Webmastering the Worldcon, Part 20

Chaz Boston Baden, smofsweb@bostonbaden.com
Rev. 06-Apr-1997

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E-mail CGI form: The Unconfigured Browser problem

I noticed that there was a Slight Problem with Netscape.

It boils down to this: you can run Certain Graphical Browsers without having to correctly configure the E-mail fields. That includes your e-mail address and it also includes your mail server.

So when you click on a "mailto:" tag, you would get the pop-up screen allowing you to send e-mail... but then when you went to send it, it wouldn't work.

Or, as we saw at the Internet Lounge and others have seen elsewhere, you could have a completely-configured Netscape, but it's set up for the wrong e-mail address.

I decided I had to do something because people were trying to send e-mail to the convention and it wasn't getting through - and then they'd complain later about not receiving a response. (We had enough legitimate cases of that going on!) I installed a mailto form.

You can see the form in action, at http://lacon3.worldcon.org/www/Scripts/mailto.pl.cgi if you like. In my next installment, I'll include the script. To use it, you'll need to make the necessary changes to make it display your basic web page framework instead of ours, of course, and, more importantly, you'll need to have PERL running on your system (which can be done if you've got a Unix box with a C-compiler - I had to install PERL myself) and CGI's enabled.

This requires having the sysadmin in your pocket, as it were. The sysadmin has to trust that you're not going to abuse the CGI privileges. On some systems (it's usually a httpd configure option) all CGI programs have to be in a /cgi-bin/ directory; on other systems, anything ending in '.cgi' is assumed to be an executable CGI program. We switched to the latter, and put our CGI scripts in the same directory structure as the rest of the web pages.

Once I'd done this, I needed a way to keep the old "mailto:" option available as well. The method I chose was to have both CGI links and mailto links, with the e-mail address tied to a mailto link and a little picture of an envelope (or "[Mail]" on text browsers) linked to the form.

In retrospect, I don't think that was the ideal method. If I had it to do all over again, I'd list the e-mail adress, have it linked to the script, and then have the script (mailto.pl.cgi) put in a mailto: link - marked as such - for those who preferred to use it.

Or, drop the form. But it wound up saving our bacon, when people wanted to send e-mail from the Internet Lounge. We just went around to each computer and bookmarked the All-Purpose E-mail Form as one of the first three bookmarks.

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