Much like learning a language is for communicating with other humans, creating websites from scratch is all about communicating your design and function intentions to a browser or Web server. And to be a good web developer in this day and age, you need to be multi-lingual–speaking several different programming languages to be able to design better, sleeker and more functional websites.
But just Googling “web programming languages” or something similar brings up a whole host of options to learn, and it can be overwhelming for the beginning user. Where do you begin? Do you start learning MySQL, or Ruby on Rails? Should you take a course in HTML, or is Python the next big thing?
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this confusing. In this post I have culled the 5 most important Web programming languages to know–the ones which make up about 90% of most modern websites. If you’re just beginning to learn how to build websites, this article will serve as a road map.
HTML: The Skeleton of the Web
HTML is the strong, silent (and mostly invisible) foundational structure which provides you a page to look at (such as the one you’re reading from right now). It provides line breaks, breaks text up into paragraph structures, formats tables, divides page content into layers…pretty much anything that makes up your page’s most basic structure is what HTML handles best.
This should be your first Web language to learn, since so many of the other programming languages depend on it to function. Here are some excellent resources to start learning:
CSS: The Magic Styling Wand of the Web
Perfectly complementing HTML’s invisible strength, CSS takes HTML’s structure and gives it style. From giving your text just the right font choice and color to aligning each of your divided layers pixel-perfect on the screen, CSS can transform any boring old text and images into a lovely yet still functional page. There are plenty of simple CSS tricks that translate into downright amazing page effects–things you would never expect to accomplish with just a few lines of code!
CSS should be your second language to learn, as it builds on HTML knowledge while extending HTML’s capabilities of displaying Web content properly. Here are some resources to study CSS (both how it works and what it looks like when done right):
PHP: The Workhorse of the Web
Many of the websites you see today, like this one, are made possible with PHP–it’s literally everywhere, even though none of its code appears when you click “View Source.” The reason its code does not appear is because PHP is a server-side language, meaning that everything it does is tied to having a conversation with the server (that’s the thing that holds all your web pages, images, etc.).
PHP acts as a go-between for your browser (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, or similar programs) and the server, asking questions of the server and delivering appropriate responses back to the browser in the form of a displayed page. (Ever searched for anything using a site’s search box? PHP was likely powering the search!)
PHP should be your fourth language to learn, since it is the most widely used of all the server-side languages, yet still deals with outputting data in HTML/CSS forms. Here are some excellent resources to help you learn PHP:
MySQL: The Librarian of the Web
If you’ve got data to store, search through, and access, MySQL can handle it quite ably–it’s a programming language built to make, search, and access online databases on a server. The only trouble is, it doesn’t actually display the data on its own. So, quite often you’ll see PHP and MySQL being taught side-by-side; PHP code can “talk” to the MySQL database and retrieve results.
Still, you need to know how MySQL works in order to build a PHP script that can communicate with it. (Believe me, if you don’t know how MySQL works, you’re going to be VERY frustrated trying to build a successful PHP code to work with a MySQL database!) Here are a few sites to start your MySQL learning:
(Fun fact: Most formally-trained programmers pronounce MySQL as “my sequel.” I, however, being relatively untrained, mentally pronounce it “my skwul” despite trying to train myself otherwise. LOL!)
These five Web programming languages may look scary, but if you take them one language at a time, mastering each before you move on, you will find that things become much easier to understand. And, once you understand these five, you will have a great basis of knowledge on which to build even further programming know-how. I hope this little “road map” serves you well!