International Dunhuang Project


page mounted: 1/12/05 page last updated: 15/1/08


A camera lens.

This section is intended as a first stop for others wishing to learn more about IDP's technical infrastructure. It contains details of equipment, standards and procedures used by IDP for its photography, image manipulation, image management, database design and use, and the design, implementation and maintenance of the web site. However, please note that because we update equipment and review our standards and procedures frequently the information here might not always be the most up-to-date. We are happy to answer queries or provide more information on request.

IDP believes in making its procedures and standards fully transparent and, where possible, offering on the web the resources it has built up for others to learn from, use and adapt. The same standards, procedures and equipment are used throughout IDP Centres worldwide and local staff are trained so that quality and consistency of data and images are maintained. IDP regularly changes its procedures and standards to meet changing technology and expectations, and keeps in touch with similar projects and experts worldwide to ensure that it stays up-to-date with the latest advances. It also regularly advises other projects and is happy to pass on its experience.

IDP offers a specialised digitisation, web and image management service for the heritage sector. You can find out more here.


Database and Content Management System

In 1994 IDP started looking for relational database software which was relatively cheap, established enough so that the risks of it becoming obsolete were minimised, able to cope with a multi-lingual environment and yet powerful enough to hold and serve a large amount of data, including images. 4D was the clear choice and continues to be used by IDP. The data is mappable to XML.

The original database was designed and implemented by Michael Kaye (originally with 4D, now with FraserCRE) and Susan Whitfield (of IDP) in 1994. Both continue work on its development today. The database was redesigned in 1995, 1996 and 2005 and has grown to fit the expanding demands of IDP and its users. The current database structure is shown here (PDF 204KB). It was designed on the basis of manuscript catalogues, using existing print and digital standards, but with many more fields and much more functionality. It has provded adaptable. The structure has been suitable for including details of artefacts other than manuscripts, such as paintings, 3D objects, textiles and historical photographs, as well as archaeological sites.

From the beginning the IDP database was intended as much more than a manuscript catalogue. It was designed with three levels of use — and users — in mind: first, for use by curators, conservators and other staff in the holding institutions as a tool for managing the collections; secondly, by scholars and others wishing to consult or learn more about the collections; and thirdly, by a much broader range of users wishing to learn about the context of the finds.

In 2001–2 a Chinese version of the database was developed for use in the IDP China Centre with the help of Mark Mitchenall. He also developed a data synchronisation system for copying data between the servers in the two centres, London and Beijing.

The 2005 re-development of the database involved the use of xml based on the TEI standard for the cataloguing and bibliographical data. These are stored in 4D and accessed using a 4D XML Plug-In. Active 4D is used to serve the web site and database.


Screen shot of the IDP home page, 1999.

The IDP web site is in its third incarnation, see here for an overview. The first site, designed and implemented inhouse by Colin Chinnery using framesets in html, and by Michael Kaye using 4D and Webstar, was launched in October 1998.

In 2002 IDP started work on a multi-lingual site that went live in November in English and Chinese versions. The site was designed after concepts by Dynamic Diagrams but with the actual design and implementation (html and framesets) by Vic Swift of IDP with the database side by Michael Kaye, using 4D itself as a web server, and with Mark Mitchenall helping with the Chinese site.

Screen shot of the IDP home page, 2005.

Work started in 2005 on a complete redesign of the site to include much more functionality and data. The new site is designed and implemented by Vic Swift (with input from other members of the IDP team), in HTML, CSS and Javascript, with the database side by Michael Kaye using Active 4D as a web server. Sam van Schaik is responsible for the XML and XSLT. This site was launched in late 2005.

In late 2007 work started on implementing a personalised space and map layers for Google Earth.