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A rough guide to publishing on the Informatics Server


As the Informatics web site evolves over time, this document becomes less relevant. However, while there are still pages maintained via the CVS publishing mechanism, parts of it will still be useful. See the Main Informatics Website topic for more background on the evolution of

What follows applies to the content that is still managed via CVS. This mechanism has been in place since 2000.

The Informatics web server is designed to hold a collection of information for use by users both within and outside the School. The unique nature of computing within the School, along with a number of deliberate design decisions mean that publishing on this web server is undertaken in a different way to most other servers within the University

In addition, the server has been designed with a clear style, and structure which we are keen to keep. Retaining this architecture will make the system easier to use, and to maintain.

This document starts by describing means of publishing on the server, later sections provide background and justification for many of the decisions originally made, and will hopefully help as a guide to those maintaining the system in future years.

Do you need to publish?

Information on the Informatics server comes from a variety of sources, not all of which require you to have a publishing account in order to be able to alter it. In particular Personal and Institute information is generated from the School database. See the contact details at the bottom of these pages for information on how to change it.


The web can be a confusing mess of conflicting jargon. In order to avoid confusion as far as possible, we have picked a few terms which we will use consistently throughout this document.

An object is an item which is available on the world wide web, pointed at by a single URL. Objects are usually files, and are generally written in HTML.
Uniform Resource Locator. An "address" for an object on the World Wide Web. For example
A folder or directory that will contain other URLs. A container has a URL of the form, and should contain a file called index.html which will create that container's index. If the container does not contain an index.html file, then an error will be returned to anyone browsing to that container.

Becoming a publisher

2021: Nowadays it is less likely any Informatics member of staff would need a publishing account for www.inf, as content has been migrated to different systems. The first stage to becoming a publisher of information on the Informatics site is to apply for a publishing account. You can do this by going to and filling out the form on this page. Whilst you are waiting for your request to be processed, please take the time to read this document.

Creating content

Selecting a location

Before creating new content on the Informatics site, it is important to think about how that content will fit into the overall structure of the site. If your content already has an obvious location (for example, a document relating to the ISS), then this is a straightforward step.

However, if your content is something new, that doesn't have a location for it already created on the server, please mail webadmin@inf to ask them where an appropriate location would be. One of the key issues in maintaining the clean, clear, structure of the Informatics site, along with reducing the maintenance load, is ensuring that the URL space is keep clean. "Cluttering" areas of the space with documents because you already have permission to create objects there will only harm the server as a whole. In addition, the web administrators reserve the right to prevent the serving of pages placed in inappropriate locations.

Details of the design decisions made when structuring the URL tree for the site are given later in this document. If you wish to suggest a location for your content based on this document, that would be greatly appreciated.

If you are adding to a location that you already have publishing permission for, by creating new objects or containers, please follow the guidelines given below when you are naming them.

  • Container names should be short and meaningful, giving a general description of the documents in the tree below them
  • Container and object names should avoid using non-alphanumeric characters
  • Names should be meaningful to the end user, and avoid using site-specific terms, or information.
  • The correct extension for HTML documents is .html (not .htm)
  • Names should be all in lower case.
  • There should never be two names which are differentiated purely by capitalisation.

Remember that URLs are "for life". Once created and referenced URLs will persist for many years. If you are creating content that you intend to be transient, then place it and label it as such. Remember that changing URLs for the same content (for instance, if you decide that you don't like the previous URL) will confuse the end user, and lead your potential audience being split between the two locations. One of the reasons for exercising care in URL placement is so that the site's structure can grow and expand without any renaming being necessary.

If in any doubt about where to place new content, please contact the web administrators for guidance before creating the document.

Creating your new location

The method for creating your location depends on the publishing technique being used. Please see the document detailing your chosen publishing technique for more details.

If you have any difficulties in creating new directories or containers please contact the web server administrators.

Controlling access to your location

Firstly, bear in mind that confidential information should never be placed on the web. However, if you have information that you would like to restrict to local users, please see the restricting access topic, or contact the web server administrators for advice.

Document Formats

Documents on the Informatics server should be either HTML, PDF, or plain ASCII text. The use of any other document format is strongly discouraged, and may be rejected by either the submission or serving systems.

The supported formats were chosen after a great deal of consideration as being the most portable formats available. In addition, it is strongly recommended that all information is provided in HTML, as a baseline, with PDF being provided as an optional extra.

Many browsers can only display HTML documents, most search engines will only index HTML-based content, and PDF presents particular challenges to screen readers used by the visually impaired.

A number of tools are available to produce HTML from other document formats, these are discussed in more detail in a companion document on the tools which are available for those publishing on the server.

Using the site style

As you will notice browsing around the site, it has a simple style, which should be used on all pages within the site. Using this style is very straightforward, and a number of means are provided to do so.

If you are editing raw HTML, then you can structure your document as follows (sections shown in bold are parts that you should edit)

<!--#include virtual="/ssi/"-->
<TITLE>Put your title here</TITLE>
<!--#include virtual="/cgi-bin/metabase"-->
<!--#include virtual="/ssi/"-->
Content goes here

<!--#include virtual="/cgi-bin/locationbar"-->
<!--#include virtual="/ssi/"-->
A discussion of what each of the components in the above do is contained later in this document.

Authors using HTML editors can fetch a template from . Also see the main web template page.

Once you have a template to start editing, the procedure is the same as if you were editing existing content.

Editing existing content

Database generated pages

If you are one of the lucky few with permission to edit pages over the entire site, then please bear in mind that not all of the pages on the site can be edited by hand. In particular, a number of sections of the site are automatically generated.

  • /map/ Is automatically generated nightly from the results of the indexing run over the server.
  • /people/ Is automatically generated from the database
  • /research/ Some of this is automatically generated. Please consult with the web administrators before creating files within this tree.
In addition, it is possible that autogenerated pages may appear in other areas of the tree. Autogenerated pages are clearly marked within their source. You can usually view page source by right clicking in your browser window and selecting "View page source"

When you look at the source of a database generated file, you will see something like

<!-- @Conduit DAILY H301 @Creator daidb -->
The first line indicates that the page is being automatically updated from the database by conduit H301 on a daily basis. These lines will only appear on generated pages.


The Informatics site has a simple style which is designed to follow the reader around the site. Pages which do not follow this style will not only look odd, they will break a number of the navigation models which we have adopted to make it easier to find information on the site. Please don't remove the standard headers and footers from pages which you are editing, and ensure that they are present on new pages which you create.

In addition to the standard headers and footers, we would also be grateful if authors would follow a number of other basic points

  • Do not use frames - they break the web navigation and content models. Try tables instead.
  • Try to use sensible line lengths in your HTML source - this helps our revision management system provide you with better information.
  • Avoid changing the font of your document
  • Don't use text colour as a visual key
  • Always supply alternate text for images (using the ALT tag, or an option in your editor)
  • Only use GIF, JPEG or PNG format images. Of these, GIF is the most widely supported.
  • Try to avoid using italics, as they may be hard to read
  • Don't underline text
  • Make your link anchors meaningful - don't use phrases such as "here" or "click here"
  • Be careful with using tables to manage text layout, as they can confuse speech reading software
  • When linking to containers use container/. Not container or container/index.html.

These points are aimed at producing a site which is accessible to as many people as possible regardless of computing platform, web browser, or visual disability.


Please be careful about linking to content held on external sites (by this we include other sites within the School). In particular official School information should not be held within users personal web space. Please do not place permanent links for committee papers, minutes etc into people's home directories.

Consider whether the information that you are linking to actually belongs on the School server as part of a permanent record. Remember that external sites may change hands and ownership - what particular URLs point to may change beyond all recognition over the lifetime of a page.


A title should uniquely identify the document it refers to. A number of browsing tools make use of titles (such as "Bookmarks" or "Favourites"), and our site's search engine and sitemaps also use titles to reference a document. For this reason, despite the fact that the Title appears outside the main document window, please try to use meaningful titles. Generally speaking, the title should be the same as the first heading on the page.

HTML Validation

Upon submission of your edited page to the server, the HTML within it will be checked. Whilst it is possible for some browsers to display faulty HTML, results are variable (as they have to guess the meaning of the broken instructions). For this reason, and because HTML mistakes are perhaps the single largest form of publishing problems, we validate all HTML pages before they are published. The validation service is based around the W3C Validation service.

If the validation fails you will be given a list of line numbers, and error messages which should enable you to fix the mistakes.

In the event of encountering errors, you might like to try the tidy utility to automatically repair your HTML. However, please be aware that tidy will _not_ expand any server side includes used in your document. The standard Informatics SSIs contain important structural information which tidy requires to be able to parse the document. In this situation you may find the tools ssiexpand and ssireduce helpful.

Metadata, sitemaps and location bars

Metadata is "information about data", in this case it is data about the information stored in a web page. We store a number of pieces of metadata and use it in a number of different ways. Broadly speaking we use metadata for the following purposes :

  • To improve the search features, and to assist internet search engines
  • To generate the sitemap
  • To control the text used in the location bar at the bottom of every page
  • To provide information about document authors and publishers, both for browsers and document maintainers.

We store metadata for all items present on the server, but at present only make use of it for HTML documents.

Supported metadata fields

We currently use the following fields within our metadata. These are strongly based around those suggested by the Dublin Core

Author's email
The email address of the primary author(s) of the document.
Author's name
The full name or names of the primary author(s).
Contributor's name
The name of any contributors to the content. A contributor is someone who is not primarily responsible for the content, but has made significant contributions.
Contributor's email
The email address(es) of any contributors to the document
The title of the document, as contained within the HTML. Title can be set manually for non-HTML documents.
The publisher of the document, this will usually be "School of Informatics, The University of Edinburgh"
A set of keywords describing the document.
A short, textual, description of the contents of the document. An abstract, if you like.
Short name
A short, one or two word, name for the document which is used when indicating site position on the location bar.
Sitemap title
The name by which the document should appear in the sitemap
Note: The site map is a simple alphabetical list - be careful what you put in here or we will wind up with too many documents beginning with, for example "Informatics".

Automatic generation of metadata

A number of these fields are automatically created when the document is published on the server. These, currently, are: Author's email, Author's name, Contributor's name, Contributor's email, Title, Publisher.

The Author is the first person to place the document on the server, people who subsequently edit the document will be listed as Contributors.

Manual editing of metadata

All of the above metadata may be manually edited by browsing to the page on the Informatics server that you wish to modify, then replacing the www portition of the URL with publish. Selecting the Edit metadata option on the bar at the top of the page will produce a screen allowing the editing of all of the options detailed above.

Note - pages not located on the main informatics server, such as the pages associated with the various informatics institutes, can not be edited in this way.

Metadata for search engines

Both our internal search system, and internet wide crawlers such as Altavista, can use pieces of metadata to improve their search performance. The metadata that they honour are the Keywords and Description pieces. If you pick your keywords well, then your document is far more likely to appear in relevant searches. The description you provide is used to replace the automatically generated document summary presented in the list of search results, and can make users far more likely to access your document.

The description and keywords metadata is only altered by using the manual option described above. Its worth taking the time to add the information if you view your document as being interesting to other readers, and its worth checking that the information is still relevant if you radically change the content of a document, or take over a document from another author.

Sitemaps and location bars

The Informatics site has an automatically generated site map, which contains "key documents ... as chosen by their authors". In order to keep the quality of this page as high as possible, you will need to explicity add your page to it, if you feel that that is appropriate. You can do so by editing the metadata of your page, and inserting an appropriate title into the Sitemap field, or by selecting the Add to sitemap option on the publishing bar at the bottom of the page.

Do give some thought to how you title your document in the site map. It may be a good idea to start the title with an appropriate keyword.

Location bars are, as discussed earlier, automatically generated for every page. The text used in this names is usually a version of the container name in the URL. If you own a container index page, then you can change the name used to link to that page. To do so, enter the new name as the Shortname field. Bear in mind that the name should be as short as possible so that the location bar remains usable.

Further Reading

This section is by no means complete - I am listing the documents I consulted in detail in building the site. I hope eventually to expand this into a more complete set of references. It will also, undoubtedly, suffer from linkrot.





Text has been contributed by Tim Colles.

Design, style and HTML recommendations have been culled from a number of sources, many of them listed in the "Further reading" section above. In particular the W3C and the RNIB provide useful information on designing a more accessible web. Jakob Nielsen's alertbox column provides hints on producing a more manageable and navigatable web. A number of sites who make their authoring hints available such as Sun and, also provided tips. The design of the server is based strongly upon one done by Visual Resources for a EDINFO redesign - Arthur Wilson of EUCS provided helpful and timely advice regarding this.

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