What are the differences among SGML, HTML and XML?

Markup languages came into use in the 1980s as a method to markup electronic documents and gained prominence with the creation of the World Wide Web.

What is the difference between SGML, HTML and XML? Is XML SGML? Is XML HTML?

SGML, HTML and XML are examples of markup languages used to create, to work with and to display formatted documents. Markups are usually handled through a series of detailed codes enclosed in angle brackets to form tags that surround segments of text. A word processor, browser or other document engine reads the tags and acts on the text within them.

The standard generalized markup language (SGML) arose in the 1980s as a method to markup electronic documents through various tags. This makes SGML one of the first meta-languages for document creation and presentation. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) made SGML the international standard for describing markup in electronic documents in 1986 through ISO 8879.

Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in 1989 and also developed a standardized markup language to create and display text-based content that could be served across the Internet. Berners-Lee took the tagging methodology used in SGML and built the hypertext markup language (HTML) and a web browser that interpreted HTML tags in 1990.

The earliest iteration of HTML used 18 tags -- many of which are still in use with the latest versions of HTML; the most recent version of HTML (HTML5) was released in October 2014.

The extensible markup language (XML) was developed and released in 1998 by the World Wide Web Consortium as a standard means of to add markup to documents. Users can create the tags they need and define how those tags are used. XML has grown in popularity for its capabilities to store and transfer data between applications. XML documents essentially play a role as data files for other applications. For example, an application's configuration file is often saved as an XML file rather than a simple text file.

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This was last published in May 2002

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