Markup Language: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Markup Language?
  • 2:10 Markup Languages Over…
  • 4:16 Browser Battles
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kent Beckert

Kent is an adjunct faculty member for the College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and has a Master's degree in Technical Management.

Web pages are displayed to millions of people every day, and each page employs a markup language. In this lesson, we will learn what a markup language is and how markup language commands (tags) are constructed.

What Is Markup Language?

Most of us have used a markup language at one time or another. Think about it, have you written a short note or underlined a specific word for emphasis? Have you ever written an entire word in capital letters or used italic letters to emphasize a phrase? Have you used a highlighter in your textbook to isolate a fact?

If you've done any of these, then you've used a markup language. In the context of computerized communications, a markup language is considered a type of communicative language used to separate, annotate, emphasize, or otherwise distinguish text on a page from other displayed text. This figure illustrates an example of markup tags used in HTML 2.0:

HTML tag example screen
HTML tag example screen

Web page developers and designers use modern markup languages, such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Extensible Markup Language (XML), and Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML), to generate the pages shared on the Internet today. HTML, XML, and XHTML use markup tags to isolate and change the appearance of selected text.

Markup tags are enclosed within a < and >. These < > symbols are commonly referred to as open and close wickets, respectively. Any characters enclosed within the wickets are considered components of the markup language and will impact the display characteristics of all alphanumeric characters enclosed within the wickets.

<p>

This is a paragraph of text written in <b>HTML</b>.

</p>

In this example, <p>, </p>, <b>, and </b> are called tags. In this example, the word HTML is displayed using bold text.

The markup tags in the above example equate to, and act as, instructions for displaying or printing the contents of a web page. When applied to a web page, these instructions are interpreted by a browser executing the display instructions line by line.

Markup Languages Over the Years

All things have a beginning, and markup languages are no different. Modern markup languages like HTML, XML, HTML5, etc. are successors to the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). SGML is considered the first regularly-used markup language and was developed primarily for large government documentation applications. SGML became the model for markup standards and procedures and retained that position for several years, eventually being replaced by HTML 1.0 in the early 1990s.

Because of the rapid advancement of Internet technologies and the World Wide Web, it became obvious that additional markup language capabilities would be needed. Since HTML 3.2 was released in 1997, multiple markup language versions have surfaced. Let's look at the more widely accepted and supported standards:

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