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January 2, 2012 / Ben Chun

Link means include? What a country!

As I delinquently finish grading final essays for my 10th grade class, I’m surprised (and not really surprised) to find how confused some of them are. But I think I’ve found at least one source of their confusion, one more of these technical vocabulary things that unintentionally makes it hard for humans to learn how the web works: The word “link”. What does link actually mean?

Without going buck wild and consulting some kind of dictionary-like resource, I figure it means at least three different things. First, a link is a connection, as when we use the href attribute of the a tag to make clickable text that will take you to another site. Second, the verb form means either creating or following one of these connections. Third, and most confusingly, there’s actually a link tag, which we most commonly use to import CSS rules from an external file.

Think about this for a second: When you specify the href of an a tag, you’re giving the URL for the client to visit and display when the stuff inside that a tag is clicked. We usually call that whole structure a link. But when you specify the href of a link tag with rel="stylesheet", you’re giving the URL of a resource that should be incorporated into the current document. No wonder the kids are confused! Remind me to tell next year’s class this little secret.

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