LinkGate: Let’s build a scalable visualization tool for web archive research

By Youssef Eldakar of Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Lana Alsabbagh of the National Library of New Zealand

Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) and the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) are working together to bring to the web archiving community a tool for scalable web archive visualization: LinkGate. The project was awarded funding by the IIPC for the year 2020. This blog post gives a detailed overview of the work that has been done so far and outlines what lies ahead.


In all domains of science, visualization is essential for deriving meaning from data. In web archiving, data is linked data that may be visualized as graph with web resources as nodes and outlinks as edges.

This phase of the project aims to deliver the core functionality of a scalable web archive visualization environment consisting of a Link Service (link-serv), Link Indexer (link-indexer), and Link Visualizer (link-viz) components as well as to document potential research use cases within the domain of web archiving for future development.

The following illustrates data flow for LinkGate in the web archiving ecosystem, where a web crawler archives captured web resources into WARC/ARC files that are then checked into storage, metadata is extracted from WARC/ARC files into WAT files, link-indexer extracts outlink data from WAT files and inserts it into link-serv, which then serves graph data to link-viz for rendering as the user navigates the graph representation of the web archive:

LinkGate: data flow

In what follows, we look at development by Bibliotheca Alexandrina to get each of the project’s three main components, Link Service, Link Indexer and Link Visualizer, off the ground. We also discuss the outreach part of the project, coordinated  by the National Library of New Zealand, which involves gathering researcher input and putting together an inventory of use cases.

Please watch the project’s code repositories on GitHub for commits following a code review later this month:

Please see also the Research Use Cases for Web Archive Visualization wiki.

Link Service

link-serv is the Link Service that provides an API for inserting web archive interlinking data into a data store and for retrieving back that data for rendering and navigation.
We worked on the following:

  • Data store scalability
  • Data schema
  • API definition and and Gephi compatibility
  • Initial implementation

Data store scalability

link-serv depends on an underlying graph database as repository for web resources as nodes and outlinks as relationships. Building upon BA’s previous experience with graph databases in the Encyclopedia of Life project, we worked on adapting the Neo4j graph database for versioned web archive data. Scalability being a key interest, we ran a benchmark of Neo4j on Intel Xeon E5-2630 v3 hardware using a generated test dataset and examined bottlenecks to tune performance. In the benchmark, over a series of progressions, a total of 15 billion nodes and 34 billion relationships were loaded into Neo4j, and matching and updating performance was tested. And while time to insert nodes into the database for the larger progressions was in hours or even days, match and update times in all progressions after a database index was added, remained in seconds, ranging from 0.01 to 25 seconds for nodes, with 85% of cases remaining below 7 seconds and 0.5 to 34 seconds for relationships, with 67% of cases remaining below 9 seconds. Considering the results promising, we hope that tuning work during the coming months will lead to more desirable performance. Further testing is underway using a second set of generated relationships to more realistically simulate web links.

We ruled out Virtuoso, 4store, and OrientDB as graph data store options for being less suitable for the purposes of this project. A more recent alternative, ArangoDB, is currently being looked into and is also showing promising initial results, and we are leaving open the possibility of additionally supporting it as an option for the graph data store in link-serv.

Data schema

To represent web archive data in the graph data store, we designed a schema with the goals of supporting time-versioned interlinked web resources and being friendly to search using the Cypher Query Language. The schema defines Node and VersionNode as node types and HAS_VERSION and LINKED_TO as relationship types linking a Node to a descendant VersionNode and a VersionNode to a hyperlinked Node, respectively. A Node has the URI of the resource as attribute in Sort-friendly URI Reordering Transform (SURT), and a VersionNode has the ISO 8601 timestamp of the version as attribute. The following illustrates the schema:

LinkGate: data scheuma

API definition and Gephi compatibility

link-serv is to receive data extracted by link-indexer from a web archive and respond to queries by link-viz as the graph representation of web resources is navigated. At this point, 2 API operations were defined for this interfacing: updateGraph and getGraph. updateGraph is to be invoked by link-indexer and takes as input a JSON representation of outlinks to be loaded into the data store. getGraph, on the other hand, is to be invoked by link-viz and returns a JSON representation of possibly nested outlinks for rendering. Additional API operations may be defined in the future as development progresses.

One of the project’s premises is maintaining compatibility with the popular graph visualization tool, Gephi. This would enable users to render web archive data served by link-serv using Gephi as an  alternative to the project’s frontend component, link-viz. To achieve this, the updateGraph and getGraph API operations were based on their counterparts in the Gephi graph streaming API with the following adaptations:

  • Redefining the workspace to refer to a timestamp and URL
  • Adding timestamp and url parameters to both updateGraph and getGraph
  • Adding depth parameter to getGraph

An instance of Gephi with the graph streaming plugin installed was used to examine API behavior. We also examined API behavior using the Neo4j APOC library, which provides a procedure for data export to Gephi.

Initial implementation

Initial minimal API service for link-serv was implemented. The implementation is in Java and uses the Spring Boot framework and Neo4j bindings.
We have the following issues up next:

  • Continue to develop the service API implementation
  • Tune insertion and matching performance
  • Test integration with link-indexer and link-viz
  • ArangoDB benchmark

Link Indexer

link-indexer is the tool that runs on web archive storage where WARC/ARC files are kept and collects outlinks data to feed to link-serv to load into the graph data store. In a subsequent phase of the project, collected data may include details besides outlinks to enrich the visualization.
We worked on the following:

  • Invocation model and choice of programming tools
  • Web Archive Transformation (WAT) as input format
  • Initial implementation

Invocation model and choice of programming tools

link-indexer collects data from the web archive’s underlying file storage, which means it will often be invoked on multiple nodes in a computer cluster. To handle future research use cases, the tool will also eventually need to do a fair amount of data processing, such as  language detection, named entity recognition, or geolocation. For these reasons, we found Python a fitting choice for link-indexer. Additionally, several modules are readily available for Python that implement functionality related to web archiving, such as WARC file reading and writing and URI transformation.
In a distributed environment such as a computer cluster, invocation would be on ad-hoc basis using a tool such as Ansible, dsh, or pdsh (among many others) or configured using a configuration management tool (also such as Ansible) for periodic execution on each host in the distributed environment. Given this intended usage and magnitude of the input data, we identified the following requirements for the tool:

  • Non-interactive (unattended) command-line execution
  • Flexible configuration using a configuration file as well as command-line options
  • Reduced system resource footprint and optimized performance

Web Archive Transformation (WAT) as input format

Building upon already existing tools, Web Archive Transformation (WAT) is used as input format rather than directly reading full WARC/ARC files. WAT files hold metadata extracted from the web archive. Using WAT as input reduces code complexity, promotes modularity, and makes it possible to run link-indexer on auxiliary storage having only WAT files, which are significantly smaller in size compared to their original WARC/ARC sources.
warcio is used in the Python code to read WAT files, which conform in structure to the WARC format. We initially used archive-metadata-extractor to generate WAT files. However, testing our implementation with sample files showed the tool generates files that do not exactly conform to the WARC structure and cause warcio to fail on reading. The more recent webarchive-commons library was subsequently used instead to generate WAT files.

Initial implementation

The current initial minimal implementation of link-indexer includes the following:

  • Basic command-line invocation with multiple input WAT files as arguments
  • Traversal of metadata records in WAT files using warcio
  • Collecting outlink data and converting relative links to absolute
  • Composing JSON graph data compatible with the Gephi streaming API
  • Grouping a defined count of records into batches to reduce hits on the API service

We plan to continue work on the following:

  • Rewriting links in Sort-friendly URI Transformation (SURT)
  • Integration with the link-serv API
  • Command-line options
  • Configuration file

Link Visualizer

link-viz is the project’s web-based frontend for accessing data provided by link-serv as a graph that can be navigated and explored.
We worked on the following:

  • Graph rendering toolkit
  • Web development framework and tools
  • UI design and artwork

Graph visualization libraries, as well as web application frameworks, were researched for the web-based link visualization frontend. Both D3.js and Vis.js emerged as the most suitable candidates for the visualization toolkit. Experimentally coding using both toolkits, we decided to go with Vis.js, which fits the needs of the application and is better documented.
We also took a fresh look at current web development frameworks and decided to house the Vis.js visualization logic within a Laravel framework application combining PHP and Vue.js for future expandability of the application’s features, e.g., user profile management, sharing of graphs, etc.
A virtual machine was allocated on BA’s server infrastructure to host link-viz for the project demo that we will be working on.
We built a barebone frontend consisting of the following:

  • Landing page
  • Graph rendering page with the following UI elements:
    • Graph area
    • URL, depth, and date selection inputs
    • Placeholders for add-ons

As we outlined in the project proposal, we plan to implement add-ons during a later phase of the project to extend functionality. Add-ons would come in 2 categories: vizors for modifying how the user sees the graph, e.g., GeoVizor for superimposing nodes on a map of the world, and finders to help the user explore the graph, e.g., PathFinder for finding all paths from one node to another.
Some work has already been done in UI design, color theming, and artwork, and we plan to continue work on the following:

  • Integration with the link-serv API
  • Continue work on UI design and artwork
  • UI actions
  • Performance considerations

Research use cases for web archive visualization

In terms of outreach, the National Library of New Zealand has been getting in touch with researchers from a wide array of backgrounds, ranging from data scientists to historians, to gather feedback on potential use cases and the types of features researchers would like to see in a web archive visualization tool. Several issues have been brought up, including frustrations with existing tools’ lack of scalability, being tied to a physical workstation, time wasted on preprocessing datasets, and inability to customize an existing tool to a researcher’s individual needs. Gathering first hand input from researchers has led to many interesting insights. The next steps are to document and publish these potential research use cases on the wiki to guide future developments in the project.

We would like to extend our thanks and appreciation for all the researchers who generously gave their time to provide us with feedback, including Dr. Ian Milligan, Dr. Niels Brügger, Emily Maemura, Ryan Deschamps, Erin Gallagher, and Edward Summers.

Acknowledgements

Meet the people involved in the project at Bibliotheca Alexandrina:

  • Amr Morad
  • Amr Rizq
  • Mohamed Elsayed
  • Mohammed Elfarargy
  • Youssef Eldakar

And at the National Library of New Zealand:

  • Andrea Goethals
  • Ben O’Brien
  • Lana Alsabbagh

We would also like to thank Alex Osborne at the National Library of Australia and Andy Jackson at the British Library for their advice on technical issues.

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact the LinkGate Team at linkgate[at]iipc.simplelists.com.

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