Finding OpenSearch

Back in July at the IWMW 2008 conference — during those heady three days of summer we experienced in Aberdeen — I was introduced to a specification called OpenSearch, by someone I’d been following on Twitter who introduced himself as Mike Nolan of Edge Hill University, near Ormskirk.

What is OpenSearch?

If you use Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 then you may already have encountered OpenSearch without knowing it. You may be familiar with the built-in search box within Firefox:

Screenshot of the Firefox search box

Well, OpenSearch is the technology that enables folks to provide plugins for that search box so that you can search their website from within the comfort of your browser’s own search box.

In other words, the reason that you can select from Google, Yahoo! Amazon, Creative Commons, and Wikipedia from your search box’s drop-down menu is because each of these companies created an OpenSearch description (plugin) file which has been installed within the search box on your browser.

Create your own

OpenSearch allows you to do the same for your own website, and the good news is that it’s fabulously simple. All that is required is:

  1. A short, well-formed XML file, written following the OpenSearch specifications
  2. A link to that file, within the <head> element of your webpage

This week I created three opensearch plugins for the University website. One for searching the whole site, one for searching the Current Students section, and another for the Current Staff section of the site.

If you’re using either Firefox or IE7 then head over to and you’ll notice that your search box glows a little, indicating the presence of a new OpenSearch plugin. (Check out Edge Hill while you’re at it, they’ve got one too.)

OpenSearch cheat sheet

While I was researching the OpenSearch specification I also took the trouble to create an OpenSearch cheat sheet — it’s spread over 2 x A4 pages, and the type is fabulously small, but it captures just about everything that I discovered was useful for me to successfully create and test the OpenSearch description documents that I created.

Feel free to download it:

  • OpenSearch cheat sheet 1.5 (PDF, 50 KB)

Scottish Web Folk

Tomorrow I’m giving a short presentation at the Scottish Web Folk meeting in Glasgow on OpenSearch, Microformats and adding search box hint text using the jQuery library.

My slides for the talk are embedded at the top of the page, and are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 UK:Scotland Licence.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

One thought on “Finding OpenSearch”

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