Link-testing methodology?

Subject: Link-testing methodology?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Mon, 1 Nov 1999 13:16:48 -0500

Chris Hamilton observed that <<... QA could require of us a
method for assuring that not only are our links not broken, but that
they point to the correct target. It seems to me that regardless of
whether you automate this task or do it manually, you have to start
by creating a list of each link on each page and its appropriate

It should be easy enough to find the links; if your authoring
software doesn't actually display a table of links, it should be
possible to open the file in various word processors or text editors
and use the search tools to locate all the codes that identify a link.
But that's approaching the problem backwards: what you really
want to do is create the equivalent of a design specification for
each Web page or other online project that specifically lists what
links you'll require. That list becomes your checklist when it comes
time to do the QA thing: simply run down the checklist, confirm
that each link is present, then follow the link to confirm that it
actually goes to the right place.

If you've got a decent functional spec, that means you've carefully
thought about what you need to link to, and the task of checking
those links becomes relatively simple; if not, then don't dare
complain about SMEs who don't stick to the specification! <g>
Once you've got the spec defined, you can always go back and
add links as you discover things that you missed... but you have to
be rigorous about this (i.e., someone needs to update the spec and
do a reality check to confirm that the new link is really necessary).

<<What's more, because of the fact that compiling such a list is
likely to be a long, arduous task, someone should review it.>>

It's every bit as important to edit your links as it is to edit the text
itself. But that's no more a task you can automate than you can
automate the confirmation of index entries in printed
documentation. Most authoring software (e.g., Dreamweaver for
Web pages and RoboHelp for online help) now has the ability to
quickly identify broken links, but someone human still has to make
sure the link text makes sense (i.e., that it adequately describes
the destination of the link) and that the link takes you to the right
place. Until we develop software that can parse English as well as
a human, no cyber-someone can make that kind of judgment.
Fortunately, checking each link isn't rocket science, nor is it as
difficult as it might seem. Simply take each page or file, one at a
time, and follow each link as you encounter it. As soon as you've
confirmed that the link is correct, hit the "back" button to return to
where you took the detour. (Resist the temptation to follow a string
of links; doing so is a sure way of getting so far from the original
link you were testing that you forget where you started, and end up
missing links.) If you do this for each file as soon as the file's been
approved for "layout", then all your files will be checked within a
short time after the overall project is over.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein

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