Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An EPUB Validation Tool That Will Trample All Others

As a member of a current group of EPUB Specialists in CircleGraphics Philippines, I’ve been able to use and compare a few EPUB checkers, most of which are of course libre. Flightcrew was excellent in its time, but the developers seemed to lack conviction and it eventually stopped evolving. We still use Flightcrew though, because it could find errors that more recent EPUB checkers cannot. Another EPUB checker we use is the drag and drop pagina EPUB-Checker which is based on the open-source epubcheck tools. Pagina EPUB-Checker also finds EPUB errors that Flightcrew doesn’t catch. So, to “minimize” any untoward incidents with the submission of our EPUBs, we use both Flightcrew and pagina EPUB-Checker.

The process of validating an EPUB is easy. With time and experience, you’ll be able to resolve error reports and warnings that might occur. And once you get a glimpse of the words “No errors found”, you can finally put your worries to rest and sleep comfortably. Right?

Wrong! EPUB submission is just the beginning of a nightmare. You see, EPUB is the promise of a cross-platform ebook. A digital format that can be read in any ereader. In a sense, it’s true, but the underlying problem here is that each ereader device manufacturer has their own standards for creating EPUBs that will work properly in their system. Even though our EPUB group has a list of these EPUB publishing standards which we tediously check before we submit an EPUB, worries still come to mind as to whether the EPUBs will pass publishers’ EPUB validators. Some EPUBs return back and, along with the error reports that come with it, we’re able to learn a thing or two about requirements that different publishers demand.

It’s vexing though when all we have is a theory that, the EPUBs that didn’t come back passed the publishers’ validators. We have a blind spot during these times, and we wonder if these publishers could lend us their EPUB checkers just so we could rest easy knowing that our EPUBs would make it to the ebook shelves. But that’s shooting the moon.

eBook Architects to the Rescue

I’ve come across an article in The Digital Reader by Nate Hoffelder mentioning FlightDeck, an EPUB validation tool created by the team behind eBook Architects. After a few minutes of checking this out, I was completely hooked. Right now, it’s in free beta, so I suggest to the reader to take the opportunity to test this validator as soon as possible. It simply overwhelms. Well, for me it does.

If you visit the FlightDeck website, you will be asked to sign up for the free beta. After signing up, you will have the option to upload your EPUB. FlightDeck will then validate the EPUB and create reports. It also has a Handbook of links to different EPUB resources (which probably you would already have all, if you have been doing EPUBs for the last four years).

What is striking of all these reports though is the one that shows where or to what publishers the EPUB will pass. As of currently, FlightDeck can check whether the EPUB will pass for the iBookstore, Nook Store, Google Books, KoboBooks, and NetGalley (Amazon soon to come).

Reports that FlightDeck generates are the following:

Stats

Shows the following reports…

External Links shows all of the external links that are inside the EPUB, and gives the option to show the location of each link.

Embedded Fonts lists the fonts embedded in the EPUB. If no fonts are embedded it reports “This eBook uses only the default fonts from the reader's device.”

Text characteristics gives a detailed report on the number of characters, words, lists, tables, and images in the EPUB (I just wonder how the number of images fell in the category of Text characteristics).

File Sizes by Type shows the total file sizes of HTMLs, images, and CSSes in the EPUB.

Largest Files shows only the largest files in the EPUB.

Image Dimensions shows the dimensions of the largest images in the EPUB. If there’s only one image, it shows that image’s dimensions.

“Start Reading” Location shows where the EPUB will begin when initially opened. This is in the <guide> section of an EPUB and will not pass Google Books if not specified.

Header Levels shows the number of headers you have from <h1> to <h6>.

Table of Contents shows the Table of Contents of the EPUB.

The Metadata portion…

Lets you manipulate the metadata of the EPUB. Comes very handy for those moments when the only problem that needs to be resolved is only metadata deep.

Validation messages…

Show reports like the usual Flightcrew and pagina EPUB-Checker. I haven’t delved much deeper into this though, and don’t know yet whether it misses some errors that Flightcrew or pagina will be able to find.

Best Practices gives…

Recommendations to improve the EPUB. This is an excellent tool to help an EPUB developer learn what needs to be added to an EPUB to make it pass most publisher validators.

And the Best of the Best, the Retailer Grid

Shows where or to what publishers the EPUB will pass. This is a heaven sent option considering we have worrisome days and sleepless nights thinking whether or not the EPUBs will pass iBookstore or Nook Store. Thank you so very much eBook Architects.

Well now, no more sleepless nights. I guess…

Test FlightDeck while it’s in beta. It’s really worth a try.

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