Standardizing Web Site Appearance
Perl's powerful regular expression / text pattern matching was used to
standardize serveal hundred web pages with a vaugly similar style but
no real standards.
The legal publisher continued to host ATLA NET at no charge but with
their energies being focused elsewhere, were not highly responsive to
ATLA's requests. George Shaffer's first actions were to get the host to
create a CGI directory within the ATLA maintainable area so that
ATLA could maintain and develop its own CGI scripts and to begin
working on standardizing the web page appearance throughout the site.
Using his knowledge of Perl from AIX administration, and after
a thorough study the range of existing web pages he wrote a script
that made extensive use of Perl's powerful regular expression
capabilities which did most of the work in standardizing ATLA NET's page
appearance. It recursively processed a directory tree against a wild
card list of filenames, typically "*.ht, *.htm, *.html" and standardized
HTML tag capitalization, indentation and line spacing, removed certain
common spurious elements and added standard page headers and footers
based on the locations of the HTML <body> tags.
Fortunately the site was still only several hundred pages so that it
could be checked and the few files which were improperly processed could
be manually fixed. The script always preserved a backup copy of
processed files. Often all that was required was to fix the HTML coding
in the original file, such as adding missing <body> tags, and re-
run the script. A descendant of that script is still used on ATLA's
primary web site to maintain consistent page appearance. On several
occasions the script has been used to apply minor or major page
appearance changes to the entire web site; it can process more than 5000
static HTML files in about a half hour. Standard page headers and
footers are identified with standard HTML comments so the script
processes files appropriately regardless of whether they have or have not
been previously standardized.
Other early projects included developing a robust automated online
registration process that let ATLA members create their own web usernames
and passwords and a functional online member directory. During this same
period George Shaffer wrote a 35 page RFP with the intent of finding a
new hosting service. Until the responses were received, ATLA did not
appreciate the value of the free hosting services that the legal
publisher was still providing. There was no budget for the web site,
except the salary of the "ATLA NET Coordinator", and clearly not enough
flexibility in the IT budget to seriously consider any of the responses.
ATLA was forced to look at in-house solutions.
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