This is a short introduction to Foswiki.

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Slide 1: What is a Wiki?

Hula girl The basic function of Foswiki is a Wiki (if that helps!)

A Wiki is like a web site, except that you can edit the content in your browser

  • "Wiki" is short for "wiki wiki", the Hawaiian for "Quick" (and a perfect excuse for a picture of a cute girl in a hula skirt)
  • The idea originates from Macintosh Hypercard, via Ward Cunningham
  • In Ward's words, Wiki is "the simplest online database that could possibly work"
  • A Wiki is basically a shared, online, persistent whiteboard

Slide 2: Foswiki Wiki

Whiteboard Foswiki implements the basic Wiki idea of a shared whiteboard

  • Anyone can add content
    ... or change what is written
    ... or change the organisation of the content
  • Whatever you write is
    ... nicely presented
    ... remembered... and never forgotten
  • Write using state-of-the-art What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) text editing
    ... or you can use a simple topic markup language that is quick to learn and easy to remember
    ... or you can use full HTML for complex formatting tasks

Foswiki is also an "application platform" that lets you quickly build and use your own online applications.

Foswiki is an Open-Source development on
  • governed by the Foswiki Association
  • with over 100 regular volunteer contributors in many countries
  • Free open source wiki

Slide 3: Foswiki features

Foswiki builds on the original Wiki concept, and adds features that make it very useful in a business environment.
  • Revision control of all pages, so a record of every change to every page is kept
    r6 < r5 < r4 < r3 < r2
  • Powerful macros allow users to build and use their own online applications
  • Highly configurable look and feel, through use of templates
  • Plugins interface eases
    • customisation
    • extension
    • integration of existing applications
  • Hundreds of extensions support additional features and integrate third party applications
  • Strong security

Slide 4: Applications of basic Foswiki

Foswiki can be used as:
  • A whiteboard
  • A document repository
  • A collaborative authoring environment
  • A notebook / scrapbook
  • A chat room

Slide 5: Extended applications

Foswiki-with-extensions can be used:
  • for Content Management (CMS) of websites
  • for presentation development
  • as a Blog
  • as a (simple) database
  • as a project management system
  • for mashups
  • as a tracking tool
  • (truth is, we don't really know its limits!)

Slide 6: Structure of a Foswiki page

Foswiki pages are called topics. When they are viewed in the browser, they are usually organised into four parts:
  • A header
  • A menu
  • A body
  • A footer

  • The header and the footer are generated by the system
  • The menu is also generated by the system, but mainly from content provided by you
  • The body contains the text of the topic, as entered by you
Foswiki is very configurable, and the look can change. However the essentials will all be there on the page (somewhere!)

Slide 7: The page header

The header of a Foswiki page is generally highlighted, and will usually contain an icon that gives you an idea of where you are, such as a company logo. It will also usually contain:
  • A Search box that allows you to look for topics or content all over the Foswiki site
  • A Jump box where you can type in the name of a page you already know.


Slide 8: The menu - part 1

The menu, normally located either on the right or the left side of the content, or sometimes at the top, usually includes a toolbox and a web section.

The Toolbox section contains these items

  • Toolbox
  • newtopic Create New Topic - for creating new topics via a menu
  • index Index - an alphabetical listing of all topics in the web
  • searchtopic Search - leads to a more advanced search page
  • changes Changes - shows a list of recently changed topics
  • notify Notifications - allows you to subscribe to receiving emails when topics change
  • feed RSS Feed
  • statistics Statistics - for the activities current web
  • wrench Preferences - settings for the current web

Often the site administrator simplifies the toolbox, so you may not have all these items in your menu bar.

Slide 9: The menu - part 2

The Webs section lists all the webs that you can access

  • Webs
  •  User
  •  Myco
  •  Project
  •  Sandbox
  •  System

A web is a collection of pages that are related closely together

The User contains all the user home pages. The System contains documentation for Foswiki and all extensions. The Sandbox is a playground area.

Your wiki may contain any number of webs, and webs can contain other webs.

Slide 10: The menu - part 3

Besides the Tools and Webs sections it is common to add your own links to important places.

These menu points can be different from web to web.

  • Myco
  • Important topic
  • Company philosophy

Slide 11: The page footer

Near the footer of the page you usually find an action bar which looks similar to this

Edit | Attach | Print version | History: r2 < r1 | Backlinks | View wiki text | Edit wiki text | More topic actions

  • The Edit control takes you to an interactive page where you can change the page content using an advanced editor
  • The Attach link lets you attach files
  • Print version shows the page without any menus or top bars - for printing on paper
  • History allows you to see older versions and what changed from version to version
  • Backlinks shows which other pages link to this page
  • View Wiki Text is for viewing the raw markup
  • Edit Wiki Text is for editing the raw markup in a simple text editor
  • More topic actions - takes you to a menu of less-frequently-used features

Slide 12: Editing Pages

  • You've read a page, and you disagree with it violently! It says:
    Everyone knows that the world is an OblateSpheroid
    But you know for a fact it is flat! wink
  • You've clicked the edit link, and an edit page has appeared.
    • Depending on your site configuration and with some luck, you will see a WYSIWYG-editor and can start writing right away.
    • But it might happen that it doesn't look much like what was on the page before - it's full of strange hieroglyphics!
_Everyone_ *knows* that =the world= is an OblateSpheroid
  • Now what?

Slide 13: What's in a page

  • The hieroglyphics are what's known as "Topic Markup Language" or "Text Formatting"
  • They are a really simple way of telling the browser how you want the page to look
  • You don't have to use them
    • Foswiki understands pages in plain text just fine.

      Actually it is perfectly and absolutely flat

      appears as

      Actually it is perfectly and absolutely flat

Slide 14: Formatting just makes pages prettier

... and easier to read

_Actually_ it is *perfectly* and __absolutely__ flat

appears as

Actually it is perfectly and absolutely flat
  • A full description of all the formatting can be found in the TextFormattingRules and WikiSyntax
  • The best thing to do is just to type until you get stuck
    • then follow the link on the edit page to the help.

Slide 15: Commonly used formatting

Foswiki understands pages in plain text just fine, but you can jazz them up using some simple formatting shortcuts. Here are some of the more commonly used ones:
  • ---+ indicates a heading. Add more +'s for a deeper heading.
    You type You see
    ---+ This is a heading

    This is a heading

    ---++ And so is this

    And so is this

  • %TOC% will insert a table of contents

Slide 16: More common formatting

  • A blank line gives a paragraph break
  • --- on a line of its own gives a horizontal bar
  • Text in stars *like this* looks like this
  • Text in underscores _like this_ looks like this
  • Text in equals signs =like this= looks like this
  • Bulleted lists use three spaces followed by an asterisk (*) at the start of the line
    • The depth of the bullet is given by the number of spaces, in multiples of three
      You type You see
         * Bullet
            * Sub-bullet
      • Bullet
        • Sub-bullet
  • Numbered lists use a number in place of the *. The list is numbered automatically, so you can just use a 1

Slide 17: Even more.....

  • You can create a table using vertical bars:
     | Cat | Feline |
     | Bear | Ursine |
     | Wolf | Lupine |
  • appears as
    Cat Feline
    Bear Ursine
    Wolf Lupine
  • %RED% .... %ENDCOLOR% will change the colour of the enclosed text. Lots of colours are available (%RED%, %GREEN%, %BLUE% etc)

Slide 18: WikiWords

  • One special hieroglyph that is very important is a WikiWord
    • a word that starts with uppercase, then some lowercase, then more uppercase (a.k.a CamelCase)
  • This has a special meaning to Foswiki. If it matches the name of another topic, Foswiki will automatically create a link to that page for you.
  • If there is no such page, then the word is highlighted and has a question mark put after the word, LikeThis
  • If you click on the question mark, then Foswiki will invite you to create that page.

  • This lets you enter the names of topics you think should exist, but don't yet
    • You, or someone else, can always come along later and click on the question mark!

Slide 19: Referencing other pages and URLs

  • WikiWords automatically link to the target page
    • You can make these links easier to read using square brackets:
  • An ordinary URL pasted into text will appear as a link -
    • You can also prettify URLs using square brackets:
      • [[][Google]] appears as Google
  • Use %SEARCH. This is an interface to a sophisticated search engine that embeds the results of the search in your page. See System.Macros for full details.

Slide 20: More formatting

  • There's lots more formatting available, see TextFormattingRules and WikiSyntax
  • If you are a real masochist, you can even enter raw HTML!
  • Important to disable unwanted formatting, use <nop>
    • <nop>_word_ appears as _word_

Slide 21: Creating new pages

  • Alternative ways:
    • Click on the question mark after a WikiWord
    • Type in the name of the topic in the "Go:" box
    • Type in the name of the topic in the URL
  • Any time you try to visit a page that doesn't exist, Foswiki will invite you to create it.
  • Make sure the names of topics are always WikiWords.

Slide 22: Attachments

  • Attachments are files which have been uploaded and attached to a Foswiki topic using the [Attach] link in the toolbar.

I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
txt Sample.txt manage 0.1 K 22 Jul 2000 - 19:37 ProjectContributor Just a sample
gif Smile.gif manage 0.1 K 22 Jul 2000 - 19:38 ProjectContributor Smiley face
The links in the above table are just for show, and don't really go anywhere

  • Attachments are simply files, in whatever format you want.
  • Foswiki recognises some file formats, notably image files (.gif, .jpeg, ...)
    • Write %ATTACHURL%/myco.gif to see this: myco.gif

Slide 23: Wiki Culture

Enough about mechanics; how is a wiki actually used ? Well, that's really up to you, but there are a number of tricks that the wiki community has developed for collaborative writing that work pretty well:
  • What can I edit?
    • Anything. But it's good etiquette to sign your contributions
    • If someone doesn't want you to edit a page, it's up to them to say so, clearly, on the page
  • But what if somebody doesn't like my edits?
    • In Foswiki, they can always recover the old revision and re-instantiate it if they really want to
    • Otherwise they should regard your changes as an opportunity for discussion
  • Pages in wiki are (usually) in one of three "modes"
    • DocumentMode
    • ThreadMode
    • StructuredMode
Foswiki doesn't automatically distinguish between these modes; they are purely semantic.

Slide 24: That's fine for the internet, but...

People often say that wiki culture isn't appropriate in a corporate setting. Ignore them! Sharing information helps any company work more efficiently. However, there may be genuine security concerns, so:
  • Viewing/editing topics can be restricted to any indvidual, or group of individuals
  • Foswiki can be integrated with corporate single-sign-on solutions

Slide 25: DocumentMode

  • A page in DocumentMode usually comprises a contribution which is written in the third person and left unsigned.
  • The piece of text is community property
    • It may have multiple and changing authors as it is updated to reflect the community consensus.

Slide 26: ThreadMode

  • Thread mode is a form of discussion where the community holds a conversation
  • The discussion usually starts out with a statement, at the top of the page, that is subsequently discussed
  • The page may be periodically "refactored" (edited) to remove some of the comments
    • As long as the comment is accurately reflected in what replaces it, nobody usually minds.
    • Remember to always maintain a complete list of contributors, though!
You may see a comment box on a page in ThreadMode that makes it easy to quickly add your inputs. Typing in a comment and adding it to a page this way is known as "blogging" wink
  • ThreadMode is rather like an e-mail thread
    • Except that new comments are usually added to the end
  • ThreadMode pages often get refactored into DocumentMode

Slide 27: StructuredMode

  • A page in StructuredMode follows some predefined structure for example
    • An agenda
    • A set of meeting minutes
    • A requirement description.
  • Pages in StructuredMode will usually have rules governing how they are edited.

Slide 28: Contributed features

Basic Foswiki is rich with features, but is enriched even further by optional extension modules that may (or may not!) be installed in your Foswiki. These are usually classified as skins (modules that change the look-and-feel), plugins (modules that enhance functionality), wiki applications (sets of topics that implement an application) or contribs (modules that customise foswiki at a deep level).

When Foswiki is first installed, it comes with a default set of extensions pre-installed; you can see the list by visiting the InstalledPlugins page.

There are a huge number of other extensions available from

Slide 29: Foswiki and TWiki

Anyone surfing the web may have come across another wiki called "TWiki" which in many respects is similar to Foswiki. This is because Foswiki is a fork from the TWiki project. The fork happened because most of the developers of TWiki rejected a for-profit commercial takeover of the project by the founder, and forked the project to start Foswiki.
  • Foswiki is free - totally free - and will always remain so.
  • Foswiki is governed by a non-profit foundation, which is funded by subscriptions.
  • Foswiki is under continuous development by a large team of volunteer developers.
The Foswiki development team acknowledges a huge debt of gratitude to the founder of TWiki, and wishes him well in his commercial exploits.

Slide 30: Getting more information

Foswiki has been developed for over ten years, and there's a lot of it. It can be daunting at first, so don't try to learn the whole thing in one go. The best way to start is to use it, and when you need to do something new, browse this web or look for examples online.

If you get stuck, you can refer to the web, which has a wealth of online resources, or join the friendly Foswiki IRC channel at irc://

Slide 31: Credits and Acknowledgements

Related topics: WelcomeGuest, WikiCulture, TwentyMinuteTutorial, TopicsAndWebs

-- TimoBaumann - 12 Oct 2015

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