How "plugins" work

(Sidebar to the article Using molecular modelling tools in e-learning)

Modelling Plug in 1

When your web browser displays a "normal" 2D image - such as the JPEG file which you can see to the left of this paragraph - the reason that we can see the image is because the web browser "knows" how to present this kind of file on-screen. It loads the data in the file, and turns that data into the pattern of coloured points which we see as a picture.

If the data is a more complicated or obscure type, the chances are high that the web browser doesn't know how to present it. This is where a "plugin" comes in.

If we browse to a webpage that embeds a file containing (for example) molecular data, then the data is loaded in exactly the same way as an image is loaded, except that your browser actually has no idea how to convert the data into something visible! So instead of handling the data itself, the web browser summons a "plugin" - a little program which the browser knows can interpret certain types of data - and the plugin takes on the job of handling the data and displaying the results in the allocated area on the webpage.

The following diagram depicts this process:

Modelling plugin 2
 

This principle applies to all kinds of different media you might encounter on the internet, including audio files, "applets" (little programs - simple games, for example), and various types of scientific data.

The plugin required to view the molecular structures displayed in my article is called Chime. You can download Chime for free, although the company requires you to register your details with them in order to do so.

Back to the main article: Using molecular modelling tools in e-learning