Archive for the ‘Web Projects’ Category

A Database-Backed Dynamic Website

Posted on the September 1st, 1997 under Web Projects by

This was a project I developed for the BU Department of Electrical Engineering in 1997-1999, when dynamic websites were expensive and difficult to build.  In 2010, a lot of these features may seem standard, but back in 1997, its construction required tons of original thought as well as extensive effort.

Rstr.bu.edu was a full-fledged content management system (CMS) supporting 7 universities on a common $1.7 million grant on recognizing targets in radar images.  It was running on AOLserver (an early full-featured web server with a built-in Tcl interpreter), and used Solid Tech’s Solid RDBMS (a pretty good RDBMS since acquired by IBM).   My work was one of the early examples of how to build great dynamic websites on the cheap, and Philip Greenspun wanted to include it in his next edition of the book “Database-Backed Websites.”  We ultimately decided against it because it was running on an UltraSparc 2, which would likely crumple under the load of traffic from the worldwide readers of Philip’s popular book.  The website had a lot of innovative features, which I developed from the ground up, i.e. without using any external libraries, including:

  • A custom, tiered user login, permissions and access control system.  This system also allowed the creation of user groups and assignment of various permissions to users.
  • An HTML-based templating system that allowed fancy formatting of content.
  • A fully automated document submission and storage system using either web or FTP uploads.
  • An online browser of bibliographical content.
  • A calendar of talks and events.
  • Automatic generator of LaTeX bibliographical for the papers stored in the archive.
  • A custom search engine that allowed parenthetical grouping, logical connectives (and, or, not) and wildcards (* and ?).
  • A web-based administration suite, including user and content management.
  • An automated integrity checking and reporting system that notified the administrator of submissions and breakages on the website.
  • Features to thwart attempts at hacking through malformed form arguments.
rstr.bu.edu website header

Website header

rstr.bu.edu calendar snapshot

The built-in meeting calendar

rstr.bu.edu search page

The search page with options

rstr.bu.edu search result page

The search results page