NIU Department of Mathematical Sciences
Creating a Personal Web Page

When you connect to our Web server, you will notice that various pages have links to directories of users of the system. Each user has a standard HTML document listing the office, phone, classes taught, etc. There is also a link to the user's personal home page.

In order to make this link useable, you have to set up some documents in your home directory. First, send the administrator a note saying that you want to set up a Web page. Soon your home directory will contain a subdirectory WWW and its contents will be accessible through our Web server (if you already have a directory by this name, either rename it, or specify some other name in your email). This new directory is the "root" of your Web pages and you can start placing files in there.

The individual files you create inside the WWW must be world-readable, i.e. their permissions must look like -rw-r--r-- (files) and drwxr-xr-x or drwx--x--x (directories). See the document on Unix permissions for more details about changing file permissions. A directory whose permissions are set to drwx--x--x has the property that a casual surfer can't list its files, and can only access a file when he knows its name. Do not rely on this for privacy.

Note: unlike in the past, it is no longer necessary to keep your home directory partially readable for the Web material to work. If you are worried about safety of your non-Web files, you can close off the home directory to all others by doing this: chmod 700 ~

You should now create the main HTML document which will be the starting point for everyone who accesses your home page. This is a plain text file in the WWW subdirectory, whose name should be index.html. Looking at the sources of other HTML documents out there is a great help.

The URL of your main page

When you are ready to unleash your efforts on the unsuspecting public, you should advertise it as http://www.math.niu.edu/~username/; for example, http://www.math.niu.edu/~johndoe/. When a browser accesses this URL, our server will automatically display the file index.html in johndoe's WWW subdirectory.

Do not use absolute Unix pathnames such as http://www.math.niu.edu/home/denali/math/johndoe/WWW/; they won't work. WWW servers understand paths as being relative to certain preconfigured points on the system. The absolute path above will get translated into a directory that probably doesn't exist.

Use the "tilde-username" shortcut instead. Our server will understand the path
   http://www.math.niu.edu/~username/whatever
as referring to <username's home directory>/WWW/whatever. In other words, imagine what the path to the file or directory looks like from within your WWW, and use that after the ~username/.

Depending on whether you think the organization of your WWW subdirectory is likely to change often or not, you should use relative paths to refer to files in your HTML documents (e.g. href=../doc1) or absolute ones with the "tilde-username" syntax, e.g. href=/~johndoe/Junk/doc1. Documents which aren't likely to move can be referred to by their "absolute URL", i.e. one including the server name and the full path: http://www.math.niu.edu/~johndoe/Junk/doc1. Think ahead to avoid major headaches later.

Persistence of URLs

One of the most annoying experiences in surfing the Web is finding "link rot", or "dangling links" that don't work. To minimize this you should wisely choose the place where you put important stuff.

For example, it is a good idea to have course materials in a separate subdirectory of WWW, such as Teaching. It may also be useful to sort the courses by name and semester. E.g. a subdirectory Teaching/230Fa2002 or Teaching/230/Fa2002 could be used for Calculus II materials specific to the Fall 2002 semester. The dowside of this is that the more you "organize" the files, the longer the URLs get.

Whatever convention you choose, please stick to it. Remember that most of the Web content is indexed and catalogued by various search engines so references to your files will be out there long after the Fall 2002 semester ends. Keep this in mind when it comes to things that might be useful to others 5 or 20 years from now.

Similarly, it is best to provide URLs such as 230/Fa2002/ as opposed to 230/Fa2002/index.html. The Web server is configured to use files other than index.html as the default document, and in the future you may decide to rework the directory so it uses a dynamically generated page with a script index.php or some such. Then the first form will still work, while the second will not.

Finally, when you leave, you can have a URL such as http://www.math.niu.edu/~username/ redirected wherever you want. This will save the people looking for you a lot of hassle.

Accessibility

NIU has announced its intention to make its Web pages compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whenever Web materials are an important part of a university function, especially teaching, we are expected to go to some lengths to make them accessible by people who are in some way impaired. This means avoiding any bells and whistles which can't be handled by browsers such as lynx (Java, JavaScript); including <alt=...> tags to describe images; eliminating complicated tables; avoiding animations and clashing colors which can have effect on those with epilepsy and such; etc. etc. Imagine, for example, that your student is accessing your page with a text-based browser which translates the HTML into Braille.

By the way, if you use such restraint in writing HTML, you are likely to earn appreciation not only from those who are covered by the ADA, but from most others as well.

Of course mathematics is particularly difficult to communicate to people with hearing or visual disabilities because of its reliance on graphs, non-standard symbols, etc. and I don't have a good recipe for this. If you have students with such special needs in your course, please make sure to provide alternatives to Web-based material, just like you would provide special accomodations 15 years ago.

Graphics

The material you collect for your Web page resides in your home directory. Since it usually involves icons, pictures, even sounds and video, it tends to consume a lot of disk space. You should periodically check the size of your WWW directory with the command du -s ~/WWW. If you need more than a few dozen megabytes, please consult the system manager about possible ways of reorganizing things.

Some simple icons are already available in the central server area; to view them tell your browser to access http://www.math.niu.edu/gifs/ and http://www.math.niu.edu/icons/. You can use those files in your Web documents using the IMG tag. For example this icon was included in the document using <IMG SRC=/gifs/smiley.gif>.

Please do not use copyrighted images. Many owners and creators of original artwork are justifiably very sensitive about this.

When you see interesting graphics on other people's pages, you can usually download them to your directory by clicking the right mouse button on them (in case of Macs by holding the mouse button down for a second or two) and then selecting "Save this image as..." Most simple graphics which are not copyrighted and do not constitute significant original work are fair game, but you should use your judgement as to when such "theft" is ethical. If you come across graphic elements that others might want to use, please tell the system manager to put them in a central location on the server.

Also remember that even though you have a fast cable modem at home, some people are still using 56kbps modems or relatively slow satellite connections, and a page loaded with a lot of large images is likely to turn them off.


Last modified: 8/19/2011 by webmaster@math.niu.edu