View -> Source

In 1997, View -> Source was the web page debugging tool we had available. I remember my friend Drey complaining about the lack of tools. I’d never been any kind of developer besides a web developer, so I had no idea what she was talking about.

Netscape Navigator 4

I don’t remember everything we used between View -> Source and Firebug, but I suspect the IE JavaScript console had a role to play. Yep, IE.  We also did a lot of HTML validation which helped find problems in lengthy pages. Somewhere along the line a couple of us took an ajax class and pretty much the only lasting thing I got out of it was that Firebug existed and it was the coolest tool I had ever seen in my life.

Now we work in an unimaginable future where we run JavaScript-powered web servers on our desktops with live reloading of multiple web browsers at once, displayed on two gigantic screens, while writing code in an IDE that magically suggests things to us, or instantly alerts us to errors.

Sometimes people who have been applications developers but not web developers are at sea when they first have to work with web front end frameworks. They don’t really know HTML well enough to create working and easily styled web pages. When they ask me for help, I usually hand them a copy of Dan Cederholm’s “Web Standards Solutions”.  I’m not sure if this has actually helped anyone but it’s the only way I can think to guide them.

I think that starting with the most basic HTML and learning through the evolution of web front end technology (I remember being so excited about CSS) is a tremendous advantage. I don’t even know where to start with someone who doesn’t already know what valid and well-formed means, or separation of content from formatting, or, of course, semantic markup. That shorthand is my foundation.