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File:Transclusion simple.svg
In this example, the data of file B is transcluded into the document A.

In computer science, transclusion is the inclusion of part or all of an electronic document into one or more other documents by reference.

For example, an article giving an overview of a country might include a chart (or paragraph, image, or another type of data) describing that country's agricultural exports; that chart could be from a different article about agriculture in general, with sub-sections about agriculture in different countries. Rather than copying the included data and storing it in two places, a transclusion enables modular design, by allowing the data to be stored only once (and perhaps corrected and updated if the link type supports doing so) and to be viewed in different contexts. The reference also serves to link both articles.

Transclusion is usually performed on demand at the time one document referencing another is opened, and is normally automatic and transparent to the end user. The result appears to be a single integrated document, even though its parts were assembled on-the-fly from several separate documents which may have come from different computers located in different places.

The term was coined by hypertext pioneer Ted Nelson in 1963.

Technical considerations

Context neutrality

Transclusion works better when transcluded sections of text are self-contained, so that the meaning and validity of the text is independent of the context in which it appears. For example, formulations like "as explained in the previous section" are problematic, because the transcluded section may appear in a different context, causing confusion. What constitutes "context neutral" text varies, but often includes things like company information or boilerplate.


Under some circumstances, and in some technical contexts, transcluded sections of text may not require strict adherence to the "context neutrality" principle, because the transcluded sections are capable of parameterization. Parameterization implies the ability to modify certain portions or subsections of a transcluded text depending on exogenous variables that can be changed independently. This is customarily done by supplying a transcluded text with one or more substitution placeholders. These placeholders are then replaced with the corresponding variable values prior to rendering the final transcluded output in context.

History and implementation by Project Xanadu

Ted Nelson (who had also originated the words "hypertext" and "hypermedia") coined the term "transclusion" in his 1982 book, Literary Machines. Part of his proposal was the idea that micropayments could be automatically exacted from the reader for all the text, no matter how many snippets of content are taken from various places.

However, according to Nelson, the concept of transclusion had already formed part of his 1965 description[1] of hypertext; Nelson defines transclusion as "the same content knowably in more than one place", setting it apart from more special cases such as the inclusion of content stored in a different location (which he calls "transdelivery") or "explicit quotation which remains connected to its origins" (which he calls "transquotation").

Some hypertext systems, including Ted Nelson's own Xanadu Project, support transclusion.

Nelson has delivered a demonstration of Web transclusion, the Little Transquoter (programmed to Nelson's specification by Andrew Pam in 2004-2005).[2] It creates a new format built on portion addresses from Web pages; when dereferenced, each portion on the resulting page remains click-connected to its original context.

Implementation on the Web

HTTP, as a transmission protocol, has rudimentary support for transclusion via byte serving (specifying a byte range in an HTTP request message).

Transclusion can occur either before (server-side) or after (client-side) transmission. For example:

  • An HTML document may be pre-composed by the server before delivery to the client using Server-Side Includes or another server-side application.
  • XML Entities or HTML Objects may be parsed by the client, which then requests the corresponding resources separately from the main document.
  • A web browser may cache elements using its own algorithms, which can operate without explicit directives in the document's markup.
  • AngularJS employs transclusion for nested directive operation.

Publishers of web content may object to the transclusion of material from their own web sites into other web sites, or they may require an agreement to do so. Critics of the practice may refer to various forms of inline linking as bandwidth theft or leeching.

Other publishers may seek specifically to have their materials transcluded into other web sites, as in the form of web advertising, or as widgets like a hit counter or web bug.

Mashups make use of transclusion to assemble resources or data into a new application, as by placing geo-tagged photos on an interactive map, or by displaying business metrics in an interactive dashboard.

Client-side HTML

HTML defines elements for client-side transclusion of images, scripts, stylesheets, other documents, and other types of media. HTML has traditionally relied heavily on client-side transclusion from the earliest days of the Web (which in turn allowed web pages to be displayed more quickly before multimedia elements had finished loading), rather than embedding the raw data for such objects inline into a web page's markup.

Through techniques such as Ajax, scripts associated with an HTML document can instruct a web browser to modify the document in-place, as opposed to the earlier technique of having to pull an entirely new version of the page from the web server. Such scripts may transclude elements or documents from a server after the web browser has rendered the page, in response to user input or changing conditions, for example.

Future versions of HTML may support deeper transclusion of portions of documents using XML technologies such as entities, XPointer document referencing, and XSLT manipulations. (XPointer is patent-encumbered.[3])

An interesting use of Transclusion is found in the single-page application TiddlyWiki,

Proxy servers may employ transclusion to reduce redundant transmissions of commonly-requested resources.

A popular Front End Framework known as AngularJS developed and maintained by Google has a directive callend ng-transclude that marks the insertion point for the transcluded DOM of the nearest parent directive that uses transclusion.

Server-side transclusion

Transclusion can be accomplished on the server side, as through Server Side Includes and markup entity references resolved by the server software. It is a feature of substitution templates.

Transclusion of source code

The transclusion of source code into software design or reference materials allows the source code to be presented within the document, but not interpreted as part of the document, preserving the semantic consistency of the inserted code in relation to its source codebase.

See also


  1. ngTransclude
  1. Theodor H. Nelson, "A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Indeterminate." Proceedings of the ACM 20th National Conference (1965), pp. 84-100
  2. The Little Transquoter

Further reading

External links