Boilerplate is any text that is or can be reused in new contexts or applications without being greatly changed from the original.
"Boiler plate" originally referred to the sheet steel used to make boilers.
The analogy between the curved steel used to make water boilers and curved metal used to print prepared text was based both on the curved shape of the plate and to the fact that it had been prepared elsewhere before being incorporated into a downstream producer’s finished product. In 1900, an Appellate Division court in New York explained that boilermakers commonly purchased the sheets of steel required to manufacture boilers already molded in the shape of a boiler:
Whoever creates a useful thing by mechanical labor is entitled usually to be called a manufacturer. The fact that he purchases rather than makes some of the parts does not destroy that character. A boilermaker is a manufacturer, although he purchases the boiler plates rolled into form, and purchases also the tubes and the rivets. So with the cabinetmaker, who buys the wood he uses in polished form or carved, and buys the cloth, hair and leather he uses. No manufacturer of the finished product in this age works up the raw material. That is done by specialists all along the line. The practical manufacturer assembles the material he needs from all quarters in its most finished condition and does the rest himself.
In the field of printing, the term dates back to the early 1900s. From the 1890s onwards, printing plates of text for widespread reproduction such as advertisements or syndicated columns were cast or stamped in steel (instead of the much softer and less durable lead alloys used otherwise) ready for the printing press and distributed to newspapers around the United States. By analogy, they came to be known as 'boilerplates'. Until the 1950s, thousands of newspapers received and used this kind of boilerplate from the nation's largest supplier, the Western Newspaper Union. An example of this kind of publication is the Chicago Ledger.
Some companies also sent out press releases as boilerplate so that they had to be printed as written. The modern equivalent is the press release boilerplate, or "boiler," a paragraph or two that describes the company and its products.
In contract law, the term "boilerplate language" describes the parts of a contract that are considered standard.
Boilerplate language may also exist in pre-created form letters on the Internet for such things as issues to be broached by a politician based on an issue ad, requests that a cable or satellite operator add a cable network to a system, pre-written complaints about a product that is opposed by groups that create such letters, or online petitions. The person requesting the action usually only needs to type or sign his or her name at the end of the pre-written greeting and body.
In computer programming, boilerplate is the sections of code that have to be included in many places with little or no alteration. Such boilerplate is particularly salient when the programmer must include a lot of code for minimal functionality. The need for boilerplate can be reduced through high-level mechanisms.
A related phenomenon, bookkeeping code, is code that is not part of the business logic but is interleaved with it in order to keep data structures updated or able to handle secondary aspects of the program.
- Library (computer science)
- Template processors are used to generate boilerplate text automatically
- "boiler plate", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition (online).(subscription required)
- People ex rel. L. E. Waterman Co. v. Morgan, 48 A.D. 395, 399 (N.Y. App. Div. 1900)
- Mott, Frank Luther (1957). A History of American Magazines, v.4. Cambridge(MA): The Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press. pp. 53–54.