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Should I Learn HTML Before JavaScript?

Jason Gilmore
Published: September 14, 2022

Once you’ve decided to pursue front-end web development, you might be overwhelmed with deciding where you should start. Do you learn HTML or JavaScript first? How long will it take to learn them? What about CSS?

The short answer: You should start by learning HTML, but you’ll quickly want to begin learning CSS and JavaScript as well. Learning all three of these languages will enable you to build visually appealing and dynamic websites and web applications as a front-end web developer.

Read on to find out more about HTML and JavaScript and how you should go about learning them as part of your front-end web development studies. You’ll also discover what they’re used for and how long it often takes to learn them.

What is HTML Used For?

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is a markup language used to define the structure of a web page. This includes the headers, paragraphs, tables, lists, and other elements that make up web content. An HTML file consists of a tree structure that contains many elements to create an individual web page and hyperlinks to other pages to form a larger website.

HTML5 is the final version of the markup language that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommended before shifting to today’s specification known as the HTML Living Standard. The latest version introduced new tags like <audio> and <video>, additional form options, local web storage, and more. Many of these features help to reduce the overlap between HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

HTML knowledge is useful for: 

  • Defining the structure of the content on a web page
  • Creating links between different pages to form an overall website
  • Modifying the structure of emails and other web documents

While HTML is a relatively simple markup language, it’s one of the fundamental building blocks of a modern website — and the only one that’s required. That said, web developers combine HTML with CSS and JavaScript to create visually appealing and interactive web applications using the <style> and <script> tags.

Learning HTML requires:

  • Basic knowledge of common elements, tags, and attributes
  • Understanding of tree structure and enclosing elements with tags
  • An ability to organize web content into a logical structure

Related Reading: CSS vs. HTML: What’s the Difference?

How Long Does it Take to Learn HTML?

HTML is generally considered very easy to learn and even those without any technical background can pick it up quickly. While there are over 100 different HTML tags, you don’t need to memorize them all to become a successful front-end web developer. Knowing the most common tags is all it takes to create a basic web page. That means you can likely start creating web pages within just a few hours of study and quickly move on to incorporating CSS into your web projects. 

As with any skill, however, practice makes perfect. By the time you’ve moved on to building web applications with JavaScript, you’ll likely view HTML as very easy. If you continue applying the concepts you learn by working on real-world projects, you can become highly proficient in HTML in less than a few months.

What is JavaScript Used For?

JavaScript is a general purpose programming language that can be used to build a variety of different applications. While JavaScript mobile development is growing in popularity with frameworks like React Native, the language is still mostly seen as a web programming language because it’s required for building front-end applications that run in web browsers.

Every modern website and web application is built using JavaScript because it’s easy to embed directly into web pages using the <script> HTML tag. JavaScript code is run directly within web browsers, making it ideal for adding interactive features that improve the user experience. In addition, many developers choose to use JavaScript as a full-stack programming language using NodeJS and other back-end frameworks.

JavaScript is useful for:

  • Creating the functionality for forms, buttons, search bars, and other interactive features
  • Building web applications using a front-end framework like ReactJS or AngularJS
  • Developing a back-end application to power advanced features for a web application
  • Enabling cross-platform mobile app development with frameworks like React Native

JavaScript is a dynamic and interpreted programming language. Instead of compiling JavaScript code before deployment, it’s executed on the fly by the runtime environment — whether it’s a web browser or another runtime engine. That’s why JavaScript is often referred to as a scripting language to distinguish it from compiled languages like C++ or C#.

Learning JavaScript requires:

  • Understanding of JavaScript syntax (variables, operators, expressions, etc.)
  • Ability to code in an IDE like Visual Studio or Atom
  • Working with Web APIs (like the DOM API)
  • Problem-solving ability

How Long Does it Take to Learn JavaScript?

The time it takes to learn JavaScript (and what that even means) varies for each student. Everyone begins learning JavaScript at a different starting point and they likely have their own definition of success. That means it could take a week for an experienced programmer to pick up JavaScript, while it could take a new student months to build their first full-stack web application.

Many ambitious coding students can learn the essentials of JavaScript, including its syntax and basic constructs, in just a week. That said, as a beginner you can’t expect to build complex web applications in JavaScript without months of dedicated study. Even highly proficient programmers continue to learn more about JavaScript after years of development experience.

What’s the best part about learning JavaScript? Many of the concepts you’ll learn with JavaScript are highly relevant to most other programming languages. Things like variables and conditional statements are more or less the same across many programming languages — with the main difference being their specific syntax. That means you’ll be able to learn Python, PHP, or any other language much faster if you want to move on to full-stack web development, or use JavaScript for both front-end and back-end development!

Is JavaScript Harder Than HTML?

Since JavaScript is a full-fledged programming language, it’s more challenging to learn than a markup language like HTML. JavaScript requires an understanding of concepts that enable handling logic and events, data processing, manipulating HTML/CSS programmatically, communicating using APIs, and more.

In contrast, HTML is a basic markup language with very little complexity or logic involved. That means JavaScript isn’t really any easier to learn after HTML, but that doesn’t necessarily make it hard either. They’re both essential languages that are used for very different purposes in web development.

The best way to become a JavaScript developer is to find an online course that will teach you the basics of JavaScript programming. You’ll not only want to learn how the language itself works, but also gain experience with an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and framework (ReactJS or AngularJS) within the JavaScript ecosystem.

Learn HTML Before JavaScript

For aspiring web developers, it makes sense to understand the basics of HTML (and CSS) before learning a general-purpose programming language like Python or JavaScript. While a programming language is useful for making a dynamic and interactive web application, it’s not a requirement for a basic website. In fact, HTML is the bare minimum of what you need to build a functioning website.

When you’re building a web application, JavaScript is also dependent on HTML. The Document Object Model (DOM) is a tree-like structure that is used to connect JavaScript code to the various elements of a web page. That means understanding how a web page is structured in HTML is essential for using the DOM API in JavaScript. You can learn JavaScript independently, but you’ll be limiting its usefulness if you don’t know how HTML works first.

Besides a better contextual understanding, learning HTML first can help you gain a deeper understanding of how the most popular web frameworks work. Many students want to skip the fundamentals and jump right into using ReactJS, AngularJS, or jQuery, but these frameworks abstract away some of the underlying details. Starting with HTML, then moving on to vanilla CSS and JavaScript is the best way to build a strong foundation for front-end web development.

Finally, becoming proficient in HTML is a great way to get some quick wins. You get instant visual feedback after just a few lines of HTML and CSS code, which can encourage you to continue learning more difficult concepts. If you were to start with JavaScript, you don’t really get these same tangible results to motivate you.

Schedule Your First Treehouse Demo

As you can see, it’s important to learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to become a successful web developer. Starting with HTML can give you some experience early on that motivates you to move on to JavaScript and other more advanced front-end development skills.

Treehouse offers a set of courses to help you quickly learn HTML from scratch, beginning with an introduction to HTML and CSS before progressing to forms, audio and video, and other key concepts. You can start here before moving on to Treehouse tracks for dozens of other tech-related topics.

For those that want to jumpstart a new career, Treehouse also has a Techdegree for learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript from scratch. The Front End Web Development bootcamp is designed to give you the real-world skills you need to succeed as a front-end web developer. Schedule your first demo today!