Retooling Slashdot with Net Requirements – A Listing Aside

{Half I of a two-part sequence.}

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Ask an IT individual in the event that they know what Slashdot’s tagline is and so they’ll reply, “Information for Nerds. Stuff that Issues.” Slashdot is a really outstanding website, however beneath the hood you’ll find an outdated jalopy that would profit from an internet requirements mechanic.

On this article we’ll present how an engine overhaul may happen by changing a single Slashdot web page from their present HTML 3.2 code, nested tables, and invalid, nonsemantic markup, to a finely tuned internet requirements racing engine. The purpose is to not change Slashdot, however to rebuild it with internet requirements and present the advantages of the transition.

Earlier than you panic as a result of I’m choosing on Slashdot, let me inform you that I requested Rob “CmdrTaco” Malda, the guru behind Slashdot, for permission to publish this info, and he said in his reply e mail:

Have enjoyable. Be at liberty to submit patches again to us for those who provide you with something helpful. Slashdot’s supply code is open supply and obtainable at

We began by freezing a replica of Slashdot on Tuesday July 22, 2003. As soon as we had a replica of the web page, step one was to take away all non-essential tags. The one tags left have been anchors, lists, kinds, photographs, scripts and header info. From the stripped down model, the code was transformed to XHTML 1.0 Transitional, and validated. At this level, the web page seems like a minefield of hyperlinks in a sea of knowledge. It’s legitimate, however not fairly to take a look at, so on to the subsequent step.

The semantic conversion#section3

Whereas viewing the now-valid markup, it grew to become obvious that a lot of the info can be higher described as lists. For instance, the photographs for the classes of Slashdot have been now simply sitting subsequent to one another. Basically, something that there was greater than two of was put it into a listing, for instance: login, sections, assist, tales, about, companies, and so on. Lists could be described and positioned in any approach that we wish, and by stating that parts are a part of a listing, we’re describing their relationship to one another.

The following step was to make use of header tags. The web page has a number of titles and knowledge, however not one of the info was described appropriately or defined its relationship to different bits of knowledge. So we gave the title of an article an <h1>, the writer info an <h2>, the division acquired an <h3>, and the “learn extra” space an <h4>. This then uniquely recognized every a part of info of an article, whereas describing the connection of these elements. Then got here the straightforward half: establish paragraphs, and clear up the code.

The advantage of the semantic conversion is that we’re utilizing tags for what they have been meant for. It’s clear {that a} listing of objects belongs collectively, and there’s a title hierarchy. One other profit is that this additionally helps with SEO.

What now we have now’s a a jumbled mess of well-described info. The knowledge must be sure collectively, with relationships to different info. To start with, every article is positioned right into a <div class="node">. Now all details about an article belongs collectively and all articles are equal, with hierarchy established by the bodily order they’re positioned in.

Subsequent, we uniquely establish every remaining info group, and encapsulate them in their very own <div>. As an example:

  • <div id=”commercial”>
  • <div id=”header”>
  • <div id=”leftcolumn”>
  • <div id=”centercolumn”>
  • <div id=”footer”>

The aim of boxing the knowledge into <div> is in order that info is logically grouped collectively, which makes shaping the knowledge simpler. The CSS can now handle every info group and assign attributes to it, reminiscent of format and design. It’s not essentially semantic, however it’s needed for the presentation. Right here’s the semantically organized instance. There’s no CSS format, but; it’s simply structured markup.

The reconstruction of the skeleton#section5

Now that every info group is recognized by a <div>, the web page is formed with CSS in order that the design matches the outdated appear and feel. This can be a matter of time, endurance, and apply. The primary purpose is to not mimic the outdated website, however to get issues to place themselves appropriately within the three-column format with an total header / masthead and footer. This turns into the primary CSS file: format.css.

The advantage of positioning a web page with a single CSS file is easy: you already know the place to look if there’s a positioning drawback. Usually, you probably have an issue, it’s normally with the positioning. On this step, we have been aware of the web page’s conduct in a wide range of browsers, so we select to make the most of the @import characteristic, as any browsers that don’t help that directive is not going to get the format. This consists of web-enabled cell telephones, PDA gadgets, outdated browsers, and different Web gadgets. Right here’s the web page with the positioning CSS utilized.

Now now we have the web page displaying the right format, but it surely nonetheless doesn’t appear like Slashdot. The second CSS file that’s hooked up is the markup.css, which incorporates details about fonts, colours, background photographs, and the way in which lists are displayed. Right here’s the ultimate instance.

We even have the flexibility so as to add a second pores and skin if we wish to give the consumer an possibility on how they wish to view the web page. The second pores and skin doesn’t need to duplicate all the format info, which ought to already be cached from the format.css file.

We hyperlink the CSS recordsdata within the header to finish the transition.

<hyperlink rel="stylesheet" kind="textual content/css"
href="" media="display screen" />
<type kind="textual content/css">
@import "types/markup.css";

On this instance, the format.css file is linked with a media kind of display screen. That is intentional. The knowledge there’s solely vital for show on a display screen, it doesn’t have any profit for printed media kind, or every other (aural, television, braille, and so on.) for that matter. The markup.css file, which is the “pores and skin” of the web page, is imported, and thus hidden from noncompliant internet gadgets as a result of a few of its options might be dangerous or interpreted incorrectly.

The web page will now appropriately render in standards-compliant browsers, simply because it did earlier than, and can fail gracefully for non-standard browsers. So, whereas the design will not be as fairly in very outdated browsers, the content material continues to be obtainable to their customers. It is usually a lot cleaner and extra predictable with display screen readers. By having the CSS fail gracefully, content material is even obtainable to PDAs and internet telephones. Plus, there are not any horizontal scroll bars! Lastly, there’s additionally a printer-friendly model utilizing solely CSS (no separate “printer-friendly” web page). Maybe the largest advantage of this explicit instance is the bandwidth financial savings:

  • Financial savings per web page with out caching the CSS file: ~2KB per request
  • Financial savings per web page with caching the CSS file: ~9KB per request

Although a number of KB doesn’t sound like plenty of bandwidth, let’s add it up. Slashdot’s FAQ, final up to date 13 June 2000, states that they serve 50 million pages in a month. Whenever you break down the figures, that’s ~1,612,900 pages per day or ~18 pages per second. Bandwidth financial savings are as follows:

  • Financial savings per day with out caching the CSS recordsdata: ~3.15 GB bandwidth
  • Financial savings per day with caching the CSS recordsdata: ~14 GB bandwidth

Most Slashdot guests would have the CSS file cached, so we may ballpark the each day financial savings at ~10 GB bandwidth. A excessive quantity of bandwidth from an ISP might be wherever from $1 – $5 price per GB of switch, however let’s calculate it at $1 per GB for a whole 12 months. For this instance, the whole yearly financial savings for Slashdot can be: $3,650 USD!

Keep in mind: this calculation is predicated on the variety of pages served as of 13 June, 2000. I imagine that Slashdot’s site visitors is way heavier now, however even utilizing this three-year-old determine, the cash saved is spectacular.

Every little thing defined up to now is mentioned in additional element on the College of Wisconsin – Platteville’s Slashdot Net Requirements instance website.

I now problem the ALA neighborhood. We want a superb internet requirements mechanic (or group of mechanics) to dig although Slashdot’s engine, Slashcode, and make it web-standards-compliant. CmdrTaco has inspired us to submit patches, and I do know we are able to present the advantages! The problem is there — any takers?

Subsequent time: printer-friendly and handheld-friendly Slashdot with a number of easy additions.

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