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Practical Internet Groupware by Jon Udell

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The Quest for a Read/Write Web Server

The inventors of the World Wide Web were scientists who wanted a better way to collaborate with far-flung colleagues. They intended HTTP to work as a read/write protocol. Users of the Web wouldn’t just consume hypertextual content; they would also contribute and aggregate it. As the Web went mainstream, though, it became more like television than groupware. The HTTP PUT method, a part of the protocol that enables browsers to upload documents and revisions, was rarely implemented in web servers.

Despite the Web’s emergence as a mass medium, there remains an intense need for something like a read/write web server. As this book was being finished in the summer of 1999, a solution was in view. Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV, RFC 2518) extends HTTP/1.1 so that multiple WebDAV clients can annotate a shared document on a WebDAV server. The protocol also provides support for moving and copying collections of files. WebDAV requests and responses are expressed as Extensible Markup Language (XML) structures. Transporting XML over HTTP or HTTPS in this way is rapidly emerging as the standard Internet approach to distributed computing, and WebDAV is riding the crest of that wave.

Early WebDAV-enabled clients included MSIE 5 and Office 2000; servers include PyDAV, a Python-based WebDAV server, and mod_dav, an Apache module. What will WebDAV mean to the future of Internet-based collaboration? Prognosticators suggest that ...

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