What Is Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML)?

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SGML is the mother of all markup languages. It's like having a baby, but that baby has a kid, and that kid, and on. The key idea behind SGML is that it's a superset of other common markup languages (like HTML and XML), which means it can include elements from those languages without losing specificity. In other words, if you're using HTML for your website, you could also use SGML to help organize your content in ways that make sense for your site. SGML was designed in the early 1980s, during the advent of computers running software based on a language called COBOL. Initially designed to automate publishing on mainframe computers, it was a very structured language with strict rules about how must capitalize a word must capitalize a comment, where punctuation must appear, and so on. During the advent of computers running software based on JavaScript, a new generation of programmers discovered that SGML was a great way of tagging their code, enabling others to read and edit it, just as it did with books. And just as the advent of this new technology soon transformed books, so were the ways that wrote code wrote code. It was natural that programmers would want to extend SGML to meet their own needs, just as they had done with software based on COBOL. SGML is a standardized way of marking up documents. It's kind of like HTML but way more remarkable—it doesn't have any application-specific formatting limitations, which means you can use it to mark up documents whether they're on the web or not. It's also derived from GML (generalized markup language), a way for users to work on standardized formatting styles for electronic documents. So if you want to use SGML, you'll need a way to mark up a copy—that might be with an application like Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign or even something simpler like an old-fashioned typewriter!

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