HTML Unleashed. SGML and the HTML DTD: A Brief History of SGML | WebReference

HTML Unleashed. SGML and the HTML DTD: A Brief History of SGML


HTML Unleashed: SGML and the HTML DTD

A Brief History of SGML


The roots of SGML go back to the late 1960s when the concept of descriptive markup saw the light for the first time.  After companies started using computers for document processing, it soon became obvious that a storage format should contain not only formatting codes interpreted by computer itself, but also descriptive human-legible information about the nature and role of every element in a document.

The first working system that used these concepts was the Generalized Markup Language (GML) developed by Charles Goldfarb, Edward Mosher, and Raymond Lorie at IBM.  This system was the direct predecessor of SGML and contained the prototypes for many of its major features, such as hierarchical document structure and document type definitions.  IBM adopted GML and built mainframe-based publishing systems on it that were widely used to produce technical documentation in the corporation.

In 1978, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) started research in the field of generic document markup pursuing the goal of establishing a nationwide standard for information interchange.  Later, Dr. Goldfarb joined the ANSI working group, and in 1980 the first draft was published, then finalized in 1983 as an industry standard named GCA 101-1983.

In 1984, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) joined the activity and started preparation of an international version of the standard.  The first draft of the ISO standard was published in 1985 and the final version appeared a year later.  The standard bears the full name "ISO 8879:1986 Information processing---Text and office systems---Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML)."  The full text of the specification is available from ISO for a fee.

The best use of SGML is generally made in big corporations and agencies that produce a lot of documents and can afford to introduce a single standard format for internal use.  Besides IBM, early applications of the new technology include the projects developed by Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the U.S. Department of Defense.  Finally, in 1992 researchers at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) chose to build a hypertext markup language that they called HTML as an SGML application.  But that's another story...


Created: Jun. 15, 1997
Revised: Jun. 16, 1997