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Tips for Web Creation

by Rick Matthews

Note: this page is rather dated, but is being left here mostly for archival purposes until I have time to update it. The main thing that is out of date is the instructions on how to edit web pages. While what I have is accurate, most people these days are not writing raw HTML; they use Netscape Composer, Dreamweaver, etc. I highly recommend Dreamweaver, from Macromedia.

Also, permissions are usually handled invisibly to the user these days.

Introduction

This is not a guide to writing Web pages. For that see A Beginner's Guide to HTML. Those of you who used pre-WYSIWYG word processors, or who are old enough to remember what WYSIWYYG stands for, should have no trouble with HTML.

The purpose of this document is to point out some of the other things you need to do to make your page work on "ac", the central campus computer of Wake Forest University.

Please send comments to matthews@wfu.edu.

This page assumes basic familiarity with Unix.

Getting started

The easiest way to create your first Web page is to access the University's automated Web page creation program. This will give you a home page that consists of just links to a few useful Web references.

This process will have created a directory under your home directory called www-home, with a file called index.html. If your login id is janeuser, the URL (address) of your homepage is

http://www.wfu.edu/~janeuser/index.html.

You may view this with any Web browser.

Editing your Web page

You will want much more than the starting Web page provided above. You can edit the file index.html to your own design.

Enter the directory:

cd www-home

Edit the index file using your favorite editor, such as pico or emacs.

pico index.html

This file should be written in HTML, the language of Web pages. To see what HTML looks like and to get ideas for your own pages, under Netscape select View.Source. The window that appears is the HTML of the Web page you are viewing. The filename should end in ".html".

Those using networked computers may be able to use their word processor to do this. Write the HTML file, and save it as an ASCII file to your www-home directory on "ac", which can be mounted as one of your drives if your computer is networked.

Now view your page using your favorite browser, such as Netscape, Mosaic, or lynx. If your login id is janeuser, your web page's URL (address) is

http://www.wfu.edu/~janeuser/index.html

As you create additional web pages, you need only add one additional step. After creating the file using your editor, and you must use the chmod command to give everyone read access to it. If the file is rover.html, issue the command

chmod go+r rover.html

To make all the files in your directory accessible, use "*", the wildcard character, for the filename:

chmod go+r *

Debugging your page

If your page is not displayed at all, you probably have not given others permission to read either the file or the directory. See the previous section for giving file permissions. To be sure that the www-home directory itself is readable:

Move to your home directory.

cd

Set read and attach permissions to your www-home directory.

chmod go+rx www-home

If you see other problems when viewing your pages, When you get your masterpiece looking beautiful, you are still not finished! There are many Web browsers, and bad HTML that is gracefully handled by one Web browser may not display at all on another. There are two things I recommend before you stop work and begin welcoming visitors:

Style

Consider reading the Usenet group comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html. What makes good and bad style for Web page design is a frequent topic of discussion. A recurring theme is the importance of designing for all browsers through the use of good HTML. Some Web authors design pages with lots of graphics that look great under the Browser du Jour, but which are unreadable or unacceptably slow to load for much of your potential readership.

You have a responsibility to users of text-based browsers to include an "ALT" tag for all images, e.g.,

< IMG SRC=/gif/dol-logo2t.gif WIDTH=235 HEIGHT=103 ALT="WFU" >

The "ALT" provides text to display in lieu of your image on non-graphical browsers. If you want nothing displayed in lieu of your image, you should include ALT=" ". Otherwise, Lynx users will see a cryptic reference to your image.

Also shown in the reference above are optional WIDTH and HEIGHT tags. If present, these will speed the display of the text on your pages.

Please keep your included images fairly small. No one likes to wait minutes for your page to load. If you want to offer large images, include a thumbnail version on your main page linked to a full size version. The user will then be able to view your main page quickly, and will be free to view the large image if he or she chooses.

For an example of an attractive but poorly designed Web site, look at The Discovery Channel. It looks pretty under Netscape, but it is slow to navigate with a modem and is unusable with text-based browsers such as Lynx. A few minutes adding "ALT" tags would have made this page much more accessible.

Before you decide to ignore those who do not have the latest technology, who use text based browsers or slow modems, please read The Dream of a lady in the Netherlands.

Other considerations:

Please read the Deacons On Line Providers Guide, which provides information on including the standard Wake Forest header and footer on your pages, as well as how to show access counts, etc. This brings some unity of style to the campus pages, and the footer is used to give notice of system shutdows, etc. The page you are now viewing uses the standard Wake Forest header and footer.

(Netscape's "View Source" option does not properly display the code you need.)

The physics pages have their own header.

<!--#include virtual="/Academic-departments/Physics/phyhead.html"-->

Web Tools

Conversion programs are quite helpful in translating existing documents into HTML. Browsers, Viewers, and HTML Preparation lists several utilities for converting word processor files, etc., into HTML.

Users of Microsoft Word should also look at Internet Assistant. This free add-in for Word allows you to generate Web pages directly from within Word.

Wake Forest users with the standard load will find "AC Homes" among the drives available when selecting "Save As" from Word. Your www-home directory created as described earlier will be available. Just save your web pages here.

Internet Assistant save a lot of work, but it does not eliminate the need to learn the basics of HTML. It provides an extensive list of HTML styles under the style menu. If you do not understand HTML, you will not know how to wisely choose these styles.

Once you understand HTML, you will find Word and Internet Assistant a quick and easy way to get material up quickly on the Web. Tables are much easier with Word.