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GNU Webmastering Guidelines

If you're interested in volunteering as a GNU webmaster, please first complete the GNU webmaster quiz.

By the way, please edit and improve this document!

Working as a www.gnu.org webmaster

All active webmasters have access to the webmasters RT queue, which corresponds to the email address <webmasters@gnu.org>. This is the primary work queue for webmasters. Please check the queue regularly, take a ticket you can handle, handle it, and reply to the message letting the sender know what has happened, and resolve the ticket. See RT guidelines below for many details.

All active webmasters should be part of the www project on Savannah, so changes can be committed. Please join that if you haven't already. Most webmaster tasks are performed by checking out the CVS repository on your local machine, modifying them, and committing the result. Instructions on how to use CVS (you want the “Webpages repository”).

All active webmasters should be on the www-discuss mailing list. If you are not, write to <chief-webmaster@gnu.org>.

Webmasters who are planning to write a significant amount of new material for the site should provide a copyright assignment.

If you find a message to <webmasters@gnu.org> that you don't know how to handle, it's probably best to ignore the message for a while. However, if you noticed that something has been pending for more than a few days, it is good to ask the www-discuss list: “Can someone teach me how to handle messages like this?”

As a general rule, things like this are always okay to do:

Sometimes people send mails asking us to make links to different software packages. Before making such links, it's important to check the page that the link points to and make sure that it does not make any references to nonfree software (see our linking policies). When in doubt, it is best to post a summary of what you found on the page back to the webmasters list (but not to the requestor!), and ask someone else to take it from there.

We do not have links to websites of the well-known GNU/Linux system distributions, or to the well-known BSD system distributions, because all those sites explicitly describe, and facilitate access to, various nonfree programs.

Sometimes you might be tempted to rearrange the hierarchy, change the CSS formatting, layout, tagging, or other such wide-ranging things. Before doing anything like this, please consult the www-discuss list.

Webmaster organization

The following organizational rules are not rigid; they are designed to serve us and assign responsibility so that things don't fall through the cracks. Thus, the policies and escalation procedures need not be followed to the letter, but if you aren't sure what to do, it's best to follow these policies.

The GNU Webmaster Group is led by the Chief Webmaster <chief-webmaster@gnu.org>.

The Chief Webmaster is responsible for making sure that every message sent to webmasters <webmasters@gnu.org> gets handled eventually. The Chief Webmaster isn't responsible for handling every message; just making sure that someone handles them in a timely manner. The Chief Webmaster is also responsible for training new webmasters, and doing her best to correct mishandled webmaster email, when necessary.

If it isn't clear to the webmasters how to handle a particular issue, the message should be sent to the www-discuss mailing list so that all the webmasters can learn how to handle those issues in the future.

Leaving webmasters

We realize that people's lives change, and we know that you may not want to be an FSF/GNU webmaster for the rest of your life. We ask that you let us know when you want to move on: please don't simply disappear.

When you sign up to be a webmaster, you commit to a certain number of hours a week of volunteer work. If you need to drop below that level for more than a few weeks, or want to stop being a webmaster entirely, please inform <chief-webmaster@gnu.org> as soon as your situation changes.

Using RT

Mail sent to webmasters is stored in a ticket management system called RT. This system keeps all correspondence about a given issue together, makes sure that no requests are lost, and so on. This section documents the conventions used by the GNU webmasters.

It is useful to be copied on all RT-related mail: new tickets, other webmasters' answers to tickets, and so on. That way we can all learn from each other. If you can actively help with handling RT tickets, please consider this. A number of people can set up your RT account for this, just mail www-discuss.

RT - quick guide

First and foremost: use your judgment, rather than blindly following procedures. If the action on a particular ticket seems questionable to you for any reason, email www-discuss or use the “Comment” link on the ticket. That said, most tickets fall into one of a few categories, so we try to enumerate the common cases here.

RT - correspondence vs. comments

You can attach two kinds of information to a ticket: correspondence and comments.

Correspondence will be sent to the person who sent the initial report. Add correspondence when you want to get more information about the report, give the requestor more information about the work being done, let them know it's finished, and so on.

Comments are only seen by the ticket staff: the owner and people listed as AdminCCs. You can use comments to make internal notes about ticket work. For instance, if you do some work on converting an essay of RMS's to HTML, but didn't get a chance to finish yet, you could add a comment saying that you're partially done, so other webmasters know not to work on it (make sure to leave the ticket marked “open”). You should add something as a comment whenever the original requestor doesn't need to see it. Try to make as much correspondence as you can into comments, however.

Unfortunately, the methods for adding either type of correspondence are very similar, so it's easy to get them confused. Be careful.

To add correspondence, use one of the “Reply” links on the ticket page, or send mail to <webmasters@gnu.org> with

   [gnu.org #1234]

in the subject line, where 1234 is the ticket number.

To add comments, use one of the “Comment” links on the ticket page, or send mail to <webmasters-comment@gnu.org> with

   [gnu.org #1234]

in the subject line, where 1234 is the ticket number.

There is no way to make other modifications except through the web interface. However, there are a couple of macro scripts hanging around for modifying email received in Emacs, or in mbox format. Please check with www-discuss for these.

RT - coordination with others

You will often need to ask other people for more information about how to handle a ticket. If we don't mind showing them a few internals about how we do things—in other words, if they're friends of the GNU project—the best way to do this is to mail them, and make that mail a comment to the ticket as well.

So, say for example that you wanted to ask RMS whether a certain link on a page was permissible. You can do this by using one of the “Comment” links on the ticket page, and listing the other party (in this case, <rms@gnu.org>) in the CC field. You could also do this by sending a mail with headers like this:

    To: <rms@gnu.org>, <webmasters-comment@gnu.org>
    Subject: [gnu.org #1234] Question about link policy

1234 should be the appropriate ticket number.

The former method is more foolproof: RT will change the outgoing mail so that the only address the other party sees is RT's, and any reply will be guaranteed to go into the ticket (also as comments). The latter is fine if you're primarily doing work by email, however.

Note that this won't work with other RT-handled addresses. So, if you add <campaigns@fsf.org> to the CC field of a comment on a ticket that already exists in webmasters, nothing will come to the campaigns queue. In those situations, create a new ticket in the queue whose attention you want to get, and use the “Refers to” or similar relationship field to connect the two tickets.

RT - ticket status

new
For tickets which have not had work done on them yet. RT assigns new tickets this status automatically; there is no need to explicitly set it.
open
For tickets which are being worked on. RT will automatically give a ticket this status when comments or correspondence are added; you usually won't need to change a ticket to be open manually.
resolved
For tickets whose problems have been addressed. Do this when you complete the request outlined in the ticket, or determined it's inapplicable, or otherwise dealt with it. Until it is completely addressed, leave it open.
deleted
For tickets which are spam (and only spam). This status is set automatically by the “Mark as Spam” option in the web interface, which is the most convenient way to handle spam tickets.
rejected, stalled
Should not be used.

Other considerations regarding tickets' status:

RT - ticket escalation

If you'd like to handle a request but aren't sure how to go about it, or think a request is important and may have been overlooked, leave the ticket open, and email the www-discuss list.

RT - misdirected tickets

Sometimes people send mail to webmasters which is best handled elsewhere. When this happens, you can do one of two things: redirect the ticket within RT, or forward it in regular email.

If there's an RT queue which is appropriate for the ticket, move it there. The ticket's queue can be changed under the “Basics” menu item.

It's nice to notify a queue's watchers when a misdirected ticket is moved; RT doesn't provide automatic notification. You can do this by sending mail to <QUEUENAME-comment@gnu.org> with the original subject line. Just a terse message “Moved ticket 1234 to your queue” suffices.

If there isn't an appropriate RT queue, forward the mail to the appropriate party, and make a comment indicating that you did so (perhaps resolving it, if appropriate). It is usually best not to do this via the RT cc mechanism. Instead, forward the message in normal email.

Editing and creating web pages

This section only contains information that is specifically aimed at webmasters. For general info, refer to the GNU Website Guidelines.

To create a new page in the main part of gnu.org, please use the boilerplate.

Site Structure and Navigation

The site is divided up into directories by topic—there's a directory for GNU Project information and history (“About GNU” section), a directory for our licenses (“Licenses” section), and so on. Each of these directories has a main page sharing the same name; for example, the /gnu directory has a page, gnu.html, which is the main page for About GNU, and so should provide access to all the material within that section. Note that the Philosophy and Education main pages are associated with several submenus; for Philosophy: /philosophy/essays-and-articles.html, /philosophy/speeches-and-interview.html, and /philosophy/third-party-ideas.html.

The main directories are accessible via navigation bars, and so are the Philosophy and Education submenus, but (for the time being) some other important directories are only accessible via links—e.g., /proprietary can only be reached from the Philosophy main page, and from several articles. Every page in these directories should therefore link back to their main page to allow people to get more information about the topic at hand.

Conversion of plain text to XHTML

Occasionally, RMS will mail an article, usually in plain text, to webmasters and ask that they put it on the site. The plain text needs to be converted to XHTML and put into our standard boilerplate. There are a few things you should take care of while doing the conversion:

Writing and reviewing items for /proprietary

If you plan to write or review an item for a page in /proprietary/, please refer to our submission guidelines.

Making a new page visible

Web pages for official GNU software

GNU software maintainers usually gain write access to their web repository by registering their project with Savannah. (In the past, they provided webmasters with pages to install on the site, but that is no longer the best procedure.)

You do have the technical permission to check out any GNU (or non-GNU) web repository from Savannah and commit changes. However, package maintainers are responsible for their own pages, and thus you should not modify a page unless its maintainer asks you to or confirms a particular change. The only exception is for small changes that don't affect meaning, such as fixing (X)HTML validation errors, updating the page to the latest boilerplate, replacing a wrong bug-reporting address in the footer, etc. In any event, you should inform the maintainer of the change.

Linking

Before adding or replacing any links, please read our linking criteria.

Please check the broken link reports regularly and handle them. If a link has gone bad because a page has moved, try to find its replacement. If you are successful, re-check the page to ensure that it meets our linking criteria, and if so, add it. If you do not find a replacement, remove the link—if it's central to the page, you may need to make a note explaining that the resource is no longer available. If the page no longer meets our linking criteria, you'll have to make a judgment call, and weigh the value of the link against its problems; you may want to mail the person who wrote the page with the link or www-discuss to get a second opinion.

If you do remove a link from a page that we don't maintain—for instance, the page for a piece of software which is kept up-to-date by the maintainer—please notify them of the problem and what you did to fix it.

We'll sometimes be asked to add links to a page. Most often, the request will come from RMS and you will simply add the link. Otherwise, there are two possibilities:

Links to free GNU/Linux distributions

Suggestions for links to GNU/Linux distributions should be handled like this:

  1. The requestors should be the primary developers of the distro, not just users. If they are users, thank them and ask them to contact the developers in case they want to be listed.
  2. Briefly check that the distro is a feasible candidate: they should have a clear policy of only including free software, and it should be reasonably apparent how to get the sources and what packages are included. If these things are not present, talk to the requestor about it (politely).
  3. If there are no glaring problems, ask the requestors to request an endorsement from the dedicated mailing list <gnu-linux-libre@nongnu.org>. They should include a description of their new distro, a link to their home page, and any other useful info. Our ticket should then be resolved.
  4. FYI: the gnu-linux-libre list will take over from there. In essence, they will review it in detail for meeting our criteria, and if all seems good, pass it on to the FSF licensing person for final approval.

In any event, webmasters should never simply add new distros that are said to be free to our list. FSF licensing and RMS must explicitly approve any additions.

Links to GNU & Free Software User Groups

Requests for links to GNU or Free Software Users Groups can be referred to the LibrePlanet website. Our ticket can then be resolved.

Mirrors

GNU mirrors

When we get a request to add, change, or remove a mirror of ftp.gnu.org, first ensure the mirror meets our criteria, as described on advice for mirrors; that page explains what we ask mirror volunteers to provide. If in any doubt, comment on the same ticket to ask other webmasters' opinion, or check with the webmasters mailing list and/or <gnu-advisory@gnu.org> before taking any action.

After confirming the mirror meets our criteria for listing, do this:

  1. Edit the file /prep/FTP (in CVS); it's plain text, not HTML.
  2. Run make in the /prep subdirectory.
  3. cvs commit both files FTP and ftp.html. In the commit log message, include the name of the mirror and its location, and the RT number if there is one.
  4. Update the file /gd/gnuorg/web/FTP.contacts on Fencepost, keeping the pattern as explained at the beginning of the file.
  5. See next entry about the status of mirrors.
Checking the status of mirrors

Mirrors are useful as long as they are kept up-to-date. Outdated mirrors can even be harmful, since downloading old versions of software may involve security risks for users. Checking the status of mirrors is therefore an essential part of the process of adding/modifying mirrors.

A Mirmon page tracker (maintained by Savannah) shows how up-to-date each mirror is. When a mirror has gotten more than a few days out of date, it is necessary to contact its maintainers and let them know about the problem so that they can fix it. For examples on how to do this, search the RT system for tickets with subjects containing “[Mirror Status]”.

If a mirror needs to be removed, please check to see if it is referenced on /server/mirror.html and remove that entry as well.

The address http(s?)://ftpmirror.gnu.org/PKG (also maintained by Savannah) multiplexes between the mirrors, trying to choose one that is nearby and up to date.

Mirror contact information

When we get a request relating to a mirror, please check the file /gd/gnuorg/web/FTP.contacts on Fencepost and add contact information if it's not there already, or update it, if necessary. We lack information for many older mirrors, or the data we have is not up to date.

Non-GNU mirrors

When we get a request to add, change, or remove a non-GNU Savannah mirror, email <savannah-hackers-private@gnu.org> with the information. The reason to use -private is to avoid the contact address from becoming public. If the email address of a mirror admin is not involved or there are no other privacy issues, it's better to use <savannah-hackers-public@gnu.org>.

Mirrors of www.gnu.org

We no longer recommend or list mirrors of www.gnu.org.

Other common requests

This section deals with frequent requests that may require non-obvious action, but are not addressed in other parts of the page. Requests that are extremely straightforward—for example, fixing typographical errors, or problems in HTML formatting—are not documented here.

ThankGNU/ThankCRM

Things to watch out for:

Requests for permission to use an image

When someone requests permission to use an image from the Art section of the site, the first thing to do is to check the page that the image is on. Most of the images have a clear license along with them. If the permissions being requested are reasonable but are incompatible with that license, move the ticket to the licensing queue. Otherwise draw their attention to the license.

If the web page where the image is located does not have a clear license and the request is a clear-cut yes or no, respond to the requestor directly and explain the decision with reference to GNU policy. For more difficult cases, move the ticket to licensing.

When considering a request, err on the side of caution. If the use of an image isn't something we'd link to, for example, then it isn't something we should give permission for. Feel free to discuss any requests on www-discuss before responding to them.

Adding an image to the GNU Gallery

  1. When someone offers an image to GNU, first find out from the author which license it is released under, and check that this is a suitable free license. If the new image is a derivative of another one, make sure its license is compatible with at least one of the license(s) the parent image was released under. If in doubt, ask on www-discuss.
  2. Check that rendering is adequate at the original size, using the browser's default font size, for at least one of the versions provided by the author. If not, create a new version for display.
  3. Try to compress any large PNG files (several hundred kB), for instance with OptiPNG.
  4. Install the image file(s) in the /graphics/ directory, but do not install very large ones (2MB or more) unless absolutely necessary; instead, ask the author to upload them to a user-respecting hosting facility, e.g. Goblin Refuge, Framadrive, Internet Archive, etc.
  5. Create a 80x80px thumbnail in the /graphics/icons/ subdirectory; this can be done conveniently with mogrify. To create a thumbnail for arantxa-glitch.jpg, for example, you would run:
    mogrify -resize 80x80 -background white -gravity center \
    -extent 80x80 -format png -path icons arantxa-glitch.jpg \
    && mv icons/arantxa-glitch.png icons/arantxa-glitch.80.png
  6. Create a new web page in /graphics/, clearly stating the copyright and license(s) of the image. If this is a derivative work, provide a link (or at least a reference) to the image it is derived from.
  7. Choose one or several keywords which will be used to select the new page in the main menu. Currently we have the following keywords (check the selection form to know what each one covers):

    Themes: gnuhead, gnu, tux, rms, emacs, fs, license, drm, surveillance.
    Types: ascii, banner, button, icon, cartoon, plastic, logo, poster, svg, wallpaper.

    Feel free to add more as needed, but don't forget to update the selection form if you do.
  8. Add entries for the new page in the main menu. The most convenient way to do this is to duplicate one of the entries, and replace the keywords, links, page title and author by those of the new page. This is what the arantxa.html entry looks like:
       <!--#if expr="$THEME = /^(gnuhead|)$/
                  && $TYPE  = /^(banner|logo|)$/" -->
    <tr><td><a href="/graphics/arantxa.html">
        <img src="/graphics/icons/arantxa-glitch.80.png" alt="X" /></a></td>
        <td>GNU designs<br />
        <small>by Arantxa Serantes</small></td></tr><!--#endif
    -->
    
    Note that the entry starts and ends with SSI directives, and that there is a line break within the endif rather than after it, to avoid numerous blank lines in the HTML that is served to the user.

Updating info in GNU package lists

Sometimes a maintainer of a GNU package requests an update in its entry in GNU package lists:

The sources of those files are maintained in a separate Savannah group, so a working copy of that repository is needed in order to update them:

cvs -z3 -d:ext:<username>@cvs.savannah.gnu.org:/sources/womb co gnumaint

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