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Should you learn HTML and CSS at the same time?

  • Published on January 27, 2014
Should you learn HTML and CSS at the same time?

Taking HTML classes at the American Graphics Institute is one of the best ways you can master the fundamentals of the core language of the Web. Virtually all modern webpages combine two technologies to achieve the results you see in your browser - HTML, which defines the content and structure of a page, and cascading style sheets, or CSS, which specifies how content should appear. But do you need to learn CSS at the same time as HTML, or can you learn one after the other?

Structure first
Whether you want to embark on a new career as either a Web designer or developer, a strong understanding of HTML is essential. As HTML is the fundamental language of the Web, you will need to know how to properly format a page using the correct tags, as well as the various properties these tags can have, to define the structure of your pages and sites. As such, taking HTML classes should be your first step when learning about Web design and development.

However, you'll soon notice that without CSS, your webpages will look, well, a little bland. This is because HTML only deals with the structure of content on a page or site, not its appearance. Most modern websites use CSS to define the visual parameters of the content, including color palettes, positioning, typeface and many more. In the past, CSS could be embedded directly in the HTML code of a document, and although this is still technically possible, it's generally considered against design and development best practices and should be avoided. However, you can and should link to an external file sheet using the HTML <link> tag with the "rel," or relationship," attribute - but don't worry, this and other methods of combining HTML and CSS will be covered extensively in your HTML classes.

Appearance second
Although it is generally recommended that aspiring Web designers and developers learn how to read and write HTML code first, that doesn't mean you can ignore CSS altogether.

Without CSS, your pages will be visually limited to the formatting and stylistic tags available in HTML, and more recently, HTML5. However, once again, this is not recommended, and learning CSS should be your next goal once you've mastered the core language of the Web through HTML classes.

CSS documents exist on the same server as a website's HTML pages, but are primarily responsible for defining the appearance of a page or even entire site. The reason externally linked CSS documents are the preferred means of styling a website is due to the fact that, if you manually embedded appearance code into each HTML page of an entire site and needed to make site-wide changes, you'd have to go into every single document and make these alterations. By linking to an external style sheet, you can make a single change to a particular selector or property to effect changes across all the appropriate elements.

Even if you plan to pursue a career in Web development - or the back-end coding of Web apps, databases and other data-driven systems - you'll still benefit from knowing CSS. After all, today's most popular Web and mobile apps don't just work beautifully, they also look stylish. For this reason, learning CSS is important for all would-be Web professionals, whether you want to learn more about design or the intricacies of server-side coding.

By learning HTML and CSS, you can unleash your creativity and breathe new life into your Web projects. From updating drab corporate Intranet pages to designing eye-catching sites from scratch, these two powerful Web technologies are essential to every designer and developer. 

About the author

Christopher Smith is president of American Graphics Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the publisher and editor of the Digital Classroom book series, which have sold more than one million copies. At American Graphics Institute, he provides strategic technology consulting to marketing professionals, publishers and to large technology companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and HP. An expert on web analytics and digital marketing, he delivers Google Analytics training along with workshops on digital marketing topics. He is also the author of more than 10 books on electronic publishing tools and technologies, including the Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies. Christopher did his undergraduate studies the at the University of Minnesota, and then worked for Quark, Inc. prior to joining American Graphics Institute where he has worked for 20 years.