Sharing enlightenment (long)

Subject: Sharing enlightenment (long)
From: Natalie K Griffith <grif0028 -at- MAROON -dot- TC -dot- UMN -dot- EDU>
Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1996 14:10:30 -0500

Okay. I've had it with boilerplates. I suspected that it might be a
term with localized (as in technical discipline) usage, and I wanted to
check out how it was meant in reference to the html thread. All the
folks I work with dealing with html and scripting just say "template" for
this concept. I thought it might be a reference to something new to me
in the html realm. Don't we html folks use some fancy coding application
named for a popular caffeinated beverage? Anyway, I'll put my
flame-thrower back in the closet and say a big thanks to those who were
genuinely helpful and especially to the kind list member who posted:

"I'm not afraid to admit I don't know what the term "boilerplate"
means. What
did you find out?"

There is enough variation in apparent sources for the replies to my
query(out of a hat, personal experience, an actual reference) that I am
opting to share the responses.


I am on vacation until Christmas.

>Natalie says "lucky devil."


See your dictionary.

>Natalie says "oooooh, very helpful."


I thought it's the same as saying "template."


Funny you should ask about the term boilerplate. A few weeks ago we
were finishing up the translation of our manuals into Spanish and one of
our translators asked about that term. He had never heard of it. When
I tried to explain it to him, he couldn't come up with a corresponding
term in Spanish. When we consulted a dictionary, none of the
dictionaries in the office had an entry for it. Even though I have used
the term for years, I began to suspect that it wasn't widely used and
may not even be valid.

However, when I consulted my unabridged American Heritage dictionary at
home, I found this:

boil*er*plate (boi¹ler-plât´) noun
1. A steel plate used in making the shells of steam boilers.
2. Journalistic material, such as syndicated features, available in
plate or mat form.
3. Inconsequential, formulaic, or stereotypical language: The provisions
of the lease included no new elements and amounted to nothing more than

The last definition most closely represents my understanding and use of
the term in that I am referring to a formulaic text which can be quickly
modified to meet specific needs, similar to standard contracts and wills
in which the specifics are inserted in the blanks. I think the term has
broadened in meaning to include things like Word Style sheets or even
generic HTML pages that can be adapted to a specific use.

I hope that answers your question, or at least points you in the
direction for further inquiry.


The dictionary says boilerplate is journalistic material such as
syndicated features, available in plate or mat form. Look up mat and it'll
say, see matrix. Look at matrix and it's a: mold used in stereotyping and
designed to receive positive impressions of type or illustrations from whic
metal plates can be cast.

There you go! :)


this term is used for "canned" phrases or parts of a document
--if you wrote the same type of piece over and over, you might
ant to use parts of a typical piece multiple times (like generic
HTML beginning and ending tags).

I think the term comes from old printing press days when
plates were made with hot lead...


Boilerplate refers to text that goes on all documents of a given class. I
think the term comes from the fact that boilers are made from castings, all
of which look the same.

Examples of boilerplate text would be introductory material that goes in
every document/chapter/web page. On a lot of web pages that I do, we have a
set of stuff at the bottom that lists the contact person, etc.


Boilerplate is an ancient term from the day prior to and of the
Linotype machines that used molten lead that was formed to create each
letter individually. Each slug, so called, was clamped to the others
in a line of type to create a block, and these were set in place
(typeset). A block of text that was created as one physical plate was
as thick as and as heavy as a piece of an old steam boiler, since old
steam boilers were often created out of plates too. These blocks of
type or boiler plate were thick and heavy. Naturally, in printing, you
didn't want to have to recreate this plate too often because you
didn't want to type it out (labor) and use up the lead (materials) and
have to recreate it frequently (time), so you saved the plate and
reused it a zillion times; it never wore out.

Hence, the term boilerplate to describe a block of text that is
unchanging and that can be used and reused in multiple places with
little or no concern that it will be wrong or need change or
correction. If it is correct once, it is correct forever -- or until
the text changes!

Those were the days of 'hot type,' when the actual type blocks were a
few hundred degrees in temperature. Offset printing created cold type.
Now that we use electronic online systems, maybe we are using no type.
I digress.

You may share this historic relic with your html people and anyone
else who needs a link to their past. Some people think reusable code
is a new idea.


"Boilerplate" is simply a bunch of standard text. It's sort of like those
"personalized" sales letters you receive in junk mail, which have your name
and perhaps a few other personal words merged into a bunch of standard
sales-pitch text.


In the work that we do here (and I suspect most other engineering/scientifi
firms), boilerplate refers to any "standard" or generic information supplie
as part of an effort. For example, in a proposal, boilerplate refers to
what's usually standard for all (or many) proposals, e.g., company history,
resources, organization; project summaries; past performance. If anything
is produced specifically for a proposal, e.g., technical approach, analyses
of past performance win ratios for certain types of work, then it's not
boilerplate. The same idea applies to project documentation;, however,
project documentation usually has far less boilerplate than proposals do.


Here's the definition from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:

Main Entry: boil·er·plate
Pronunciation: -"plAt
Function: noun
Date: 1897
1 : syndicated material supplied especially to weekly newspapers in matri
or plate form 2 a : standardized text b : formulaic or hackneyed language
<bureaucratic boilerplate>

Many people use the term nearly synonomously with "template." Often, it is
used to mean text/styles that are kept on file and copied/reused/modified t
fit a need. If used correctly, boilerplate text can save your company $$$.


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