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July 19, 2012 / carlispina

Learn and Practice Web Programming with Mozilla Thimble

As I have become more involved with learning and teaching web programming, it has become evident that there are a lot of initial hurdles that can overwhelm beginners. Previewing projects is not an intuitive process for many beginners and actually publishing projects to the internet requires beginners to find server space and understand how to post the project to this server space. While it is easy to take this for granted once you have done it a few times, it makes it hard for beginners to feel that they are immediately seeing progress. As learning web programming has exploded in popularity, new tools are emerging to streamline this process. Mozilla has jumped into this field with Thimble. Created as part of Mozilla’s Webmaker project, which aims to help people learn to code, Thimble eliminates many of the initial complications that face new web programmers and make it easy to jump right into a project.

Thimble has a number of excellent features for those new to HTML and CSS. Users can write HTML and CSS in a text editor on the right side of their web browser and immediately preview the changes they make on the left side of their browser. Going beyond standard text editors meant for web development, Thimble not only includes helpful color coding for each of the code elements, but also has the option to enable pop up windows that include information and suggestions about the HTML and CSS elements being typed as well as links to even more information on the Mozilla Development Network. These resources give users a lot of support if they want to start a completely new web project, but Thimble also has several starter projects that users can modify if they don’t feel comfortable starting from a blank page. These projects include documentation that can help to educate users about why the code is written as it is and can help users to personalize the projects. Once a user has finished creating a project, whether from scratch or based on an existing project, it can be published to the web with just a couple of clicks. Once a project is published, users are presented with the URL of the project, as well as a URL to continue editing the project and the option to share the URL on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. Despite these advantages, Thimble does have some limitations. It is designed primarily for those who are only creating a single document, which means that any CSS must be included in the same document as the HTML, which is generally not optimal. As of right now, Thimble is also not designed to support Javascript in published projects. However, despite these limitations, I think Thimble is the perfect solution for those who are new to programming. Whether you are teaching yourself to HTML and CSS or you are a teacher looking for a tool to lower the entry barrier to web site creation for your students, Thimble is a great solution.

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