What are standards?

Just as standards exist for almost every kind of electrical equipment, every class of machinery, or every chemical product that we encounter on a day-to-day basis, there exist free and non-proprietary standards for the Web. Web standards help the different parts of the Web (your computer, a Web server, your friend's cell phone and an internet fridge) communicate in a way that is understood by the different devices connected to it. Web standards make the Web a place where files can be read by anyone, regardless of what they are using to access the Internet.

How do they work?

Although there are Web standards that apply to all aspects of the Internet, such as ECMAScript (JavaScript), DOM, XML, RDF, as well as user agent and accessibility guidelines, when people talk about Web standards they are often talking about standards that govern HTML and CSS. HTML (Hyper-Text Mark-up Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are two types of authoring (authoring is also known as coding) that can make a Web page. Like a grammar rule book for Web languages, the standards specifications for HTML and CSS describe how to write HTML and CSS.

Web standards not only tell Web authors how to code Web pages, they also tell user agents how to interpret and display that code so that users can read Web pages. Web standards are a way to make sure everyone is following the same rule-book, a way to mediate the Web.