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Towards a new version of the World Database of Crystallographers

  • To: Multiple recipients of list <epc-l@iucr.org>
  • Subject: Towards a new version of the World Database of Crystallographers
  • From: Brian McMahon <bm@iucr.org>
  • Date: Tue, 3 Feb 1998 14:27:33 GMT
Dear EPC

We are beginning to think of drawing up specifications for a reimplementation
of the World Database of Crystallographers, and I write to solicit your
opinions on a number of technical matters. I emphasise that I am here
interested in technical issues, though there may well be of necessity some
overlap with policy decisions.

What are our major requirements for the next generation WDC?
(1) Individuals may (in some way) update their own entries, probably via a
    web form of some sort.

(2) The database can act as a reliable source of information about IUCr
    officers, editors, commission members, and perhaps journal authors.

(3) Standard query interfaces are desirable (i.e. the provision of directory
    services to web browsers, mailers etc).

(4) More structured queries would be useful.

(5) Full typographical information should be retained (accents and special
    characters in names and addresses; possibly the facility for alternative
    representations in Cyrillic, Kanji or other typefaces).

(6) Ideally WDC would be fully integrated into the current mirroring

To simplify maintenance, I believe there should be a single writable copy of
the database, though there may be multiple read-only copies. 

Here are some suggestions toward achieving some or all of these objectives.

(7) Chester should integrate the WDC database into its journals production
database. This is a relational database system managed by the YARD software
of Ordix GmbH, and is currently used to store information about papers,
their authors and editors. WDC would be added as one or more tables, which
would replace the current tables of authors and editors. The editorial and
executive secretariat staffs at Chester would be given write privileges to
this table, so that they could update information on the basis of
correspondence with authors, editors, Commission members etc. 

External users *might* be given write access to these tables (but to no
other ones in the database!). However, the security implications are
profound, and this type of integration would tend to argue for the users
accessing a front-end service over the web, which would retrieve their data
and allow them to request modifications. However, only a Chester-based
individual would be empowered to perform the requested database update.

(8) The contents of the database should be ASCII text fields with CIF coding
for accents; where appropriate there should also be plain-text fields for
searching (i.e. an accented name Andr\'e is stored both as coded and in the
form andre). This will cover special characters in Roman-based alphabets,
but does not address the problem of representing information in non-Roman

(9) Regular (nightly) dumps are made in qi/ph and LDAP formats. This allows
Chester to serve Eudora and other ph clients, and the LDAP directory
services in Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers. We would need to set up
mirrors with sites possessing the necessary expertise. Neither qi nor ldap 
software is in a particularly polished state, and each new mirror would
probably require a substantial investment of time in support of the local
staff at setup.

It would be pointless to ship large database files nightly when only small
changes were made; we should investigate transferring only modified country
files (say) and rebuilding the databases from dump files at the mirrors
(this is what is currently done with the qi mirroring at San Diego and

(10) A query interface would be built, at least for use by the Chester
staff, making full use of the relational database structure, to pose queries
of the form "select American authors of papers with porphyrin in the title
whose interests include structure-activity". This facility might be extended
to the outside world depending on its impact on the server machine.

(11) Thought would need to be given to methods of keeping information on web
pages current. The simplest solution is to turn every reference to a name or
address into a CGI query to retrieve the current information from the
database, but this could be slow for users of mirror sites if every request
has to be passed to Chester.

(12) I anticipate that CIF/TeX files could still be dumped out for the
purpose of generating further paper editions.

Brian McMahon                                             tel: +44 1244 342878
Research and Development Officer                          fax: +44 1244 314888
International Union of Crystallography                  e-mail:  bm@iucr.ac.uk
5 Abbey Square, Chester CH1 2HU, England                         bm@iucr.org

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