The University of Birmingham

Notes for Personal Information Providers


This Document outlines the options, procedures and technicalities involved for those wishing to publish their own information on the World Wide Web. Three points need to be considered:

Making your Documents accessible

Prospective publishers have a choice of building and running their own Web Server or using one run by Information Services on its SUN7 machine. A Web Server is able to access documents from either its own reserved filestore space or a specially-named directory in a user's own filestore space. Thus to become a Personal Information Provider requires that you have an account on the SUN7 computer.

Not all students and staff are eligible to have an account on SUN7. If you are in doubt, please contact the Computing Help Desk on extension 47171. Those who do not normally qualify will need a written letter of support from their Head of School before such an application can be considered by Information Services.

SUN7 users do not have access to the Web Server's reserved space thouh they are able to create their own directory from where the Web Server is able to read documents. Thus, any registered SUN7 user is easily able to become a Web publisher.

The remainder of this document sets out the (minimal) procedural and technical considerations for publishing on the World Wide Web using Information Service's SUN7 Web Server.

Preparing your own Documents

This is a task for which there are almost as many solutions as there are publishers! The final form of any document to be published must exist in a form known as HyperText Markup Language or HTML for short. Such documents can be written from scratch using Text Editors, a variety of HTML authoring tools or converted to HTML from whatever form the originals are in.

Users with access to Microsoft's Word for Windows Version 6.0A and above and enhanced with Microsoft's free add-on known as Internet Assistant are perhaps in the most favourable position. With such an arrangement, HTML versions of Word for Windows documents can very quickly be generated. Similarly, WordPerfect users can make use of software known as Internet Publisher. However, dealing with this fully is beyond the scope of this document.

In both of these cases, the HTML documents can be prepared on a PC and transferred from there onto the SUN7 machine using an FTP program such as CuteFTP, SmartFTP or FTPX. The Host Name will be; the Directory Name public_html.

Code of Conduct

The Code of Conduct for Information Providers should be read by prospective users of this facility prior to making use of it.

The University has issued a Code of Practice covering publications and communications.

Registration Procedure

You will first need to register as a Personal Information Provider. This can be done on-line using the SUN7 command, pip_reg. To use this command, you must first login to the SUN7 computer using your own Useraname and Password.

The registration program will ask you to:

  1. Give your preferred name;

  2. Give your email address;

  3. State whether this is a new application or a change to an earlier one;

  4. Summarise the type of information you wish to publish;

  5. Summarise details of links you intend to include;

  6. Acknowledge that you have read and understood a number of documents relating to the use of University and Computing facilities;

  7. Acknowledge the responsibilties required of Personal Information Providers using Information Service's SUN7 service.

The command will create the necessary directory, called public_html immediately beneath your Home Directory and a Link using your Email Address. The data captured by the pip_reg command is sent to the Webmaster who will complete the registration and send a confirmation by email, usually within a couple of working days.

User Requirements

Users wishing to make use of this facility should note the following points:

  1. You will need to give others execute access to your Home Directory. If you have registered as a PIP using pip_reg then your Home Directory will be given this access.

    Once you have logged in, you can do this using the UNIX command:

       chmod o+x ~
    where ~ stands for your Home Directory.

    i.e. you actually use the ~ character rather than replace it with the name of your Home Directory.

  2. Create a directory called public_html immediately beneath your Home Directory. This will not be necessary if you have already registered as a Personal Information Provider using the pip_reg command as this will be done for you.

    This can be done using the UNIX command:

       mkdir public_html
    You must then give others (i.e. the world) execute access to this directory. If you have registered as a PIP using pip_reg then your public_html directory will be given this access.

    This can be done by using the UNIX command:

       chmod o+x public_html
    If you do not have an index.html file (or link) and you require the server to deliver a UNIX-style directory listing, then you must give others read access to the directory. If you have registered as a PIP using pip_reg then your public_html directory will be given this access.

    This can be done by using the UNIX command:

       chmod o+r public_html
    As an aside, this would then allow other SUN7 users to see the directory listing using the UNIX command, ls.

  3. All documents that you wish to publish must be located in your public_html directory or below.

    To `move' to this directory from your Home Directory, use the UNIX command:

       cd public_html
    If you create further directories beneath public_html, then you must give others execute access to them in the same way as you did with your public_html directory. The earlier note on whether or not read access is required applies as well.

    It is also recommended that you build a link, called index.html. If there is a principal document (or Home Page) in this directory then use its filename in the link command. If not, construct a new document, itself an HTML file, which simply informs the caller that no further information is available. Use this new filename in the link command.

  4. Create a document to describe what is available and provide links to Web documents elsewhere. This is an HTML document. You must give others read access to this and any other files you create.

    The principal document in the public_html directory is known as the Home Page. If you wish to nominate a document as the one callers are given by default, then the Home Page is the one to choose.

    The name of your Home Page in the public_html directory should have a prefix of either homepage, or home and a suffix of either html or htm. This allows for files created on some PCs (where the prefix and suffix have a maximum of 8 and 3 characters respectively) to be uploaded onto the SUN7 without the need to rename them.

  5. Each file uploaded to the SUN7 machine must be given an appropriate file access setting allowing it to be read by the Web Server program.

    This can be done using the UNIX command:

       chmod o+r filename
    where filename will be something like homepage.htm.

    If you wish to set this file-permission for all files in a directory, simply use the UNIX command:

       chmod o+r *
    Note:You could slightly modify this command as follows and add it to the .profile file in your Home Directory.
       chmod o+r public_html/*
    Then, whenever you log in, the commands in .profile will be run automatically. So, after uploading a batch of files from your PC or Mac, you need only log in to the SUN7 and then immediately logout (using the exit command).

  6. All URLs to your documents will begin with:

    where linkname is based upon the Email Address specified at the time you used the pip_reg command to register as a PIP.

    In general, this will be either the Mailbox name, taken from your Central Mailname, or your SUN7 UserId. The examples below show how the linkname is used in a URL.

  7. The URL of the Home Page for the SUN7 user, jonesjo, could be:

    If jonesj gave her Central Mailname, J.O.Jones, when using the pip_reg command to register as a PIP, then the URL will be:
    Please note that the alternative (all lower-case) URL:
    may also be used.

  8. It is recommended that your create a link to your Home Page using the UNIX command:
       ln -s filename index.html
    where filename is the name of the file which you wish to be delivered by default, i.e. when a caller uses a URL which does not terminate with a filename.

    If this file is in any other directory (below public_html) then you can choose any name If you have a link as described above then the URL may be written simply as:
    where linkname is either jonesj, J.Jones or j.jones

    If a caller omits the filename part from the URL, then the server will first look for a file called index.html. If index.html points to the Home Page, then that effectively becomes the default.

    If there is no index.html present, then the server will provide what is more or less a UNIX directory listing. This could include old versions of documents or ones not yet ready for release. Thus it is good practice to avoid this happening by including the link.

  9. Access to documents can be permitted or denied according to the network address of the Web Browser making the request. Access control is based upon a per directory mechanism.

    Thus, to apply restrictions to a particular document you will need to do the following:

    1. Create a separate directory.

    2. Place the document in it.

    3. Create a file called .htaccess in this directory with appropriate instructions.

    4. According to the type of restriction used, you may need to create files called .htpasswd and .htgroup.


    • Restrictions defined in the control file apply to ALL documents in that directory.

    • Documents needing different restrictions will need to be placed in another directory with the appropriate .htaccess control file.

    A detailed discussion may be found in the document, Restricting Access to Web Pages.

  10. If you'd like to see details of who has been accessing your documents using the PubStats Service.

  11. If you want to publish information related to a community group or student society you're involved in, then you may like to consider the following scheme which gives you a neater URL to quote.

    Suppose you wish to publish information for a student society, say the Mexican Society, then you could create a sub-directory called MexicanSociety in your public_html directory. The Webmaster could create an additional Linkname, called MexicanSociety which points to this sub-directory. (The sub-directory and link names need not be the same though it's recommended.) Hence, the URL which points to the Mexican Society pages would be:

    To make matters more convenient, the Webmaster could also create a further Linkname, mexicansociety, pointing to the same sub-directory. If callers then typed a purely lower-case URL (which some are inclined to do) they would still get to the correct page.

    This scheme has a major advantage in that should you need to transfer responsibility for publishing the information to someone else, the URL can still be used. After the web pages have been moved to the other person's account, you should then ask the Webmaster to remove the existing Linkname and define a new one.

    This scheme easily extends to allow one person to publish information for more than one such group.

This document is maintained by Roy Pearce and was last updated in June 2001.
If you have any comments, please inform him.