3. <li><a href=“#”>About</a></li>
  4. <li><a href=“#”>Contact</a></li>
  5. </ul>

15: Learn How to Target IE

You’ll certainly find yourself screaming at IE during some point or another. It’s actually become a bonding knowledge for the community. When I read on Twitter how one of my buddies is battling the forces of IE, I just smile and think, “I know how you feel, pal.”

The first step, once you’ve completed your primary CSS file, is to create a unique “ie.css” file. You can then orientation it only for IE by using the following code.

  1. <!–[if lt IE 7]>
  2. <link rel=“stylesheet” type=“text/css” media=“screen” href=“path/to/ie.css” />
  3. <![endif]–>

This code says, “If the user’s browser is Internet Explorer 6 or lower, import this stylesheet. Otherwise, do nothing.” If you need to compensate for IE7 as well, simply replace “lt” with “lte” (less than or equal to).

16: Choose a Great Code Editor

16-coda

Whether you’re on Windows or a Mac, there are plenty of fantastic code editors that will work wonderfully for you. Personally, I have a Mac and PC side-by-side that I use throughout my day. As a result, I’ve developed a pretty good knowledge of what’s available. Here are my top choices/recommendations in order:

Mac Lovers

PC Lovers

17: Once the Website is Complete, Compress!

17-compress

By zipping your CSS and Javascript files, you can reduce the size of each file by a substantial 25% or so. Please don’t bother doing this while still in development. However, once the site is, more-or-less, complete, utilize a few online compression programs to save yourself some bandwidth.

Javascript Compression Services

CSS Compression Services

18: Cut, Cut, Cut

18-scissors

Looking back on my first website, I must have had a SEVERE case of divitis. Your natural instinct is to safely wrap each paragraph with a div, and then wrap it with one more div for good measure. As you’ll quickly learn, this is highly inefficient.

19: All Images Require “Alt” Attributes

It’s easy to ignore the necessity for alt attributes within image tags. Nevertheless, it’s very important, for accessibility and validation reasons, that you take an extra moment to fill these sections in.

Bad

  1. <IMG SRC=“cornImage.jpg” />

Better

  1. <img src=“cornImage.jpg” alt=“A corn field I visited.” />

20: Stay up Late

I highly doubt that I’m the only one who, at one point while learning, looked up and realized that I was in a pitch-dark room well into the early, early morning. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, rest assured that you’ve chosen the right field.

The amazing “AHHA” moments, at least for me, always occur late at night. This was the case when I first began to understand exactly what Javascript closures were. It’s a great feeling that you need to experience, if you haven’t already.

21: View Source

21-viewsource

What better way to learn HTML than to copy your heroes? Initially, we’re all copiers! Then slowly, you begin to develop your own styles/methods. So visit the websites of those you respect. How did they code this and that section? Learn and copy from them. We all did it, and you should too. (Don’t steal the design; just learn from the coding style.)

Notice any cool Javascript effects that you’d like to learn? It’s likely that he’s using a plugin to accomplish the effect. View the source and search the HEAD tag for the name of the script. Then Google it and implement it into your own site! Yay.

22: Style ALL Elements

This best practice is especially true when designing for clients. Just because you haven’t use a blockquote doesn’t mean that the client won’t. Never use ordered lists? That doesn’t mean he won’t! Do yourself a service and create a special page specifically to show off the styling of every element: ul, ol, p, h1-h6, blockquotes, etc.

23: Use Twitter

23-twitter

Lately, I can’t turn on the TV without hearing a reference to Twitter; it’s really become rather obnoxious. I don’t have a desire to listen to Larry King advertise his Twitter account – which we all know he doesn’t manually update. Yay for assistants! Also, how many moms signed up for accounts after Oprah’s approval? We can only long for the day when it was just a few of us who were aware of the service and its “water cooler” potential.

Initially, the idea behind Twitter was to post “what you were doing.” Though this still holds true to a small extent, it’s become much more of a networking tool in our industry. If a web dev writer that I admire posts a link to an article he found interesting, you better believe that I’m going to check it out as well – and you should too! This is the reason why sites like Digg are quickly becoming more and more nervous.

24: Learn Photoshop

24-photoshop

A recent commenter on Nettuts+ attacked us for posting a few recommendations from Psdtuts+. He argued that Photoshop tutorials have no business on a web development blog. I’m not sure about him, but Photoshop is open pretty much 24/7 on my computer.

In fact, Photoshop may very well become the more important tool you have. Once you’ve learned HTML and CSS, I would personally recommend that you then learn as many Photoshop techniques as possible.

  1. Visit the Videos section at Psdtuts+
  2. Fork over $25 to sign up for a one-month membership to Lynda.com. Watch every video you can find.
  3. Enjoy the “You Suck at Photoshop” series.
  4. Take a few hours to memorize as many PS keyboard shortcuts as you can.

25: Learn Each HTML Tag

There are literally dozens of HTML tags that you won’t come across every day. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn them! Are you familiar with the “abbr” tag? What about “cite”? These two alone deserve a spot in your tool-chest. Learn all of them!

By the way, in case you’re unfamiliar with the two listed above:

  • abbr does pretty much what you’d expect. It refers to an abbreviation. “Blvd” could be wrapped in a <abbr> tag because it’s an abbreviation for “boulevard”.
  • cite is used to reference the title of some work. For example, if you reference this article on your own blog, you could put “30 HTML Best Practices for Beginners” within a <cite> tag. Note that it shouldn’t be used to reference the author of a quote. This is a common misconception.

26: Use a CSS Reset

This is another area that’s been debated to death. CSS resets: to use or not to use; that is the question. If I were to offer my own personal advice, I’d 100% recommend that you create your own reset file. Begin by downloading a popular one, like Eric Meyer’s, and then slowly, as you learn more, begin to modify it into your own. If you don’t do this, you won’t truly understand why your list items are receiving that extra bit of padding when you didn’t specify it anywhere in your CSS file. Save yourself the anger and reset everything! This one should get you started.

  1. html, body, div, span,
  2. h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, p, blockquote, pre,
  3. a, abbr, acronym, address, big, cite, code,
  4. img, ins, kbd, q, s, samp,
  5. small, strike, strong,
  6. dl, dt, dd, ol, ul, li,
  7. fieldset, form, label, legend,
  8. table, caption, tbody, tfoot, thead, tr, th, td {
  9. margin: 0;
  10. padding: 0;
  11. border: 0;
  12. outline: 0;
  13. font-size: 100%;
  14. vertical-align: baselinebaseline;
  15. background: transparent;
  16. }
  17. body {
  18. line-height: 1;
  19. }
  20. ol, ul {
  21. list-style: none;
  22. }
  23. blockquote, q {
  24. quotes: none;
  25. }
  26. blockquote:before, blockquote:after,
  27. q:before, q:after {
  28. content: ;
  29. content: none;
  30. }
  31. table {
  32. border-collapse: collapse;
  33. border-spacing: 0;
  34. }

27: Line ‘em Up!

27-netsetter

Generally speaking, you should strive to line up your elements as best as possible. Take a look at you favorite designs. Did you notice how each heading, icon, paragraph, and logo lines up with something else on the page? Not doing this is one of the biggest signs of a beginner. Think of it this way: If I ask why you placed an element in that spot, you should be able to give me an exact reason.

28: Don’t Use a Framework…Yet

Frameworks, whether they be for Javascript or CSS are fantastic; but please don’t use them when first getting started. Though it could be argued that jQuery and Javascript can be learned simultaneously, the same can’t be made for CSS. I’ve personally promoted the 960 CSS Framework, and use it often. Having said that, if you’re still in the process of learning CSS — meaning the first year — you’ll only make yourself more confused if you use one.

CSS frameworks are for experienced developers who want to save themselves a bit of time. They’re not for beginners.

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