Introducing EPUB

With digital books finding their way to more and more, people read everywhere and on a variety of different devices. A lot of these have small displays, and this is a problem if the text you’re reading is in PDF.

EPUB is an XML publishing format for reflowable digital books and publications standardized by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), a trade and standards association for the digital publishing industry. For the record, this organization was formerly known as Open eBook Forum. “Reflowable” means that it scales to fit different screen sizes.

Since its official adoption by IDPF in 2007, EPUB has become popular among major publishers as Hachette, O’Reilly and Penguin. The format allows publishers to produce and send a single digital publication file through distribution, and it can be read using a variety of open source and commercial software. You can use O’Reilly’s Bookworm online for free, and you can go buy Adobe’s Digital Editions (ADE). It works on all major operating systems, on e-book devices (like Kindle and Sony PRS), and other small devices such as the Apple iPhone.

Collectively referred to as EPUB, the format is made up of three open standards:

  • Open eBook Publication Structure Container Format (OCF): Describes the directory tree structure and file format (zip) of an EPUB archive
  • Open Publication Structure (OPS): Specifies the common vocabularies for the eBook, especially the formats allowed to be used for book content (for example XHTML and CSS)
  • Open Packaging Format (OPF): Defines the required and optional metadata, reading order, and table of contents in an EPUB

To learn more, Liza Daly of Threepress has done a nice tutorial called Build a digital book with EPUB, available at IBM developerWorks. To really get to know EPUB, you’ll need to read the specifications: OCF, OPS, and OPF.

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