Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
November/December 2004, by Delia Venables

A primer for the acronymilly challenged
Web Acronyms Galore (WAG)

by Alex Heshmaty

HTML - HyperText Markup Language
HTML is the language designed to create pages for use on the World Wide Web which look broadly similar whatever the computer on which they are viewed (platform independent). People creating documents in HTML markup the text by inserting commands called tags which indicate how the information is to be presented (size of font, bold, italic etc). The pages are transmitted across the internet using HTTP, HyperText Transport Protocol.

XHTML - Extensible Hypertext Markup Language
This is essentially a stricter form of HTML which is designed to be an application of XML (see below) and thus to conform to XML standards. One requirement of XHTML is that tags (e.g.<b>) are well formed (i.e. properly opened and closed - <b></b>). It is also designed to ensure that style and content are kept separate (content being part of the XHTML and style being brought in by CSS - Cascading Style Sheets - see below).

XML - Extensible Markup Language
XML is designed to allow programs to easily and universally interpret its data. It is essentially a method of structuring, storing and exchanging information as opposed to HTML which is primarily used to display information. XML tags are used to structure data but are not pre-defined and instead need to be chosen by the data creators. XML standards are often defined for whole industries or types of application within an industry, to facilitate the particular type of data being exchanged.

FTP - File Transfer Protocol
FTP is a way of transferring files across the Internet from one computer to another. FTP clients (programs) are generally used by web developers to move files from their remote computer to the main server from where the website is accessed.

CSS - Cascading Style Sheets
CSS is used to define the stylistic elements of a web page such as colours, fonts and layout. It is basically designed to allow the separation of presentation from content. There can be various style sheets which control the same document according to defined rules which accounts for their description as 'cascading.'

ASP - Active Server Pages
An ASP is an HTML page that includes embedded ASP scripts (small programs) which are processed on a Microsoft Web server before being sent to the user. ASP is typically used when pages are required to have dynamic or frequently changing content. ASP scripts are usually written in Microsoft's Visual Basic Scripting Edition, a subset of Visual Basic.

CGI - Common Gateway Interface
CGI is a set of rules which allows a web browser to request data from a program which runs on a web server. For example, when a user fills out a form which needs to be processed on the server, the method whereby the form is submitted to the program on the server and a result is sent back to the user is called CGI.

Perl - Practical Extraction and Report Language
Perl is a programming language that was initially designed to be a practical way of extracting and manipulating information from text files. With its versatility and ease of use, Perl is one of the most popular CGI languages. Amongst other things, it can be used for contact forms, guest books, counters, message boards and security checks (such as managing usernames and passwords).

PHP - Programmed Hypertext Preprocessor
PHP is an open source, cross-platform server-side scripting language used to create dynamic web pages. It can be used as an alternative to ASP or the CGI/Perl system. In addition to being a scripting language it can also be used to develop graphical user interfaces.

CMS - Content Management System
A CMS is a program used to create and maintain collaborative content on a website. It allows different authors to manage different sections of a website using individual logins to determine the level of authorisation which is given to each. It can also be used to avoid two authors overwriting each others content by applying version control. It also allows content to be 'approved' by editors before going live.

API - Application Programming Interface
An API is a set of rules which allows one piece of software to communicate with another so if a program is being developed to work under, say, Microsoft Windows the programmer will need the API information for Windows. A primary purposes of an API is to provide a set of commonly used functions which can be taken advantage of by programmers, thus saving them the task of programming everything from scratch.

WAP - Wireless Application Protocol
WAP is an open international standard for information services on wireless terminals such as the mobile phone. WAP uses a micro-browser which makes minimal demands on hardware, memory and CPU, thus being perfect for mobile phones. The language used to display information on this browser is called WML (Wireless Markup Language) and is based on XML.

RGB - Red Green Blue
RGB colour model is the system used for displaying colours on a computer monitor. Red, green and blue can be combined in various proportion to create other colours and are used for assigning colours in web design.

JPEG - Joint Photographic Experts Group
This is a commonly used method of compressing images for use in a website. It is designed to work particularly well for photographic images or complex paintings with smooth variations of tone and colour. It is known as a 'lossy' compression method which means that every time a JPEG file is compressed or rewritten, it loses some of its quality.

GIF - Graphics Interchange Format
Another major image compression method, GIF, originally developed by Compuserve, is used for images with a small number of colours or a large area of a single colour, such as cartoons, line or greyscale drawings. Unlike JPEG it is lossless so it can be opened and saved again in different sizes with no degradation in quality.

MPEG - Moving Picture Experts Group
MPEG develop video and audio encoding standards. 'MPEG' also denotes the multimedia files which have been encoded using these standards. The standards are designed to compress sound or video to a high standard so that it is possible to deliver the media over the internet or to store it without requiring too much space. A decoder is needed to play the audio or visual information.

PDF (or pdf) - Portable Document Format
This is a method of presenting a printed document on the web so that it still looks like a printed document. The software for this was designed by a company called Adobe. This method is often used for loading up articles, brochures, newsletters etc onto a web site without having to reformat the content (tediously) into HTML.

Javascript is a scripting language, designed to be embedded in or used alongside HTML and interact with the browser. It can be used to create some useful functions to add to a web page such as form checking or providing simple calculations, or even just showing the current time and date.

Not to be confused with Javascript, Java is an object-oriented programming language. It can be used to develop small applications called Java applets which can be downloaded from a web server and run on the viewer's own computer through the web browser. Amongst other things, a Java applet could be a complex calculator or a small computer game.

Alex Heshmaty graduated with an LLB (Hons.) in English and European Law at UWE, Bristol in 2000. He became interested in web design and, after training with an ISP in Bristol, became Systems Manager at DiscLaw Publishing Ltd, taking charge of the technical side of web operations at He left DiscLaw earlier this year in order to start his own web design consultancy.


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