What are HTML, CSS, and PHP?

HTML, CSS, and PHP are acronyms for different coding languages used for displaying webpages on the internet. Each has a different purpose and function and they work together to deliver beautiful websites with updated content to your web browser.

HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language, CSS for Cascading Style Sheets, and PHP for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. (Yes, the acronym is recursive. Computer nerds like to do silly things like this as a joke.)

The 10-second explanation: HTML is the flesh and bones of a website, defining its structure. CSS is the clothing, allowing designers to make site-wide changes more easily while PHP assembles each piece of the website and prepares it for your viewing pleasure.

No doubt these explanations of the acronyms has completely enlightened you about what these languages are used for. But if you want more detailed information (and I know you do), continue reading below.


We will start with HTML, since that is how the web started. Back in the day, us old web designers had only boring old HTML with which to make webpages. It was a miserable hardship; web designers these days have it so easy what with their fancy styles and dynamically produced pages. But I am getting ahead of myself.

HTML = Hyper Text Markup Language, but what does that mean? Let’s break it down: Text that is hyper? This is the ability of the text document to have links, either to various sections of the same document (or webpage) or to other text documents entirely (other webpages and websites). Linking is what makes the web so interconnected.

The ML part of HTML, or Markup Language, refers to how the language is structured: with mark up. A simple text document is marked up with tags that define the role of the text between the tags.

For example: heading text (like the title of this blog) is often surrounded by and H1 tags. This lets your browser know that the text is a heading, and the number indicates the prominence/importance of the heading (with 1 being the most important). Tags let the web browser know what the text between the tags is for and, originally, how the browser should display the text. That was before CSS.


Cascading Style Sheets tell browsers how to display HTML tags. These style rules override the default display rules that browsers have for HTML tags. The style sheets are cascading in that there can be a number of conflicting rules that can be applied to a particular tag but the most specifically targeted rules will override less specifically targeted rules.

Specifically targeted? In addition to being able to redefine how a browser should display HTML tags, you can also use CSS to target tags that are inside of other tags, like a tag inside of an P tag for example. Additionally, you can assign classes and IDs to particular HTML tags and use CSS to target a tag based on these criteria as well.

Basically, many things that used to be done in HTML with images and weird hacks can now be done more simply via CSS, saving designers time and speeding up page load times by lowering the amount of data that needs to be downloaded for a page to properly display.


So, HTML formats a webpage and CSS defines how that formatting should be displayed. Sounds like that is all we need to make a nice website, so what is PHP for? I am glad you asked! PHP, as you recall, stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor and it does what its name implies: it preprocesses hypertext.

But what does it mean to preprocess hypertext? Basically, PHP scripts run on the web server before the webpage is sent to your browser. It can be used to assemble an HTML document on the fly from a number of different pieces, write it all into cohesive HTML or CSS and send it to your web browser for display.

PHP is very convenient for making page templates for a website, so that if you want to change a common element of a site such as the header or navigation, you only have to change it once instead of on every page of the entire website. This significantly lowers the chances of making a mistake or missing an instance that needs to be updated.

So, there it is in a nutshell. HTML is the basic and original programming language for web designers while CSS and PHP have come along over time to improve the ease of creating webpages and increase the speed of websites. I hope this has been informative for you and not too terribly boring or nerdy.

Do you have another burning internet marketing or web development question? Contact us online today and we would be happy to answer it.

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