JavaServer Pages for Web-based Online Help

Welcome to one of the best sources for information, training, tools, and code samples to help technical writers to implement JavaServer Pages (JSP) technology in online help. If you haven't yet, please read the overview of what JSP can do for your online documentation.

The first section of this site has an order for you to go through. Feel free to jump around if you are already familiar with JSP, or if you are interested in a specific aspect of the technology. Otherwise, read the sections in the order they're provided, and you should find learning how to implement this technology in your online help easier.

Step One

Once you have read the overview of how you can use JSP to enhance your online help, read the more detailed explanation of JSP. This goes into the details of what JSP is, how it works, and how you can leverage its capabilities in your online help.

Step Two

Read the tutorial that guides you in setting up a JSP environment on your Windows machine. One of the best parts of JavaServer Page technology is that you can set up the whole thing on your machine for free. The Tomcat server is completely free, and is frequently updated. The Java Software Developer's Kit (SDK) from Sun is also free. You can use your preferred HTML editor to create JSP pages (as long as it isn't one of those that “fixes” your code when you aren't looking, as earlier versions of RoboHELP HTML edition used to do and current versions of FrontPage still do).

Step Three

Once you have your environment set up, read about how to create your first JSP page. This section shows you some practical uses for JSP within your online help.

Step Four

Next, read about JSP tag libraries. Tag libraries are what make JSP a wonderful tool for enhancing your online help. It is possible for only one writer on your team to understand the nitty-gritty of JSP, because that person can create tag libraries for everyone else to use. Teaching writers how to use a JSP tag library is much simpler than teaching the JSP technology. And the person who understands how to set up JSP doesn't need to be a programmer!


If you have read all of the preceding sections, you know enough now to skip around in this and following sections, to read the sections that interest you.

Tag Builder

Once you have read about tag libraries and understand them, it is likely that you want to try creating one. Rather than requiring you to create your very first tag library from scratch, though, you can instead use this site's Tag Builder. This utility will take a bit of information from you as to what you want to do with the tag library, and it will automatically create the source code for you to compile on your machine. It also provides step-by-step information about what settings you need to modify for your Tomcat web server to recognize the tag library. Then, it provides some sample code using the tag library you generated, so you can easily copy and paste between this web site and your own content.

Interacting with databases

JavaServer Pages can interact with databases, inserting records with data that your users provide, pulling data from the database to display it for your users, and so on.

The database overview takes you through the process of setting up your local machine to use the JDBC-ODBC bridge provided by Sun. This driver allows you to access any ODBC-compliant database with a JDBC connection.

The section provides a Microsoft Access database and sample JSP files that enable you to interact with the database on your machine.

You can view the source code for the provided JSP files to get acquainted with how database access is handled inside of JSP pages.

Adding Forms to Your Online Help

You can do a lot with forms in your online help. For example, you can

  • collect audience analysis-type information

  • collect feedback your readers as they are reading your content

  • customize the content based on the user profile (based on the department they work in, the modules they use, the security clearance they have, and so on).

This site:

You can also create a tag library that would allow you to easily put standard forms in selected or all online help topics. To see an example of how easy it would be to include a form in a page if the form was contained in a tag library, read about the Form Tag Library that I wrote.

Selling JSP to Your Manager or Company

Most of us technical writers deal with it...selling a new technology to the boss. But, selling JSP can be much easier than selling something that requires a large monetary expenditure. I wrote up a paper selling the concept to the management of a former employer. Please feel free to copy the paper I wrote, and modify it for your needs.

More Resources

As JSP evolves and grows, more and more resources become available to the JSP developer. Here is a list of the resources that you will likely find the most helpful in generating JSP for your online help projects.

Advanced Tag Library Modules

I have written some more-advanced tag library components. These took a bit longer to create than simple show-or-don't-show components (like those that the Tag Builder creates), and incorporate a fair amount of Java code. If you have a fair grasp of Java, you can probably create these same modules on your own. However, if you see the value in buying components instead of re-inventing them, you may consider purchasing one of these modules.

Note: This site is currently under construction (what web site isn't?). There are some links that point to some empty topics. These will be filled in as soon as possible. Feel free to email me if you want to be informed when the site is updated.

Page last modified 06/14/2002