Sherlock Plug-In Development



The “Search Internet” feature in the Sherlock application allows users to perform Internet searches using one or more Internet search engines. Each search engine Sherlock uses is represented by a plug-in file that describes the formats the engine expects for queries and produces in its responses. These files are stored in the Internet Search Sites folder in the System Folder.

Developers can create a new plug-in to add a search engine to Sherlock’s repertoire if they know how to interpret the HTML files which underlie search engine web pages and if they’re proficient with tools such as BBEdit, a flexible text editor available from Bare Bones Software and ResEdit, a free utility from Apple.

As a quick example, we’ll create a simple plug-in to search the Apple web site. (You can learn more by experimenting and looking at the source text for the Sherlock plug-ins in the Internet Search Sites folder. Also take a look at Technote 1141: Extending and Controlling Sherlock.)

Open the System Folder, then open the Internet Search Sites folder. Select one of the plug-in files. For this example, we’ll use the AltaVista.src file. From the File menu, choose Duplicate. Rename the AltaVista.src copy file to Apple.src. (The copy will retain the Alta Vista icons&emdash;you can remove or change them with ResEdit.)

Using a text editor such as BBEdit, open Apple.src. (To do so, select the “Any File” popup menu in the BBEdit open file dialog. These are ‘TEXT’ files, but their file types are set to ‘issp’, which Mac OS 8.5 recognizes as Sherlock plug-ins.)


This is what you’ll see

                           # © 1998 Apple Computer, Inc.
	name = "AltaVista”
	action = "" 
updateCheckDays = 3		
	method = get>
<input name="pg" value="q">
<input name="what" value="web">
<input name="fmt" value=".">
<input name="kl" value="en">
<input name="q" user>
	resultListStart="RealName (sm)"
	resultListEnd="Pages: <b>"	


Looks like HTML, doesn’t it? It’s not, but the syntax for a Sherlock search block is similar. Here is a brief explanation of the values you see (caps and lowercase do not matter).

Search blocks begin with a <SEARCH ...> tag containing a number of attributes, as described in the following table and end with a </SEARCH> tag. A typical search block describing an Internet search site contains one or more INPUT tags and an INTERPRET tag. The SEARCH block attributes describe the search site, how it is to be accessed, and where to find updates to the search plug-in file.

Search Block Attributes

Attribute Name



Name of the search plug-in.


Specifies what HTTP command to use for communications with the HTTP server. Currently, either "GET" or "POST" can be specified as the communications method.


Specifies the full URL for the search server. Any relative links in the result list will be localized using this URL.


Optional attribute specifying where to find the most recent version of the search plug-in file. If provided, the Sherlock application will periodically check this URL for changes. If the file at this URL is more recent than the one currently installed, Sherlock will prompt the user to download the new file and automatically install it. Preferrably, the file located at this address should be in BinHex format (but not otherwise compressed or encoded).


Optional attribute specifying the number of days between times when the update URL is checked for more recent versions of the search plug-in file. If this attribute is not present, the default value of 30 days is used.


Optional attribute containing text describing the search engine, its capabilities, and the content type of the search results. This text may be used for display in user interface facilities.


Optional attribute specifying an URL for an image that will be displayed in the details pane when any result from a query using this search plug-in is selected. Note: the banner properties of the INTERPRET tag will override this setting when there is a conflict.


Optional attribute specifying an URL that will be loaded when the banner image is clicked. Note: the banner properties of the INTERPRET tag will override this setting when there is a conflict.


Let’s look at an example

To begin, we’ll look at HTML source for a page containing the Find button. Here’s what we find on the Apple home page:

                           <!-- FIND FEATURE -->
<INPUT TYPE="hidden" NAME="qparser" VALUE="simple">
<INPUT TYPE="text" NAME="query" SIZE=20> 
<INPUT TYPE="submit" NAME="buttonshort" VALUE="Shortcut"> 
<INPUT TYPE="submit" NAME="buttonsearch" VALUE="Search"><BR>

This gives us the information we need to change the first section of this plug-in. We use the ACTION parameter from the Apple home page for the action parameter of the plug-in. We’ll skip the optional “update” and “updateCheckDays” lines, which tell Sherlock where and when to look for the latest version of the plug-in. Depending on what the search engine requires, the “method” line contains either “get” or “post.” In this case, we see that the Apple home page form method is POST.

Now we can modify the beginning of the file as follows:

                           # © 1998 Apple Computer, Inc.  
	name = "Apple"
	action = ""
	method = post>

The Apple home page INPUT TYPE parameters contain the information we need to feed Sherlock’s input attribute. After a bit of head-scratching and experimenting (you experiment by trying different attributes with Sherlock until you achieve success), we find that the one we want is contained in <INPUT TYPE="text" NAME="query" SIZE=20>. Now we can expand to this:

                           # © 1998 Apple Computer, Inc.  
	name = "Apple"
	action = ""
	method = post>
<input name = "query" user>

(Some search engines work differently. Read Technote 1141: Extending and Controlling Sherlock for more information. Also experiment and look carefully at the HTML and the URL the page generates when it sends a search query.)

To proceed, we need to look at the HTML source for a page with the results of a search and identify unique text that marks the beginning of the list, the end of the list and the beginning and end of each item. Search for “Java,” then look at the source for the results to find out how they are formatted. Here is a fragment of the format, showing the beginning of the list and the beginning and end of each line containing a match:

                           <H3>Page Matches</H3>
<BLOCKQUOTE>Found <B>1599</B> pages with your term in 265665 Apple web pages.
<P>Duplicates may have been removed...</BLOCKQUOTE>
<dl><dt><tt>  1. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt>  2. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt>  3. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt>  4. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt>  5. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt>  6. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt>  7. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt>  8. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt>  9. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>
<dt><tt> 10. </tt><IMG  SRC="><p><p></dd>

<H3> marks the beginning of the search results list and </dl> marks the end. Each result line begins with <tt> and ends with </dd>.


The final result

So here’s the final plug-in code:

                           # © 1998 Apple Computer, Inc. 
	name = "Apple"
	action = ""
	method = post>
<input name = "query" user>
	resultListStart = "<H3>"
	resultListEnd = "</dl>"	
	resultItemStart = "<tt>"
	resultItemEnd = "</dd>"


To add this to Sherlock, just drag it to the Internet Search Sites folder (or to the System Folder&emdash;Mac OS 8.5 will put it in the Internet Search Sites folder), then launch Sherlock and enable its checkbox.

Didn’t get it right? Rest your fingers and download
this search plug-in, with a few bonus lines added.

TeleFinder Web Server and BBS

Download TF User 5.7.2 Now!

Download TF User PC v4.11
Buy a Book!