FW: Long Documents in Word - Why Master Documents corrupt

Subject: FW: Long Documents in Word - Why Master Documents corrupt
From: "Mark Kofler" <Mark -dot- Kofler -at- oz -dot- quest -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2001 13:20:11 +1100

Here is what I consider the Holy Grail of explantions as to why
Master/Dcoument doesn't work in Word.
It also gives some superb insights into the way Word works - or is supposed
to work.

Why Master Documents corrupt


Article contributed by John McGhie

The complete explanation would be a book in itself. For now, it is enough to
know that a Word document is a great big "list" of objects. An object can be
anything you can put in a Word document. Each of these objects has many,
many "properties" that determine how it appears and how it behaves.

The properties are all contained in several giant "tables" inside the file.
The connection between any given object (say, a paragraph) and its
properties is made with an amazingly complex lattice-work of "pointers".
These pointers are large binary numbers that cause Word to look at an exact
byte location in the file to see what shape, size, or colour this object
should be. Most objects have more than one pointer. Some pointers go to
"collections" of properties (for example, a "List Template" that describes
all the formatting for a numbered list) and some go simply to a single entry
(for example the "language" that is just a single name).

Whenever we experience a "Word document corruption", what has actually
happened is that the pointer, or the entry in the table it points to, has
become corrupted. The information found there is either nonsense, or it does
not apply to the object in question. For example, a paragraph is trying to
inherit page margins: a paragraph cannot have page margins, so Word gets
terribly confused.

All these property tables are stored in Section Breaks. A Section Break is
not just a "page break", it is a binary container that stores several
hundred properties in multiple tables. The largest Section Break is the
"Default" Section Break. You will never see one. The default Section Break
hides in the very last paragraph mark of a document. Because it is
absolutely essential to the document (without it, the file is just a stream
of bytes, not a document) Word maintains the contents itself and hides it
from you and me.

The reason that Master Documents cause so much trouble is that you are
asking Word to merge together many hundreds of different settings, some of
which conflict, some of which apply only to one or a few paragraphs. A
typical master document may contain 20 sub-documents. This means there are
21 "default" Section Breaks, each containing potentially-conflicting
properties. Each subdocument also can contain multiple "user" Section
Breaks. These may or may not override or conflict with the settings in one
or more of the default Section Breaks.

If a property is specified, does it apply to this document? Some of this
document? Several of these documents? And is the document that stores it
open? Is it "active"? Read-only or editable? The number of possibilities
rapidly expands, geometrically, until the structure simply becomes too
complex. Word loses track of what it is trying to do. And takes a guess. The
guess overwrites something: and Bingo! You lose your master document.

When we say you "lose" your master document, this "loss" can take many
forms. You wouldn't be reading this at all if you had not so far experienced
one of the lesser forms. You can still read "some" of your text, right?
Trust me, it can get worse! The ultimate master document corruption results
in some or all of the text paragraphs disappearing. Once this happens, there
is no way to get them back: they are no longer in the file. Which can be
very disconcerting if the corruption happened several weeks ago, and because
you were not looking at that part of the document, you didn't find out about
it until you came to print the whole thing, by which time you had long since
over-written your backup!

A master document has only two possible states: Corrupt, or just about to be
corrupt. And that is why we say that the only possible fix to a master
document is "don't use it!"

For information on how to recover a Master Document, please see the article
How to recover Master Documents .

-----Original Message-----
From: bounce-techwr-l-61249 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
[mailto:bounce-techwr-l-61249 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com]On Behalf Of Lee Perkins
Sent: Sunday, 18 March 2001 4:26 AM
Subject: Long Documents in Word

Until recently I had escaped using MS-Word for any serious work.
However, I just finished a nightmarish experience trying to put
a 150 page book together using Word's master document feature.
When the size got to between 50 and 60 pages, averaging
about 1 GIF image per page, Word displays a notice stating that
the document is corrupt and asks if I want to attempt recovery.
The results are the same no matter what I answer - the master
is corrupt and I have to recreate it. I had to create it in sections,
making a lot of manual processes. The job took about 5X as long as
I estimated. I finally borrowed a computer running Windows-NT and
completed the job, although not without glitches.

When someone told me that Windows 98 might be the culprit,
I upgraded to Windows 98 Second Edition, and shrunk
the original JPEGS to GIFs all without result.

Am I wasting my time because Word cannot handle long documents,
as its Macintosh cousin can, or can someone point me to information
on successful creation and maintenance of long documents in MS-Word?


Develop HTML-Based Help with Macromedia Dreamweaver 4 ($100 STC Discount)
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October 24-27, 2001 at historic La Fonda in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.
CALL FOR PAPERS OPEN UNTIL MARCH 15. http://ieeepcs.org/2001/

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