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Smallsite Design

Online management help

8. Limits

This article describes the limits applicable to Smallsite Design sites.

While Smallsite Design doesn't impose any hard-wired high-level limits on sites built with it, there are some practical limits defined largely by the purpose and type of usage expected by the target site owners.

Design goals

Smallsite Design is meant for those who want to build a site for managing a body of knowledge, whether that be a subject, a product or what a club is about.

These purposes don't continually add content, but build up to enough to cover the subject or area, and then refine and update, occasionally adding and deleting articles as circumstances and the subject evolves.

For this, the expected content to be generated would be in the ranges of:

  1. a.10-200 articles.
  2. b.20-150 files, mostly images.
  3. c.1 - 3 locales, but more for a product's online help.

These are the sort of limits imposed not by the product, but by what site owners will likely build up to for their purposes. Smallsite Design can accommodate several times these, though at thousands of articles, things might slow down some, depending upon the server's power and bandwidth. The target site owners will likely only be using low-end shared hosting, purely because they won't be expecting their sites to be so large.

Because of the expected site sizes, and a design goal of making sites portable between hosters for those not really technically-inclined, Smallsite Design uses XML files, rather than a database, to store a site's data. XML shares a large part of its technology with HTML, and XSL, which is based upon XML syntax, is used to transform the XML into the HTML to be sent to browsers. Sites are archived into a single ZIP file which can replace a site or be partially imported into a site.

There are several hundred locales included in the Unicode Consortium's CLDR supplied with PHP. Most sites would only be using one locale, some may use a few, though online help for a product may reach to 10-20, depending upon the translator resources available to a site owner. Each article file contains the text for all locales, but only the text for the locale that a visitor is using will be sent to their browser.

Structural limits

Smallsite Design provides categories to group articles, and subsites to partition content for different audiences.

Again, there are no hard-wired maximum limits for these, but rather than being constrained by the likely content usage, the numbers of these is more likely to be defined by visitor usability. Both categories and subsites are meant to allow some partitioning of the content in a way that is suited to it. This does help visitors to not be overwhelmed by sifting through a hundred or so articles, but by a top-down structure, much like a table of contents for a book, that can be drilled down through to get to particular topics of interest.

However, people don't like too many options to choose from, so there are some limits that are reasonable to aim for when constructing sites. Category pages are provided which list all the articles in a category. A reasonable size for looking through would be 8 to 20 articles. At a higher level, there is a page that lists all the categories in a subsite. However, because they are at a higher level, too many choices may not be helpful. 3 to 10 categories per subsite is a reasonable number to choose from.

There is also a page listing subsites, but they are also listed in the navigation bar at the top of pages, so 2 to 5 per site is reasonable, though most sites will have only one. Multiplying the numbers out from these, there could be anything from 20 to 1000 articles, and 3 to 50 categories per site. Of course there will be varying numbers of articles and categories in their respective parents, so numbers will tend to the lower end on average.

Every subsite has a default category with the subsite's home page in it. When Smallsite Design is installed, there is a main subsite, with its default category and bare-bones home page. See Edit the home page and Planning a site for what to do from there.

Special navigation pages – which include home pages – are provided that allow up to 8 cards, each with a heading, picture and short synopsis that enables clear visual choices to be made quickly. A level or two of these finally linking to category article lists can provide an easily navigable way for visitors to drill down quickly to what they may be interested in.

Content limits

This is where there are some hard-wired limits, but suited to the type of content in the different article types.

In general, limits are defined for the type of usage that each article type will likely be used for on the sites built. For example, while a general article could be built to hold the content of a book, a test only allows up to 20 questions because no results are recorded, so they are not meant for serious in-depth evaluations. Lower limits are those at which any less would be overkill for the little content involved. There is no point in having a test with one question, as a paragraph should be able to handle that simplicity. Upper limits are generous enough for the type of use expected.

Navigation page

Navigation pages, including home pages, have limited content before a card array, catalog or a gallery of pictures.

The number of elements allowed in each group of a home or navigation page are:
aAside011 - 4 of paragraph, list, figure, diagram, sequence, verse, audio, video
bBlocks06Paragraph, list, highlight, diagram, program, button
cCards08Each has heading, picture and text, with the heading as a link to an article or category
dCatalog020Each has heading, text, and an optional picture, with the heading as a link to an article or category
eGallery020Images as links to articles or categories

The focus of these pages is meant to be the cards, catalog or gallery. What leads up to those can set the context for them. The aside is suitable for an image or short video as a way of introduction. A catalog is a Category page-like themed list of any articles or categories. A gallery is meant to provide an alternate access method for those interested in more behind the scenes information, and selection is by clicking on a picture of interest. Only items of one of cards, catalog or gallery is allowed. If there are no items for these on a home page, a link to the categories page for the subsite is added instead.

General article

General articles have the most flexible content model which includes sections, subsections and even glossaries.

The number of elements allowed in each group of a general article are:
aBlocks050Almost anything except the specialty elements in the more targeted article types
bGlossary011 - 20 entries
The number of elements allowed in each group of a section are:
aBasic aside01
cGlossary011 - 20 entries
The number of elements allowed in each group of a subsection are:
aBasic aside01
cGlossary011 - 20 entries

One article could hold megabytes of text, which some servers may have trouble with, though a 2.5MB text-only article still took less than three seconds to fully display from the opposite side of the earth. Of course, the generous allowances are to cater for the many permutations of content sizing that the three level structure allows.


Glossary entries provide explanations for terms and abbreviations used on a subsite.

The number of elements allowed in each group of a glossary are:
aParagraphs|lists02For providing context


Procedures allow steps and substeps with selective viewing modes for different skill levels from learning to a compact form for prompting.

The number of elements allowed in each group of a procedure are:
aRoles05Can be used to nominate who does what steps
bBlocks09Paragraph, list, figure, table, highlight, diagram, program
cSteps220Step, Step link, Substeps
dSubsteps29Within Substeps, Substep or Substep link


Tests are to help readers ascertain their knowledge level about a topic.

The number of elements allowed in each group of a test are:
aBlocks05Paragraph, figure, table, highlight, diagram, program
bQuestions2202 - 9 options each
cComments09Selectable by quartiles of percentage of correct answers

Policies page

Policies cover usage and privacy, but may also cover services provided by the site owner.

The number of elements allowed in each group of a policies page are:
aBlocks02Paragraph, list, table
bFixed sections33Usage, privacy, unpublished. Not displayed if no items
cSections019Owner defined
The number of elements allowed in each group of a policies section are:
bParagraphs02Usually for clarifying comments or links to alternatives

Reader mode

Many bowsers have a reader mode that simplifies the page layout to just the main content to reduce clutter.

Reader mode is meant for those sites that provide articles but with lots of ads or other distractions. They will only show the main body of the article, formatted for better reading, and so will override many of the CSS styles for the page to make them less gaudy. Also, the pages are made passive as all buttons are removed, though basic multimedia elements remain intact. Some browsers will not show a button for reader mode if the page is already uncluttered enough.

Unfortunately, readers do not handle page elements that are not plain vanilla HTML very well, and so will expose parts of them that may not be visible. For example, Smallsite Design lists hide the normal bullets and substitute them with links to make navigation easier for those who use their keyboards extensively. In a reader, the hidden bullets are exposed making each item have two bullets.

Some elements are specially formatted, but that formatting is lost in a reader. The contents of a program element will no longer look like monospaced and coloured computer code with a bordered grey background, but appear like a whole bunch of single-lined paragraphs, totally obscuring its purpose. A sequence element is unusable as there will be no buttons, but the hidden parts and skip tables are exposed. Basically, reader mode can make a lot of useful elements appear like roadkill.

Reader mode may also format the page in an accessibility mode, with extra line and paragraph spacings, erroneously assuming that this works for all people. However, what is good for some people like those with autism or dyslexia does not necessarily work as well for who do not have such neuropathies. Accessibility is not about making everybody use the same formatting, but catering to different groups who might have mutually-exclusive preferences. Smallsite Design does have an accessibility mode that provides a lot of the formatting that reader modes provide.

For site visitors, Smallsite Design pages are already as uncluttered as they can be as no third-party elements like ads can be embedded. Complex pages and even fairly plain text pages will look better and be more cleanly navigable than when in reader mode. Of course, a page can still be made to be cluttered, but a reader will likely mangle many of those elements.


Smallsite Design can be used without JavaScript, but there are some instances where it provides some enhancements.

For a site visitor, the advantages of having JavaScript are:

  1. a.Sequence elements are functional, providing sequences of images, audio and captions.
  2. b.Hovering over or tabbing to a link to a glossary entry, article or category will automatically expand to show a pop-in that includes the target heading and description, if there is room to do so.
  3. c.The Message field of the Send email section of the Contact page will automatically expand as text is typed in.

The management situations that JavaScript enhances or adds functionality are:

  1. a.Like for the Message field for the Contact page, but applied to all multiline fields.
  2. b.ʘ?ʘ during editing to allow multiple children of an element to be deleted in one operation.
  3. c.When importing elements from an archive file, clicking on a file link will expose the file details in its list.
  4. d.For read statistics, whenever a visitor is on an article page for more than 30 seconds (2-3 paragraphs), the time, page's ID and locale are sent back to the site. Statistics are enabled by default.

Pop-ins are disabled while editing.

Modern browsers will have JavaScript enabled by default, though some accessibility tools may modify or disable it. In Smallsite Design, JavaScript is included in the page and not in a separate file, and coupled with modification-prevention measures and the disallowance of embedded third-party elements that may have JavaScript code, malicious code attacks are prevented. Note that some browser developer tools or extensions may add JavaScript.


Smallsite Design relies extensively upon CSS for layout and selective display of page elements.

For sighted people, disabling CSS will make pages visually broken, and for all users may expose some elements that are not normally shown, cluttering up the page. For proper functioning, never disable CSS. Styles are not prevented from being overridden by some accessibility tools, and while the fluid design will accommodate many of those changes, some may cause overflows in elements like tables.

In Smallsite Design, CSS is always included in the page, and not in a separate file. This prevents the flash of white that may occur when there is an excessive delay until the CSS content in a separate file is displayed.

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