A working SGML-based Web server

Mon, 27 Mar 95 02:02:17 EST

I've just put a new (unannounced) Web server online that I think might
be of technical interest to this group. You can access it by going to
the Novell home page (http://www.novell.com) and clicking on the
"Manuals" button. It's also available directly at
http://occam.sjf.novell.com:8080. The address will be changing later
this week and the server itself will be up and down as I finish
configuring it, but if you can catch it while it's up, I think that
you will find it worth checking out.

The server puts online somewhere in the neighborhood of 110,000 pages
of NetWare manuals, UnixWare manuals, and NetWare SDK documentation.
The interesting thing about it is that none of this material is in
HTML. All of it is in DocBook SGML, some of it more than two years
old. The DynaWeb software running on the server automatically
generates all the TOCs directly from the hierarchical structure of the
SGML, and all searching takes place using DocBook tags such as
<title>, <msg>, and <function>. Only when the appropriate fragment is
actually being downloaded to the Web client is it translated into
HTML. This approach maintains our existing investment in documents
that can be used unchanged to produce our regular online
documentation, our printed manuals, and now our WWW deliverables all
from the same source. It also makes possible much more powerful
searching than could be achieved if the source were in HTML and allows
us to easily change the HTML as the standard evolves. For example,
the CALS tables in our source are currently served out using a very
minimal version of the HTML 3.0 table model; as this model is refined,
I can change the output of the server to match revisions of the
standard in a matter of minutes. Also, since this material has been
delivered online using stylesheets for the last couple of years, it's
already set to use HTML stylesheets as soon as they become available.
(I can hardly wait!) And, of course, it positions us nicely to use
SGML Web browsers in the future.

We are currently running an engineering snapshot of the first DynaWeb
beta, so the software is rather buggy and inconsistent right now, but
it does serve to demonstrate this different approach to the WWW
delivery of large document collections.


Jon Bosak, Novell Corporate Publishing Services jb@novell.com
2180 Fortune Drive, San Jose, CA 95131 Fax: 408 577 5020
A sponsor of the Davenport Group (ftp://ftp.ora.com/pub/davenport/)
The Library is a sphere whose consummate center is any hexagon, and
whose circumference is inaccessible. -- Jorge Luis Borges