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
http://med.askleomedia.com/ebooks/InternetSafety.pdf, 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.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
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
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:
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
http://store.pugetsoundsoftware.com/ebooks.php”. 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
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 http://ask-leo.com might get automatically
transformed into http://ask-leo.com, which
means that the HTML generated would be:
In a case like this, the program has set the “part you see” to be the same as
the “part you don’t see” – http://ask-leo.com.
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=”http://ask-leo.com”>http://ask-leo.com</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:
When it’s displayed at the receiving end it might look like this:
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
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
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
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.)