One of the subjects which I have written a Blog-page about, concerns How antiquated ideas in Web-design, may still affect how well readers can appreciate the Web. What that page outlined, was the fact that Web-links – aka hyperlinks – can have an arbitrary appearance in a browser-window, which some readers might not recognize. And I suggested that this would mainly be due to the application of Cascading Style Sheets – aka Styles. Well even though that page did not go into this question further, I’m aware that other means have existed, by which Web-authors can change the colors of hyperlinks. Many moons ago, this would have been done with simpler HTML Tags, the use of which has become deprecated, in favor of using Styles. But I felt that I should point out another way, in which the appearance of hyperlinks is decided, which many readers have run in to before, but of which some readers may not have been conscious. And this would be, in the form of ‘Gopher Holes’ .
Gopher Holes existed in the early Web, as an alternative to hyperlinks specified within HTML Files, and they still exist today. But to understand where and when Gopher Holes will exist today, the reader will need to put himself or herself into the perspective of a Web-author.
One of the historic, basic ways in which Web-sites were once organized, was into folders that exist on the server, which have sub-folders, but which also contain files. The way modern, sophisticated Web-servers are configured, any such folder will have one out of a list of file-names, that act as the default page-name for the folder, and which may be such file-names as ‘index.html’ or ‘index.php’ … When the server receives a request to deliver a folder from the browser, defined by a Folder-URL, for which there is an actual folder on the server, what the server will do first, is to look in that folder, for a file which has been defined with one of the default file-names. If that file is present, then the server will return whatever that file tells it to do – in cases where the file-name actually specifies A CGI Script – And such a file then also acts as a non-default index for the folder. But if none of the defined file-names actually occur in the folder, then what this system falls back to, is serving up the folder as a Gopher Hole, which can also be thought of as a more basic index of any folder. And the way such an index appears in the browser, is then defined entirely by the browser:
The default appearance is, a list of sub-folders, followed by a list of file-names, all presented as hyperlinks.
The way in which this seems to fly in the face of what I wrote before, is in the fact that nobody got the chance to specify a CSS-File, for which reason the appearance of these URLs cannot be determined on the side of the server.
(Edit 12/23/2018, 13h50 :
Therefore, examples still exist on the Web today, which may lead readers to think, that hyperlinks will always have a uniform, old-fashioned appearance, without the readers realizing that they are looking at a Gopher Hole. And in this one case, the appearance is, blue underlined text for unvisited links, purple underlined text for previously-visited links, and red underlined text, for currently-activated links. The familiarity of the style in which these links are displayed by the browser can mislead readers. )
But then, such an example also serves as a hint to Web-authors, as to how they can prevent any one of their folders from becoming a Gopher Hole, which is to make sure that each and every folder on their server, actually does possess a file by the name of one of the default file-names, to act as a managed, explicit index.
The only valid reason why some folders may still appear as Gopher Holes, is the possibility that the Web-author may want readers to be able to download files, but where there was never a need for the appearance of the page to be controlled, by the author.