The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing


The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (FOLDOC) is a searchable dictionary of acronyms, jargon, programming languages, tools, architectures, operating systems, networking, theory, mathematics, telecoms, institutions, companies, projects, products, history, in fact anything related to computing.

It aims to provide a one-stop source of information about all computing terms and includes many useful cross-references and pointers to related resources elsewhere on the Internet, as well as bibliographical references to paper publications. It lacks many entries which one can find in paper computing dictionaries but contains more encyclopedia-like entries and entries on subjects such as current hardware and software products, companies, and institutions.

The dictionary started in 1985 and has grown, with the help of 2000 contributors, to contain nearly 15,000 definitions. It receives around 10,000 unique visitors per month.

A list of frequently requested missing terms is available. Users are encouraged to contribute definitions of missing terms. These contributions are usually edited extensively before inclusion. New terms are added regularly.

The dictionary is stored as a single source file in a simple, easy-to-edit, human-readable form of mark-up which is converted to HTML on the fly by a Perl CGI program. The program uses a custom matching algorithm to provide fast, flexible, indexed searches of headings. Other Perl programs build the index, the lists of missing terms, and the contents pages.

FOLDOC is maintained by me, Denis Howe, in my "copious spare time" as a free service to the Internet. It is served from a Linux web server kindly provided by the Department of Computing at Imperial College, London, UK.

I started the dictionary in 1985 by copying half a dozen definitions from a magazine article for my own use. It grew slowly until I came to Imperial in 1990 and discovered the Internet and the wonderful world of anonymous FTP. I found several major sources of definitions out on the net, most notably the On-line Hacker Jargon File, but nothing you could call a dictionary of computing. I knocked up a few sed, awk, and shell scripts and munged all the sources into one big file, along with my own collection of definitions. I installed an FTP server on my desktop machine and made the dictionary available from there, publicising it on Usenet news.

Around this time, Gopher was just taking off and I soon had a Gopher server running, allowing people to search the dictionary rather than have to download the whole thing. Soon after that, around March 1994, the World-Wide Web happened and I just went bonkers! At last I could do proper cross-referencing and use forms to get feedback as well as adding links to other FTP, Gopher and WWW resources on the net.

I continued to develop the dictionary, with help from the net, while failing to complete my PhD thesis, and later while doing a full-time job, and helping to bring up my sons Mark and Alex.

Why do I do it? - more from Denis