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How Do You Make Links?

Within this article of yours that I’m reading you have a few plain text
links that are typed in blue letters and underlined. When I click on them I’m
taken to the actual hypertext (http:) URL. For example, when I click on the
underlined “I have a few myself” and “free
Internet Safety eBook
” I’m taken to and, respectively. How did you
change the actual hypertext address to a clickable plain text link?

Time for my favorite answer: it depends.

OK, that’s not my favorite answer, but it certainly is a common

It depends on where you’re creating the link: web pages and email and
discussion forums are often all different, though typically with the same

It also depends on what tools you may or may not be using to create the

I’ll look at how links are structured, and how common tools encode them.


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What’s a Link?

A link actually has two parts: the part you see, and the part you don’t see.

The part you see is the text that’s displayed, and the part you don’t see is
the place to go (or more correctly, the action to take) should you click on
that link.

“A link actually has two parts: the part you see, and
the part you don’t see.”

On the web and in most email programs links are encoded in HTML (HyperText
Markup Language) – the “language” of most all web pages. When your browser
displays a web page it’s “reading” the HTML provided by the website and
formatting what you see according to the instructions encoded in that HTML.

A link, then, looks like this:

<a href=”“>a
few myself

That’s a link where the part you see is “a few myself”, and the part you
don’t see is the instruction that says that “when clicked go to”. When used, it looks like this:
a few myself.

I happen to write directly in HTML. (What can I say? I’m a geek.) So I when
I create a link I actually type in

href=””>a few

It’s second nature to me. (There are also all sorts of options that might be
applied, and editing directly like this lets me control what those are.) It’s
the moral equivalent of editing an HTML file in Notepad or another plain-text

There are lots of web page editing tools that will “hide” all that HTMLish
stuff and do it for you. Word processors like Microsoft Word are one example(*)
– you simply highlight the words you want to be hyperlinked (it’s the part you
see), type CTRL+K and you’ll be prompted to type in the url that you want your
text to link to (the part you don’t see). The software then outputs the
appropriate HTML when you save the file.

Links in Email

Many email programs, if you’re composing email in HTML format work exactly
like the Word Processing example above. You select the part you want to be
hyperlinked, press a keystroke or click on a link icon in a toolbar, and you’ll
be prompted for the URL to use.

However, email gets weird in a couple of ways.

When you’re composing email your email program may watch for things that
look like URLs as you type. When it sees you typing a URL is may then
automatically create a link for you.

For example, a typed in URL like might get automatically
transformed into, which
means that the HTML generated would be:

<a href=”“></a>

In a case like this, the program has set the “part you see” to be the same as
the “part you don’t see” –

That’s HTML mail. Plain text email gets weirder still.

In plain text email there is no HTML, and there is no opportunity to
actually create a link. If I were to type in the HTML for a link, then that’s
what would appear in the email: <a
href=””></a>, for example.

What email programs often do to compensate is to once again look for things
that look like links, and the display them as if they were links, and
treat them as if they were links when people click on them.

So if in your plain text formatted email you type:

Hey, go check out – I found the
answer there!

When it’s displayed at the receiving end it might look like this:

Hey, go check out – I found the answer there!

where the thing that looked like a URL is treated as a link to that URL. The
sender had nothing to do with that – there’s nothing in the email itself that
says that should be a link. On display the recipients email program might make
that assumption.

HTML? BBML! BBCODE! Wiki Markup! More!

Sadly, even though HTML is always the output mechanism when a web page is
displayed, for various reasons there are other “languages” that are translated
into HTML when displayed, and have different syntaxes for creating links.

BBML and/or BBCODE is an “HTML-like” markup used by many discussion forums
and bulletin board systems. Using BBCODE the first example link I showed you
would be:

few myself

Many consider it to be much simpler than HTML, and I expect it’s popularity
in forum software is a direct result.

Wiki Markup language is used on sites like Wikipedia. There my example link
would be:

a few myself]

Regardless of which language is required, several things remain

  • The “part you see” and the “part you don’t see” both exist and may differ.
    Example: a few
  • The “part you see” and the “part you don’t see” might well be the same.
  • When displayed on a web page it’s done in HTML.

There ya go. More than you ever wanted to know about links, I’m sure.

(*) I actually don’t recommend using Word as your HTML editor, as it has
historically produced pretty awful HTML. I actually don’t have a current
recommendation for a true WYSIWYG HTML editor.)

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3 comments on “How Do You Make Links?”

  1. I’m not a geek and don’t know how to use HTML directly. I’ve been writing a daily humor letter to several friends and family members for several years. About a year ago, I began assembling it in “Word” instead of “Outlook Express” because it’s so much easier to format. I’ve always had links to various internet addresses, but I began including internal links a few months ago for the convenience of the reader who wants to read their favorite section first (or only.)
    Last week, I took your suggestion to switch to “Thunderbird” for my email client. I’ve noticed two things; “Word” still uses OE to send the messages, and the internal links don’t work in Thunderbird, as they did in OE. Any ideas as to why not? Is there any way to have Word use Thunderbird?

  2. I actually like using KompoZer (formerly Nvu), but often go to using SeaMonkey’s composing tool. I can use HTML, and often edit in Notepad, but like the ability to instantly check my HTML and toggle back and forth from HTML to WYSIWYG.
    I used to use AOlPress, but that does not support much any more. It is good for basic HTML though.


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