12 Significant Web Development Acronyms and What They Mean

When it comes to web development, acronyms abound. I want to delve into is the 12 most significant web development acronyms and what they mean. Keep in mind this is a subjective list and there are many, many acronyms that relate to web development, in fact some are used to explain the 12 acronyms I’ve chosen. So without further ado, to the acronyms!


HTML is the one, the only, Hypertext Markup Language. HTML was created by physicist Tim Berners-Lee, while he was working at CERN as a way to use, share, and relate documents. Derived from SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), it went on to become the base structure of websites. DHTML is a blanket term describing HTML’s dynamic interactions with JavaScript and the DOM, an elusive term defined below. Then, there is XHTML, which is a stricter “version” of HTML, that was created using XML for its quick parsing, extensibility, and more structured format.

2. DOM

DOM, the Document Object Model. When it comes to web development, the DOM is at the base of it all. In the beginning, there needed to be a set of rules for programmatically representing and manipulating HTML documents. That’s where the DOM came in. It gave web browsers, JavaScript, and anything else that interacts with HTML documents a standardized way to handle and manipulate them. The DOM plays a major role in dynamic web development.

3. URL

URL, better known as Uniform Resource Locator, is, at its most basic definition, a unique, identifying reference to a resource. In 1994, Tim Berners-Lee struck again, playing a major role in the standardization of URLs. A URL is technically a type of URI (Uniform Resource Identifier), but the terms are used interchangeably at this point. Though they can be used for many different types of resources, they’re most commonly known for webpages. Take http://www.jpenterprises.com/work for example. The “http” in the URL is the scheme; this dictates how the request will be sent. The domain is “www.jpenterprises.com”; this is where the request will be sent. Lastly, “work” is the resource that is being requested (e.g. work.html).  While there are, or could be, a lot of other things going on here, such as URL redirects and rewrites, just to name a few, that’s basically the gist of it.

4. CSS

CSS, a.k.a. Cascading Style Sheets, though not the first style sheets to exist, became official in 1996, and are used as the main method of dictating visual layout properties on the web today. CSS was proposed and created as a way of separating the structure and presentation of web pages. CSS is a set of rules for presenting content on the web, and it is written in a hierarchical structure, which is the reason for “Cascading” in the name. Elements may have many CSS rules that match them, but the most specific of those rules (cascading down from broad to specific) will be the ones that apply. CSS helps web content be presented in multiple different ways depending on different circumstances, for instance, there can be different style sheets for print, screen, mobile, and even television.

5. JS

The loved, the hated…JavaScript. Well, not hated so much anymore since it’s the most widely used programming language on the internet. When it was first standardized in 1997 however, professional programmers scoffed at the programming language that was aimed at “amateurs” and web designers. JavaScript has grown a lot since then, now it’s not only used for web clients, but it’s gaining a lot of attention as a Server Side application with the rise in popularity of platforms like Node.js. At this point, love it or hate it, JavaScript is here for the long haul and it is an integral part of web development.

6. XML

XML stands for Extensible Markup Language. XML is a markup language that was also (along with HTML) derived from SGML. In 1996, XML was created as a human-readable and machine-readable markup language for representing documents on the web. These days it’s used more for abstract textual data representation than it is for documentation, but it is a very versatile, and as the name implies, “extensible” markup language. In fact, it’s been extended too many times to count. Some formats you may be familiar with were extended from XML, such as XHTML, EPUB, RSS, SVG, and Atom, just to name a few.


No, not the subject of a 1950s cleaning commercial, or the Greek hero it was named after, this powerhouse stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. AJAX has moved past its initial offerings to make its component words out of date. No longer does Ajax have to use Asynchronous connections only, nor does it need to use XML as the data structure for the content received. Ajax now represents using JavaScript to retrieve data from the server in the background of the client side application. Nowadays, JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is the data format commonly used, and connections can be synchronous. Ajax came about from the need to retrieve bits of information without reloading an entire page, thus bogging down the server retrieving data that was already being displayed. Though it’s grown larger than its acronym, Ajax is a very powerful tool that powers web sites like Gmail, Kayak, and Google Maps.

8. PHP

Inside programming jokes aside (endless loop anyone?), this recursive acronym stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor, much cooler sounding then the original, and ambiguous Personal Home Page. PHP is a server side scripting language that was inadvertently (whoops!) created in 1995 by Rasmus Lerdorf to update his personal home page resume and track its visitors. It grew organically from there into a large programming language and an amazing way to build websites dynamically. What makes PHP so popular is the fact that a request from the browser can be analyzed by the server so that the resulting response is dynamically built for that specific request. Two people visiting the same URL could see two different results, depending on the circumstances. PHP is a main mechanism behind many CMS’s (Content Management Systems) like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.

9. SQL

SQL is who you want to see for information…it’s the Structured Query Language. SQL is a specialized programming language that’s designed to manage data in an RDBMS (Relational Database Management System). SQL allows you to insert, query, update, and delete data, as well as create and modify data schemas, and it provides data access control as well. In combination with PHP, SQL forms the guts of many a Content Management Systems. It has a small scope, but it’s a very powerful language that, when used correctly, makes dynamic web development a beautiful thing.

10. HTTP

HTTP, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol was first created by Tim Berners-Lee (the one and only) in 1989 in his WordWideWeb project as the protocol used to transfer HTML documents over a TCP/IP network. HTTP works in a client/server setup. A web browser (the client) will send a request to a webserver; the web server will then send a response to the web browser. At its most simple form, a web browser would request an HTML document, and then the webserver would respond by sending that HTML document to the web browser. HTTP is the set of rules that describes and implements how that connection and transfer of information between the client and the server is carried out.

11. FTP

FTP: the ever useful File Transfer Protocol. So, you’ve developed an amazing website. How are you going to get it up to the server so that everyone can see it!? That’s where FTP comes in. FTP was written in 1971, and defines how to transfer files over a network. It’s encapsulated in the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) suite, the main communications protocol of the internet. FTP works in a client/server setup similar to HTTP. With FTP you can log into an FTP server (or not if it allows anonymous connections) and establish a connection, then you can transfer files back and forth. FTP is great for transferring files that don’t need a secure connection, like basic public website files. If you do need a secure connection you can use the encrypted FTPS (File Transfer Protocol Secure), or the more popular SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol). Don’t be confused by SFTP though; it doesn’t actually use FTP, but uses SSH or Secure Shell.  FTP has come a long way, and is now commonly included with a GUI (Graphical User Interface) in applications today.

12. SEO

SEO, ever mysterious, stands for Search Engine Optimization. When search engines first came onto the scene around the mid 1990s, the rules were pretty simple. You search for a word or phrase, the search engine would check content and meta tags of the websites it had indexed and then return the sites that most closely related to your search. This process, while it makes sense in theory, was extremely easy to be gamed by nefarious web developers who would keyword-stuff their meta tags and site content to rank higher, even though their content wasn’t relevant. Google entered the mix in 1998 with its PageRank algorithm that was aimed at determining a webpage’s relevance through a couple of different factors, the main one being the quantity and strength of inbound links. This proved pretty successful for a while, until unscrupulous web developers started link farms and paid link schemes. Today, search engines are constantly updating their algorithms to prevent manipulation by “Black Hat” SEO practitioners and support relevant content by “White Hat” SEO practitioners. The best advice to utilize SEO correctly would be to write relevant content and update often. 

There you have it. The 12 most important web development acronyms and what they mean. Again, these are just 12 of many, and at the rate the web is developing, there are bound to be countless more in the future. So, what do you think? Do you have a favorite from the list? My personal favorite is PHP; I just love a good recursive acronym. Let me know your favorite acronym or if there is one that you think should be on this list that didn’t make it.

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