MediaWiki explained

For other uses see MediaWiki (disambiguation).

Developer:Wikimedia Foundation,
Brion Vibber (release manager)
Released:25 January 2002
Frequently Updated:yes
Programming Language:PHP
Operating System:Cross-platform
Language:over 200 languages
License:GNU General Public License

MediaWiki is a web-based wiki software application used by all projects of the Wikimedia Foundation, all wikis hosted by Wikia, and many other wikis, including some of the largest and most popular ones.[1] Originally developed to serve the needs of the free content Wikipedia encyclopedia, today it has also been deployed by companies for internal knowledge management, and as a content management system. Notably, Novell uses it to operate several of its high traffic websites.[2]

MediaWiki is written in the PHP programming language, and can use either the MySQL or PostgreSQL relational database management system. MediaWiki is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License while its documentation is released under the GFDL and partly in the public domain, making it free and open source software.


See main article: MediaWiki release history. The current software was originally written for Wikipedia by Lee Daniel Crocker, based on the user interface design of Magnus Manske, a developer and student of the University of Cologne. Wikipedia had originally used a small wiki engine called UseModWiki written in Perl. Wikipedia was later switched to Manske's PHP-based software to offer more functionality.

Increasing usage caused load problems, leading Crocker to re-write the software with a more scalable MySQL database backend. Later, Brion Vibber, the Chief Technical Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation[3] took up the role of release manager and most active developer.[4] [5]

Since the release of the first version of Manske's script, the software had been given multiple nicknames representing the state of development—"the PHP script," "phase II," "phase III," "the new codebase"—but no product name. After the Wikimedia Foundation was announced on June 20 2003, the name "MediaWiki" was coined by Wikipedia contributor Daniel Mayer as a play on "Wikimedia,"[6] and the name was gradually phased in beginning in August 2003. The name has frequently caused confusion due to its intentional similarity to the "Wikimedia" name (which itself is similar to "Wikipedia").

The product logo was created by Erik Moeller using a flower photograph taken by Florence Nibart-Devouard, and was originally submitted to an international logo contest for a new Wikipedia logo held in summer 2003.[7] The logo came in third place, and was chosen to represent MediaWiki instead of Wikipedia, with the second place logo used for the Wikimedia Foundation.[8] The double square brackets around the photo of a sunflower symbolize the syntax MediaWiki uses for creating hyperlinks to other wiki pages.

Key features

MediaWiki provides a rich core feature set and a mechanism to attach extensions to provide additional functionality

Due to the strong emphasis on multilingualism in the Wikimedia projects, internationalization and localization has received significant attention by developers. The user interface has been fully or partially translated into more than 100 languages,[9] and can be further customized by site administrators (the entire interface is editable through the wiki).

Because Wikipedia is one of the world's largest websites, achieving scalability through multiple layers of caching and database replication has also been a major concern for developers. Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects continue to define a large part of the requirement set for MediaWiki.

One of the earliest differences between MediaWiki (and its predecessor, UseModWiki) and other wiki engines was the use of "free links" instead of CamelCase. Where, in a typical wiki, text like "WorldWideWeb" would have to be typed to create a link to a page about the World Wide Web, links in MediaWiki are created by surrounding words with double square brackets, and any spaces between them are left intact, e.g. [[World Wide Web]]. This change was logical for the purpose of creating an encyclopedia, where accuracy in titles is very important.

To make editing long pages such as comprehensive Wikipedia articles easier, MediaWiki allows the editing of a subsection of a page (as identified by its header).

Rich content

MediaWiki supports rich content generated through specialized syntax. For example, the software comes with support for rendering mathematical formulas using LaTeX and a special parser written in OCaml. Similar functionality for other content, ranging from graphical timelines over mathematical plotting and musical scores to Egyptian hieroglyphs, is available in the form of extensions and also aesthetic sense has improved considerably.

As the name MediaWiki suggests, the software has become ever more powerful at dealing with a wide variety of uploaded media files. Its richest functionality is in the area of images, where image galleries and thumbnails can be generated with relative ease. There is also support for Exif metadata. The use of MediaWiki to operate the Wikimedia Commons, one of the largest free content media archives, has driven the need for further functionality in this area.

MediaWiki currently provides no native WYSIWYG support, though it does come with a graphical toolbar for simplifying the process of learning the wiki syntax. Wikia, though, has developed an extension that uses a modified version of the popular FCKeditor to edit wiki code graphically. MediaWiki also has a simple interface to allow the transparent use of external editors for uploaded files and wiki pages.


MediaWiki provides many features beyond hyperlinks for structuring content. One of the earliest features is namespaces. One of Wikipedia's earliest problems had been the separation of encyclopedic content from pages pertaining to maintenance and communal discussion, as well as personal pages about encyclopedia editors. Namespaces are prefixes before a page title (such as "User:" or "Talk:") that serve as descriptors for the page's purpose and allow multiple pages with different functions to exist under the same title. For instance, a page titled "<nowiki>[[The Terminator]]</nowiki>", in the default namespace, could describe the 1984 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, while a page titled "<nowiki>[[User:The Terminator]]</nowiki>" could be a profile describing a user who chooses this name as a pseudonym. More commonly, each page and each namespace has an associated "Talk:" page which can be used to discuss its contents, such as "User talk:" or "Template talk:".

Namespaces can be viewed as folders which separate different basic types of information or functionality. Custom namespaces can be added by the site administrators. There are 16 namespaces by default for content, with 2 "pseudo-namespaces" used for dynamically generated "Special:" pages and links to media files.

In addition to namespaces, content can be ordered using subpages. This simple feature provides automatic breadcrumbs from a page of the pattern <nowiki>[[Page title/Subpage title]]</nowiki> to the component before the slash (in this case, "Page title").


If the feature is enabled, users can customize their stylesheets and configure client-side JavaScript to be executed with every pageview. On Wikipedia, this has led to a large number of additional tools and helpers developed through the wiki and shared among users. For instance, Lupin's navigation popups is a custom JavaScript tool that shows previews of articles when the user hovers over links, and also provides shortcuts for common maintenance tasks.[10] Another example is wikEd, a full-featured MediaWiki-integrated text editor that provides syntax highlighting and search and replace functions.[11]

The entire MediaWiki user interface can be edited through the wiki itself by users with the necessary permissions (typically so-called "administrators"). This is done through a special namespace with the prefix "MediaWiki:", where each page title identifies a particular user interface message. The "MediaWiki:" namespace was also originally used for creating custom text blocks that could then be dynamically loaded into other pages using a special syntax. This content was later moved into its own namespace, "Template:".

Templates are text blocks which can be dynamically loaded inside another page whenever that page is requested. The template "tag" is simply a special link in double curly brackets (for example "{{Disputed|date=October 2008}}") which calls the template (in this case located at) to load where the tag is.Templates support parameters, so that parts of the text can be substituted for each specific use case. A related method, called template substitution (called by adding subst: at the beginning of a template tag) inserts (like a copy and paste operation) the contents of the template into the target page, instead of loading the template contents dynamically whenever the page is loaded. This limits the consistency of using templates, but may be useful in certain cases, and is (perhaps) less demanding on the server.

Templates have found many different uses, such as:

MediaWiki has the user interface in different languages. A language for the wiki content itself can also be set, to be sent in the "Content-Language" HTTP header and "lang" HTML attribute.

The MediaWiki codebase contains various "hooks" using callback functions to add additional code in an extensible way. This allows developers to write extensions without modifying the core or having to submit their code for review. Installing an extension typically consists of adding a line to the configuration file, though in some cases additional changes such as database updates are required.


Bugs in the MediaWiki software can arise for a variety of reasons, including developmental oversight and unforeseen changes as the result of new releases. These bugs are reported to [], a Bugzilla (alternatively known as Mediazilla) bug tracker project for Wikimedia founded in August 2004, where they are assigned a bug number and later resolved by MediaWiki developers. Minor feature requests and enhancements to the software are also requested on


MediaWiki can be made more advanced and useful for various purposes through its extensions. Many of the available extensions are simple scripts to allow embedding content such as Adobe Flash files or HTML forms. Others add complex new behavior to the wiki syntax, such as Semantic MediaWiki which provides the ability to add structured and searchable relations and attributes to wiki pages (cf. semantic web). Examples of extensions that could improve a wiki are:

The Wikimedia Foundation operates a Subversion server where many extensions are hosted, and a directory of them can be found on the MediaWiki website. Some other sites also are known for development of - or support for extensions:

Access and groups

While MediaWiki comes with a basic set of features related to restricting access and defining user groups, page access control does not tend to be given high priority in development. For instance, it is extremely difficult to create a wiki where only certain users can read and access some pages. Here, wiki engines like TWiki, MoinMoin and WikkaWiki provide more flexibility by supporting advanced security mechanisms like Access Control Lists.


Because it is used to run one of the highest traffic sites on the Internet, Wikipedia, MediaWiki performance and scalability have been highly optimized. MediaWiki supports Squid caches, load-balanced database replication, client-side caching, memcached or table-based caching for frequently accessed processing of query results, a simple static file cache, feature-reduced operation, revision compression, and a job queue for database operations..

The software is suitable for the operation of large scale wiki farms such as Wikimedia, which has about 750 wikis as of December 2007. However, MediaWiki comes with no built-in functionality to manage such installations.


Aside from the aforementioned lack of WYSIWYG features, user documentation is found online only (there is no printed manual).

The parser serves as the de facto standard for the MediaWiki syntax as no formal syntax has been defined. Since the syntax has no formal definition (e.g., in Extended Backus–Naur form (EBNF)) there is an inherent difficulty in creating a WYSIWYG editor or complete porting of the syntax to another language. Work is in progress to formalise the grammar in ANTLR.[12] [13]

Furthermore, there is no offline version of MediaWiki, which would enable users to update pages on their client offline, and then have those pages automatically transferred to the server when re-connected, in a similar way to the client-server operation of Lotus Notes. An offline MediaWiki client could also help users with the back-up of important pages. But, this could conflict with other user's edits, so this feature may be unrealistic.

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. Web site: WikiStats by S23 - List of largest wikis.
  2. e.g.: ; ;
  3. Book: Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. David Weinberger. 2007. Times Books. 0805080430. 99.
  4. Web site: MediaWiki history. 2007-07-19. MediaWiki website.
  5. Web site: Wikipedia and MediaWiki. 2008-01-30. Presentation MediaWiki development (video).
  6. Web site: Phase IV, and (was Wikis and uniformity). Mayer. Daniel. Wikipedia-L mailing list archives.
  7. Web site: International logo contest/results. Wikimedia contributors. Meta-wiki. Wikimedia Foundation. 2007-01-10. 2007-03-14.
  8. Web site: Wikimedia contributors. Historical/Logo history. Wikimedia Foundation. 2007-01-17. 2007-03-14. Meta-wiki.
  9. See also: Translation statistics and Multilingual MediaWiki.
  10. Web site: Wikipedia:Tools/Navigation popups. "Lupin".
  11. Web site: wikEd. "Cacycle".
  12. Wikitext-L mailing list
  13. Markup spec project