HTML Indexer

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HTML Indexer™ in Detail

A classic index of HTML documents is an alphabetized list of key terms and concepts described in the source HTML files. The index entries are links to the places where those terms and concepts are covered.

Building an index involves determining the files to be included and any related resources, understanding the subject matter and the principles of indexing well enough to create useful index entries, setting up the index entries as links to the appropriate source locations (URLs), providing navigation aids to help readers move around within the index, and (for a classic index) formatting the results for presentation in an HTML browser.

This document explains why we developed HTML Indexer and how we think you can get the most out of it.


With a background in print documentation, we were used to embedding index entries in our source files and letting the index compilation tool do the mechanical work: keeping track of page numbers, sorting and formatting the output, and so on.

As we began working with HTML files, we were surprised that no tool existed to help us create and maintain comprehensive, reproducible indexes for them. We had to do it all by hand: setting up internal navigation aids, typing URLs, testing links (and retyping URLs), and formatting the results. If the directory structure changed, we had to retest every link or count on "search and replace" to catch every change.

HTML editors and site management tools have improved since then, and it's a little easier to create accurate links and to update them when files get moved around. But those improvements only solved some of the problems with the mechanics of indexing.

There was still no way to view and edit all the index entries, or subsets of entries, to ensure consistent treatment; no easy way to see all the potential targets of links in the index; no integrated environment in which to concentrate on making the best possible index. So we designed HTML Indexer to handle all that and more.


Here's the general model for creating and maintaining an index with HTML Indexer:

  1. Evaluate the content of the HTML files to determine the best index entries.

  2. If you want index entries that point to specific locations within the files, use your favorite HTML editor to insert additional named anchors at those locations.

  3. In HTML Indexer, specify the top-level directory (where your index file will go), and identify the files you want to include in your index project.

    HTML Indexer scans those files for the targets that your index entries can point to, and displays them as a hierarchy of files and named anchors—the targets of your index entry links.

    HTML Indexer also creates a default entry for each target, as a reminder of the content.

  4. Still in HTML Indexer:

    • Edit, accept, or reject the default entries.

    • Add and edit your own index entries.

    • Exclude targets that don't need entries.

  5. When you're satisfied with the results, specify the output formats you want—classic, HTML Help, and JavaHelp—and build them with a single click.

  6. As the project matures, just add or remove files, creating entries for them and adjusting existing entries to maintain the quality and consistency of the overall index.

    Rebuilding the index takes just a single click.

You can also create index entries for files outside your index project, such as other web sites with related information.

Throughout the process, you focus on the content of the index. HTML Indexer formats the output, constructs the internal navigation aids, and guarantees that all the index entries (the links) work.

Default entries

In HTML, any file or named anchor can be the target of a hypertext link, so HTML Indexer lists them for you in the project tree. Each target can have associated text, too—if it does, HTML Indexer displays that text in the index preview.

For a file, HTML Indexer uses the text enclosed in the first heading found in the file, or the file title. For a named anchor, the default entry is the text between the anchor tags.

These default entries are a "freebie"—they help you identify the targets, and sometimes they make good index entries. But we don't expect you to stop with the default entries, unless it makes sense to do so.


HTML Indexer's classic output is a nicely formatted "back of the book" index. It's an HTML file that contains an alphabetized list of links to the files you include in your index project, to the named anchors within those files, and to any external URLs you choose to include in the project.

The classic output file also includes navigation aids, links that point into the list of entries (so you don't have to scroll down to find the R's, for example).

With a single click, HTML Indexer can also create indexes for JavaHelp and HTML Help.

For a classic HTML index, you can specify many stylistic aspects, including:

  • Full stylistic control through cascading styles, classes, and BODY tag attributes

  • Separate boilerplate code above and below the body of the index

  • Unrestricted location for graphics, stylesheets, and "include" files

  • 1-, 2-, or 3-column output

  • Long-line handling (wrap/nowrap)

  • Hanging-list or run-in style entries

  • Separate heading and title text

  • Automatic return-to-top links between letter groups

  • Text or graphics for the navigation aids

  • Optional target frames and windows (both project-wide and entry-specific)

  • Optional framed output, with separate frames for navigation and entries

  • Separate files for individual letter groups

  • Text or graphics for the letter group headings in the body of the index

  • Optional headings and navigation aids for entries that begin with a symbol or number

  • Optional headings and navigation aids for letter groups that have no entries

  • Optional navigation aids at the bottom of the index

HTML Indexer even creates alternate text for any graphics you include in the navigation aids or letter group headings, so your index can be read and used with even the simplest browsers.


HTML Indexer takes the drudgery out of creating and maintaining high-quality indexes for intranets, help systems, and other HTML file sets.


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