HTML 4 For Dummies - Bonus Chapters

Standing Alone amidst the UNIX HTML Editors


Stand-alone HTML tools come in flavors that range from plain-text editors to complete WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) authoring systems with more bells and whistles than a train station. The following examples start simple and proceed upward in functionality and cost.

The stand-alone plain-text HTML editors for UNIX, such as A.S.H.E (A Simple HTML Editor) give you a screen that you type your text into. They also provide buttons or menu options from which you select HTML tags, which you must then insert at the proper places in the text. The emphasis in A.S.H.E. is Simple. If you understand the UNIX environment, you can learn A.S.H.E. fairly quickly.


A.S.H.E. was written using C language, Motif, and NCSA HTML Widgets. It is a stand-alone, unchecked, plain-text HTML editor. A.S.H.E. provides active hyperlinks, supports multiple windows, prints text or postscript, and offers automatic file backup. The menu bar is well-designed with File, Edit, HTML, Styles, and Lists menus. It provides a unique user Message Area while displaying the HTML code in a browser screen view. Unfortunately, it only works under Motif on Sun workstations and requires the NCSA HTML Widget library. A.S.H.E provides simple but adequate HTML assistance for users of Motif. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, please give it a try!

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The A.S.H.E. beta version was created by John R. Punin, Dept. of Comp. Sci. RPI, Troy, NY 12180,
E-mail: You can download it from

Several other programs are semi-WYSIWYG in that they provide you with a somewhat standard text editing screen into which you type your text. The editor then helps you place the appropriate HTML tags in your text and keeps you from making errors in HTML syntax. These editors also help you with the creation of more complex HTML links and references. HoTMetaL is one example of this type of system.

HoTMetaL Pro

HoTMetaL Pro is SoftQuad’s commercial HTML editor. HoTMetaL requires you to edit a document with its embedded HTML codes visible, and then hands the code off to your browser for viewing. It supports all the HTML 3.2 tags and can handle definitions for custom markup (which makes it easy to extend for the occasional bit of proprietary markup that is sometimes necessary). HoTMetaL can open many document formats -- Lotus WordPro/AmiPro; Microsoft Word for Macintosh, Windows, and DOS; RTF (Rich Text Format); and WordPerfect for DOS, Windows, and Macintosh -- and convert them to HTML.

HoTMetaL performs both syntax checking and HTML validation. With syntax (rules) checking turned on, HoTMetaL helps you enter only valid HTML. If you select HTML validation, it checks your document for conformance to your choice of any of a number of HTML DTDs. It also provides a list of all nonstandard tags in your document to alert you to possible incompatibilities with browsers that don’t support such markup.

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To find out more about HoTMetaL visit their Web site at

EMACS modes and templates

The old tried-and-true UNIX EMACS editor has several add-in macro systems (modes) available to help you create HTML documents. These modes vary in their features but generally are basic in their approach. They save you from typing each tag in its entirety and provide pick lists from which you can choose the markup you want.

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EMACS users will understand this section, and everyone else will think it’s written in E-Greek. But then EMACS is a foreign language to most non-UNIX computer users.

Various EMACS macro packages are available for editing HTML documents. The first and oldest is Marc Andreesen’s html-mode.el. It was written while he was at the University of Illinois. (Andreesen is the primary designer of Mosaic and Netscape.) Heiko Muenkel of the University of Hannover, Germany, added pull-down menus (hm -- html-menus.el) and template handling (tmpl-minor-mode.el), which is up to version 4.15.

Nelson Minar of the Santa Fe Institute wrote and continues to improve html-helper-mode.el, which supports Lucid EMACS menu bar and font-lock capabilities and runs under GNU EMACS, Epoch, and Lucid EMACS.

Generally speaking, the various forms of HTML mode display text and HTML tags alike in fixed-size fonts. By using the hilit.el package, tags and references can be colored differently from text. The HTML modes do not support in-line graphics. More recent versions of HTML mode can call a Mosaic or Navigator process to display pages in browser view, however.

All of the HTML modes work primarily from direct keyboard commands that create paired begin/end HTML tags with an entry point available between the tags. It is possible to select a segment of text, and the tags will be inserted around it. None of the modes checks the validity of tags or suggests possible tag usage. However, html-helper-mode and tmpl-minor-mode provide templates for entering multiple fields inside link tags.

For EMACS users, these modes may be just the thing for creating HTML documents. Using them should make HTML tagging easier and less prone to error than manually typing in tags. You must still know what tags to use and where to use them. You can obtain information and copies of Muenkel’s and Minar’s packages, respectively, at

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