Sunday, May 03, 2009

Down the memory lane (Family of students)

This was my BIT final semester project. I am happy to say that it used a REST like mechanism for transferring data between cooperating universities (well, this was back in the year 2001). I invented MAD-XML (Mayank’s Academic Data Exchange Markup Language) for transfering information between different parties. I was heavily inspired by W3C Web Service standards and was closely following Web service draft reports being published by W3C. This project also exposed an API (similar to the ones now exposed by Facebook, Cozi, etc) to allow universities to query each other’s servers. Here’s the text from the project report:

"The project aims at developing a unified academic data exchange framework. The idea is to allow students to access the vast pool of academic talent from a single point. It will also enable a registered student to access his academic records, notes, assignments, calendar, etc. irrespective of which university/institute he is enrolled with. The project allows a university to register with it. Once a university is registered, it gets access to a tremendous amount of data shared by all other universities. In response, the university promises to share its data pool. This allows a student sitting in any corner of the world to access resources and knowledge shared by, possibly, all the universities of the world. This framework will also make use of the existing infrastructure so that a minimal amount of rework is required from the university. Once the system is up and running, there are variant possibilities. A registered student will be able to manage his records, as well as share experiences and knowledge, and get guidance from others. The system is also extensible as it can be easily extended to provide new services.

I hope this academic revolution will strengthen concrescence amongst students as we move forward in developing this little planet (our beloved Earth), and making it a better place to live in."

Here is a screenshot of the opening page:


With the rapid development of science and technology, the advancement in communication, and elimination of distance, it is now possible to instantly share our knowledge, talent and resources with anyone connected to this vast and ever expanding network. This network of computers should now be transformed into the network of people. A network that will bring a feeling of togetherness, a network that will allow people to communicate for social development, a network that lets people share their expertise. And what better place could it be to sow the seed directly into the people who will collaborate in the future for an ignited and a prosperous world.

"The Family of Students" is an endeavor in this direction. This effort when successful will lead to an ambience of cooperation and goodwill. Everyone will be benefited with the knowledge, talent, and resource pool provided in this harmonizing environment. This will lead to the cultivation of team sprit among the people. A culture, which should be the way of life. "The Family of Students", as the name suggests, tries to instill this culture into the students.

The project aims at serving all academic needs of a student. A student can register himself with the site only if he is enrolled with a university that is a member of the site. Once a student is registered with us, he has the following worlds open to him:

  1. ODD Service: The Online Dictionary Database Service. This service allows the user to upload words and meanings to the server, or share from the existing pool. In the process student improves his vocabulary. Currently the system will provide support of English language only. The ODD Service is intelligent and hence aware of human's learning process. So it follows the iterative process of leaning and revising.
  2. University Notes Service: This comprises of all the notes released by a university. All the students have access to the notes provided by a university.

  3. myNotes: This allows the user to upload his notes to the server. The notes are embedded within the "MAD-XML's Notes language" and hence are available for exchange with other servers and services. A student may share his notes, or decide not to share. However, students are encouraged to share their notes.

  4. Academic Calendar Service: This service is meant to be provided by the universities to its student. It contains complete information about the events, holidays, exams dates, etc.

  5. myCalendar: It is a student calendar information holder, which among other things will also reflect and complement Academic Calendar Service.

  6. Assignment Service: This contains the assignment given by a university for various courses it offers. A student has access to all the assignments provided by a university.

  7. myAssignments: A student can store his assignments using this service. Various features will enable him to submit his assignments to the university, and possibly, in future, a software will check and award marks.

  8. Academic Directory Service: This gives information about all the universities registered with the site. Also provide a search engine to search universities by their rank and location.

  9. Marks Announcement Service: This service provides the marks announced by the university for any of its courses.

  10. Admission Announcement Service: This gives a vast amount of information to the students about any admission notification released by the university. It also provides a search engine wherein a student can get a list of universities offering his desired course.

  11. myBookmarks: This facility allows the user to bookmark important information like URL address, books, places, universities, etc.

  12. myReminders: This service works in coordination with the myCalendar and Calendar Service to remind students of any upcoming event.


"The Family of Students" provides a framework that consists of a request-response cycle in the form of question and answer session. The "The Family of Students" server acts as a middleman between the student and the vast number of universities. A student submits his query to this server that it processes and a request is sent to various universities for information. Universities are required to comply with the interface, so that the two servers can understand each other and communicate in harmony.

All the files and services provided are prefixed with either a 'g' or 'l' to indicate their respective locations. 'g' stands for 'global' and specifies that the page is located at "The Family of Students" server. 'l' stands for 'local' and specifies that the page is located at a local server, i.e. a university server.

For example Authenticator.html is an HMTL page provided to the users to enter their credentials, which are submitted to the in turn request the university server for a page names to perform authentication.

MAD-XML: In order to accomplish all the services and features listed above, the project makes extensive use of the MAD-XML (Mayank's Academic Data Exchange Markup Language). This is a question and answer type language.

This is then transferred to the university server in a secure mode. The university server is expected to read the data, and provide an answer to our server.

Similarly various document type definitions (doctypes) have been developed for each service after extensive thought and with a view to allow further expansion. Doctypes are either prefixed with either a 'q' or an 'a' to mean a 'question' or an 'answer' respectively.


The project makes extensive use of the object-oriented paradigm. This enables organized structure of the program along with high possibilities of code reuse. Following modules are provides:

  1. Authenticator: to perform authentication
  2. Validator: to validate the user-data for its integrity, and to block any attempt for hacking.
  3. Odd: top level module to provide ODD Service
  4. UniversityNotesService: top level module to provide university notes service
  5. myNotes: top level module to allow management of student's personal notes
  6. AcademicCalenderService: top level module to provide Academic Calender Service
  7. myCalender: top level module to allow management of student's personal calender
  8. AssignementService: top level module to provide Assignement Service
  9. myAssignment: top level module to allow management of student's assignment
  10. AcademicDirectoryService: top level module to provide Academic Directory Service
  11. MarksAnnouncementService: top level module to provide Marks Announcement Service
  12. AdmissionAnnouncementService: top level module to provide Admission Announcement Service
  13. myBookMarks: top level module to allow management of student's bookmarks
  14. myReminders: top level module to allow management of student's reminders

In addition to these modules, the tfs also provides two more modules. These are:

  1. MjSession: This module is responsible for the managing client's state and is used extensively throughout the project.
  2. MjCommunicator: This module is the back-bone of "tfs". This module is used to establish connection with the remote university server, fetch data, parse data, and then feed it to the local programs.

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