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Glossary of Terms

Small Dictionary IconAn alphabetical list of terms with the definitions for those terms.

  • Accessibility:  Ensuring that users have equal access to information and functionality regardless of ability, disability or the type of computer technology used.  Creating accessible content must be an integral part of the web design philosophy, and accessibility features must be incorporated into all aspects of the design process.  See VA’s Section 508 page for more information.

    Accessibility-508 Compliance:  Meeting all mandates required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Public Law 93-112, codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. 794d to ensure that all web pages are accessible to disabled persons.  See VA’s Section 508 page for more information.

    Alternative Formats:  Web file formats that are not universally accessible but are available to the public via specific software or plug-ins.  These formats include, but are not limited to:  PDF, WordPerfect, Microsoft (MS) Word, MS PowerPoint, and statistical data files, such as SAS, SPSS, SQL, and MS Excel.  See VA Viewer Software.

    Alternate Text:  Information included in HTML tags to describe graphics a visually impaired person or screen reader can use to help interpret the graphic.

    Authoritative Source:  Official source.  Defined – an authority is a person or an institution which has the final say on a particular matter.  The authority decides what is right or wrong and others follow their lead.  But while this word may be used to refer to government or supervisory institutions, authority can also be a source of information.

  • Blog:  Discussion or informational website comprised of postings in reverse chronological order.  Blogs allow readers to comment on the original content posted thereby allowing the readers to respond and comment.  See VA’s official blog (VAntage Point).

    Branding:  Branding is defined as those items that help identify a website.  Branding can be accomplished through the use of approved logos and templates.

    Browser:  A software application used for retrieving and presenting information on the web.  VA web pages must be “browser neutral” to the maximum extent possible.

  • Cascading Style Sheets (CSS):  A style sheet language used for describing the presentation (look and formatting) of a web page.  It defines how different elements, such as headers, links, and text will appear, for example defining fonts, colors, paragraph spacing, etc.

    Collection of Information:  Obtaining, causing to be obtained, soliciting, or requiring the disclosure to an agency, third parties or the public of information by or for an agency by means of identical questions posed to, or identical reporting, record-keeping, or disclosure requirements imposed on ten or more persons, whether such collection of information is mandatory, voluntary, or required to obtain or to retain a benefit.  A collection of information may be in any form or format, including the use of report forms; application forms; schedules; questionnaires; surveys; reporting or record-keeping requirements; contracts; agreements; policy statements; plans; rules or regulations; planning requirements; circulars; directives; instructions; bulletins; requests for proposal or other procurement requirements; interview guides; oral communications; posting, notification, labeling, or similar disclosure requirements; telegraphic or telephonic requests; automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques; standard questionnaires used to monitor compliance with agency requirements; or any other techniques or technological methods used to monitor compliance with agency requirements.

    Content:  Text, images, sound, video, etc., that a website contains, and that can be viewed using a web browser.  This information and its presentation must be consistent with VA’s policies and procedures.

    Content Management:  Ensuring that information posted to VA web pages complies with all VA policies and procedures and is current, accurate, factual, relevant to VA and/or program office mission, spell-checked and grammatically correct.  The content for publication must be approved by appropriate VA management.

    Cookies:  A message given to a web browser by a web server.  The browser may store the message in a text file and the message is then sent back to the server each time the browser requests a page from the server.  When the user’s computer consults the originating server computer, the cookie is sent back to the server, allowing it to respond to the user’s browser according to the cookie’s contents, for example to enable automatic logon with username and password, or to store user specific variables during an application session.  There are two types of cookies defined as follows:

    1. Session cookies for a website exist in temporary memory only while a user is reading and navigating a website.  Web browsers normally delete session cookies when the browser is closed.
    2. Persistent cookies are small files containing information about a user which are stored permanently until steps are taken to manually erase them.
    3. Third-party cookies are defined the same way as persistent cookies but are downloaded to a user’s browser by a website other than the one being visited.  There are specific cases where use of third-party cookies is permitted on VA Internet websites outlined in VA Handbook 6502.3, Web Page Privacy Policy.

    Cross-Agency Portal:  A website that brings together information and services from multiple agencies or organizations about a particular topic or for a particular audience.

  • Domain Name:  A domain name, for the purposes of this document, is the website address that people use to find your website.  The official domain names for the Department of Veterans Affair are for internet and for intranet (employee only resources) and all other websites must be a subdomain (, or a subfolder (, of those domains. Office of Management and Budget (OMB M-17-06, Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites and Digital Services ) requires the use of .gov domain names and the use of alternatives to or commercial domains (e.g. .net, com, org, etc.) is not authorized without approval of the Web Governance Board and the Chief Information Officer.  (Also see Naked Domain.)

    Domain Name Service (DNS):  DNS is the way that Internet domain names are located and translated into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

  • Enterprise:  An enterprise consists of all functional departments, people, and systems within an organization.

    Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS):  System that enables authorized staff to create, modify, store, deliver and manage web content.

  • Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):  5 U.S.C. § 552, which provides that federal agencies must disclose records requested unless they may be withheld under one or more of the statutory exemptions. Guidance can be found on the VA FOIA website.

    File Transfer Protocol (FTP):  A communications method which allows a user on one host to access and transfer files to and from another host over a network.

    Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN):  An FQDN, sometimes also referred to as an absolute domain name, is a domain name that specifies its exact location in the tree hierarchy of the Domain Name System (DNS).  It specifies all domain levels, including the top-level domain and the root zone.  A fully qualified domain name is distinguished by its lack of ambiguity:  it can be interpreted only in one way.

  • Hypertext Markup Language (HTML):  The authoring language used to create documents on the web.  HTML defines the structure and layout of a web document by using a variety of tags and attributes.  Browsers are programmed to interpret HTML for display.

    Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP):  A communications method that enables web browsing used on the web.  This protocol defines how messages are formatted and transmitted, and what actions web servers and browsers must take in response to various commands.  For example, when a Uniform Resource Locators (URL) is entered in a browser, it sends an HTTP command to the web server directing it to fetch and transmit the requested information.

    Hypertext Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer (SSL), or HTTP over SSL (HTTPS):  HTTPS encrypts and decrypts the page requests and page information between the client browser and the web server using SSLURLs beginning with HTTPS indicate that the connection between client and browser is encrypted using SSL.

  • Information Architecture (IA):  Structuring, organizing, and labeling information in a manner that is logical and meaningful to the users of that information.  This process includes mapping the path for users to take when they visit a website and want to obtain information or to accomplish a task.

    Internet:  A public global digital infrastructure that connects computers using the Internet Protocol (IP) to communicate.

    IP Address:  A numeric address that identifies a device on a network.

    Inquiry Routing and Information System (IRIS):  A web-based customer service tool through which the public may securely submit and route electronic inquiries via the Internet to VA’s business lines, medical facilities, and other VA offices and which tracks those inquiries until resolved.  Also provides an FAQ Knowledge Base that is indexed with VA’s search engine, links to VA facilities and to 800 toll free phone number information.  See IRIS for more information.

    Information Secutiry Officer (ISO):  Identify your ISO.

  • Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPG or JPEG):  A compressed image file format.

  • Machine Readable Format:  Electronic text that is stored as strings of characters and that can be displayed in a variety of formats.  Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) uses a machine readable vocabulary and syntax for expressing a website’s data management practices.  A website’s P3P policies present a snapshot summary of how the website collects, handles and uses personal information about its visitors.  P3P-enabled web browsers and other P3P applications will “read” and “understand” this snapshot information automatically, compare it to the web user’s own set of privacy preferences, and may inform the user when these preferences do not match the practices of the website he or she is visiting.

    Major Entry Point:  Web pages that are frequently accessed directly by website visitors, such as a department home page, an individual website’s home page, an organization’s home page, the root level below the organization’s home page or any web page that website statistics indicate is most often visited or linked to by website visitors.

    Metadata:  Metadata provides summary information about a file or web page.  Metadata customarily includes elements such as the name of the author of the file, the language the file is written in, keywords that describe the file, and the target audience for the posted content.  Standardized descriptive metadata improves the precision of searches, enables enhanced field searching, permits the indexing of non-textual objects, increases the consistency of the metadata collected, enables website management through the use of version identification, effective dates and rights/permissions, determines the relevance of search results (which is indicated by the order in which retrieved items are displayed on the search results page), and provides information about the resource on the search results page.  Title, description, and date metadata, when displayed on the search results page, aid the searcher in selecting the resources to view.

  • Naked Domain:  A naked domain does not include the www or vaww prefix (e.g. or  All new websites must, at a minimum, use the www and vaww prefixes.  The use of a naked domain alone is not allowed and intranet sites must avoid it altogether. New public facing websites using a subdomain, also referred to as a Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN), can request both types, but all client traffic will be redirected to the standard www domain name (handled by the hosting and network groups).

  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR):  The electronic conversion of scanned images of handwritten, typewritten or printed text into machine-encoded text.

    Office of Management and Budget (OMB):  OMB serves the President of the United States in overseeing the implementation of his vision across the Executive Branch.  Specifically, OMB’s mission is to assist the President in meeting his policy, budget, management and regulatory objectives and to fulfill the agency’s statutory responsibilities.

  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII):  that can be used on its own or with other information to identify, contact, or locate a single person, or to identify an individual such as name, social security number, service number, etc.

    Plug-in: An add-on program used by a web browser to play, execute or view downloaded files.  Examples of popular plug-ins include Flash, Java and Adobe Reader.  See VA Viewer Software.

    Point of Contact (POC):  The primary individual or group responsible for a website.  A content POC is responsible for information on a website; a technical POC is responsible for technical aspects of a website such as links, navigation, etc.  Note:  While it is advised that different people serve as in these roles, they may be combined if suitable.

    Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA):  The PRA of 1995 requires that agencies obtain OMB approval before requesting most types of information from the public.  “Information collections” include forms, interviews, and recordkeeping requirements, to name a few categories.  See the PRA for more information.

    Privacy Act (PA):  5 U.S.C. § 552a, which protects records maintained by federal agencies that pertain to individuals and are retrieved by their names or other personal identifiers (e.g., claim number, social security number).  See the Privacy Act of 1974.

    Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA)  A required annual written assessment of the protection of electronic personal information that is collected, maintained, and handled by all federal agencies.

    Privacy Policy:  The policy under which the organization operating a website handles the personal information collected about visitors to the website and which must conform to all mandates and requirements that govern the collection of information.

    Privacy Threshold Analysis (PTA):  Used to identify Information Technology (IT) systems, rule makings for privacy risks, programs, or pilot projects that involve PII and other activities that otherwise impact the privacy of individuals as determined by the Director, VA Privacy Service, and to assess whether there is a need for a PIA.  A PTA includes a general description of the IT system, technology, rulemaking, program, project, or other Department activity and describes what PII is collected (and from whom) and how that information is used.

    Protected Health Information (PHI):  Medical information included in a health file that is protected under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and not available to unauthorized parties.  This also includes information that the patient provided for a specific purposes whether it be electronically, orally, or via written documentation.

  • Search Engine:  An application that searches web documents for specified keywords and returns a list of the documents where the keywords were found.

    Search Engine Optimization:  The process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.

    Section 508:  The section of the Rehabilitation Act that requires that any electronic information developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible to employees and the public regardless of their ability and disability.  See VA’s Section 508 website and the government-wide Section 508 Accessibility Program.

    Sensitive Information:  Information that requires protection due to the risk of harm through inadvertent or deliberate disclosure, alteration, or destruction of the information.  The term includes information whose improper use or disclosure could adversely affect the ability of an agency to accomplish its mission, proprietary information, records about individuals requiring protection under various confidentiality provisions such as the Privacy Act and the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

    Server (Web):  A networked computer that provides access to files and applications using web formats and protocols.  VA uses three types of web servers as listed below:

    • Development servers are used to create and review web pages;
    • Staging servers are used by technical staff to host files for review; and
    • Production servers, which publish the “live” files accessed by VA’s web audiences.

    Site Map/Site Index:  A linked display of a website’s organization and hierarchy to help users navigate.  Typically, website maps break down a website’s content into increasingly specific subject areas to help the visitor understand its structure, from the main navigation pages to their subordinate pages.

    Social Media:  A class of website that can be used to share content, comments, and media such as images, audio, and video.  Social media websites typically use tools like message boards, forums, podcasts, bookmarks, communities, wikis, blogs, etc.

    SSL:  Provides for encrypted transmission of information or data over the Internet.  URLs that use SSL begin with “https” instead of “http.”

    System of Records:  A file, database, or program from which personal information is retrieved by name or other personal identifier of the record’s subject.  VA must create, populate, maintain, use and disclose information in a system of records as required by the Privacy Act.

  • Technical Management:  Placing approved content on web pages in the proper web page formats.  VA web managers must test pages to make sure that the appearance conforms to VA standards for look and feel, that navigation is user-friendly, that all required links appear on the page, that there are no broken links, and that all mandatory requirements such as Section 508 compliance and privacy are met.

  • URL:  Formatted text string used by web browsers, email clients and other software to identify a network resource on the web and includes the appropriate protocol (e.g., http, https, etc.) followed by the DNS address (e.g.

    Usability:  Web usability is the ease of use of a website.  Some broad goals of usability are the presentation of information and choices in a clear and concise way, a lack of ambiguity and the placement of important items in appropriate areas.  The measure of the quality of a visitor’s experience when using a website, including the ability to accomplish basic tasks.  This should not be confused with accessibility.

  • VA Web Registry:  A database in which all VA production websites must be registered including externally-hosted websites that conduct business on behalf of VA.  It is also used to certify, annually at a minimum, that all VA websites are compliant with VA mandates, including Section 508 accessibility and privacy mandates.  Contact your administration or staff office Web Communications Officer (WCO) for additional information.

    VAntage Point:  VA’s official blog.

  • Web Application or Web-based Application:  A software program that uses HTTP for its core communication protocol and delivers web-based information to the user in the HTML language, based on user input (navigation or data input); using a website as the front-end, and transacting with a database on the back-end.

    Web Communications Office (WCO):  The WCO is in charge of the establishment, management and oversight of its organization’s websites and social websites.  See contacts for VA WCOs.

    Web Form:  A control on a website that enables visitors to communicate with the host by filling in the fields and submitting information.  Information entered via a form can be received as public email or processed through another kind of software, such as a correspondence management system.

    Web Manager:  Individual(s) responsible for any modifications to their websites; emphasizing content is up to date.  They use mandated design tools to create, publish and maintain web pages that follow VA policy, are not redundant and meet the needs of their customers.  This term may not be used by all organizations, administrations, or staff offices within VA.

    Web Records:  For NARA purposes, web records are those documents that document the information on the website itself.  See NARA Web Records Management Requirements.  Examples of web records are:

    • Web content records that include the pages that compose the website, inclusive of the HTML markup; records generated when a user interacts with a website; and if the agency chooses to document its website this way, lists of the URLs referenced by website’s hyperlinks.
    • Web management and operations records that provide context to the website include:  website design records, records that specify an agency’s web policies and procedures by addressing such matters as how records are selected for the website and when and how they may be removed, records documenting the use of copyrighted material on a website, records relating to the software applications used to operate the website, and records that document user access and when pages are placed on the website, updated, and/or removed.
    • Web management and operations records that provide structure related to the website that include website maps that show the directory structure into which content pages are organized and COTS software configuration files used to operate the website and establish its look and feel, including server environment configuration specifications.

    Web Server:  A web server is a computer that contains a collection of programs that manages, shares and provides access to web-based applications, files, and pages using web formats and protocols.  Web servers may also provide connectivity to other special purpose servers such as database servers, authentication servers, or media servers.  VA typically uses three environments that may contain web servers:

    • Development environment – used to build, test and evaluate new content and functions before releasing them to the public.  Servers in a development environment may have features enabled to provide feedback to developers that would not be enabled on staging or productions servers.
    • Staging environment – used to test and evaluate content and functionality in a near-production level environment.  This environment can be used by various entities within OI&T for testing and security evaluation without impacting production resources.  Also referred to as pre-production.
    • Production environment – used to present websites and web-based applications that are available for general use by staff or the public, and have met all Federal and VA regulatory requirements.

    Web page:  An individual computer file developed in accordance with HTML web format standard, which can be addressed by a hypertext link.  Documents and collections are constructed of linked pages.

    Website:  A collection of hyperlinked documents on a web server.

    Wiki:  A wiki is usually a web application which allows people to add, modify, or delete content in collaboration with others.

    World Wide Web Consortium (W3C):  The is an international community where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards.  See the W3C website for more information.

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