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Curated Online Reference Database Of Variation Annotations


Cordova is an open source, web-based content management system for building and maintaining a database of genetic variations. It provides an interface for researchers to review and manually or computationally curate data prior to public release. Cordova offers a platform to share reliable genetic variation data for clinical diagnostics and the advancement of research.


Ephraim SS, Anand N, Deluca AP, et al. Cordova: Web-based management of genetic variation data. Bioinformatics. 2014; 30(23):3438-9.


Interested in seeing a live example? The following production databases were built using Cordova:

Recommended requirements

  • Linux/Unix-based operating system (e.g. Ubuntu, CentOS, Mac, etc.)
  • Apache web server
    • Must be enabled for PHP
  • PHP 5.3.0 or greater
    • php-xml extension must be enabled (needed for PDF generation)
  • MySQL 5.0.95 or greater
  • Sendmail (needed for email service)

NOTE: We have developed Cordova using only the above specifications and have not had the chance to try other options. If you're experienced with setting up web servers and would like to try running Cordova with another database language/version or use a non-Apache web server, please feel free to give it a try. However, we're not sure how it will behave.

Installation and configuration

1. Setup your web server

Depending on your operating system and preferences, there are a number of different ways to setup a web server. If you already have a web hosting service (e.g. GoDaddy, HostGator, DreamHost, etc.), have them help you out with this. If not, it's best to find someone with experience with setting up web servers. If you'd like to give it a shot yourself, there are some excellent guides available including the following:

2. Download Cordova

Download the latest release of Cordova here. Uncompress the file, and put it in your web directory.

3. Configuration

To configure the site, you will need to edit some of the Cordova files. If you're unfamiliar with PHP or HTML, that's okay. The amount of editing is very minimal.

This guide will provide information for configuring your site using the configuration files. Some configuration options provide additional information within the configuration files, so please be sure to read all of the information provided before editing.

Each configuration option (or group of options) has been clearly labeled within the configuration files. For example, the base site URL would be labeled as

| Base Site URL

Additional information about an option will be provided directly below its label.

The configuration section has been divided into two sections: mandatory and optional site configuration. Mandatory site configuration is the minimal configuration needed to get your variation database website working. Optional site configuration provides noteworthy options for personalization, but the default values should suffice. There are many other options not mentioned in this guide that can be found in the configuration files, but their default values should also suffice.

In the following configuration steps, we denote the root Cordova directory as [cordova]. Feel free to rename this directory to whatever you would like.

Mandatory site configuration

1. Getting started with example configuration files

All configuration files can be found in the [cordova]/application/config/ directory. Cordova provides some example configuration files to get you started, but you must first make copies of them before editing them. The following files should be copied to the names specified below:

  1. config.php.example should be copied to config.php
  2. database.php.example should be copied to database.php
  3. variation_database.php.example should be copied to variation_database.php

Why copy the files? Why not rename them? Renaming the files will work perfectly fine, too. However, in the event you accidentally screw something up (or your cat walks on your keyboard) and you need to start over, you can always re-copy one of the .example files.

2. Configure base site URL and encryption

Your base site URL is essentially your website's homepage (e.g.,, If you don't know how to register a domain, you can check out this guide on domain registration. If you work at a university, you may be able to use a university subdomain. Check with your university's IT department to see if this is possible.

  1. To set your base URL and encryption, open the [cordova]/application/config/config.php file.

  2. Configure your base URLs by editing the $base_url['development'] and $base_url['production'] variables. For example:

    $base_url['development'] = '';
    $base_url['production'] = '';

    If you don't have a development server, you can just leave it empty (i.e. set it to single quotes) as follows:

    $base_url['development'] = '';
    $base_url['production'] = '';
  3. Set your encryption key by editing the $config['encryption_key'] variable. This key allows safe encryption of important data. We recommended that you generate a random encryption key by clicking this link. Copy the key, and replace the existing example key in your config file like the following example:

    $config['encryption_key'] = 'Al6ZqeJt4HsoS2PWy0OrgETluEKlcaPX';
  4. Save the file and close it.

3. Configure database credentials

You will need to provide Cordova with the proper credentials to access your database. You will need to provide three things: the databases's name, username, and password.

Please note that in order to access your database you will need to have created one first. If you already have an empty database waiting to be used with Cordova then you can continue entering your database credentials below. If not, now is a good time to do so. You simply need to create an empty database and a user who has all privileges granted for that database. There is no need to create any tables because Cordova will do that for you. If you're unsure of how to do this, please refer to these excellent tutorials:

  1. Create an empty database and a user who has all priviledges granted for that database (as noted above).

  2. To set your database credentials, open the [cordova]/application/config/database.php file.

  3. To set your production environment, look for the $db['production']['username'], $db['production']['password'], and $db['production']['database'] variables, and set them accordingly. For example:

    $db['production']['username'] = 'cordovauser';
    $db['production']['password'] = 'my_secret_password';
    $db['production']['database'] = 'cordova';

    If you have a development server, you can set the $db['development']['username'], $db['development']['password'], and $db['development']['database'] variables as well. If not, you can leave these alone.

  4. Save the file and close it.

4. Configure your site's specifications
  1. To set your site's specifications, open the [cordova]/application/config/variation_database.php file.

  2. Configure your contact email address by setting the $config['contact_email'] variable. For this, provide an email address for users to contact you. For example:

    $config['contact_email'] = '';
  3. Set your site's shorthand prefix with the $config['vd_prefix'] variable. For example, a good prefix for the Deafness Variation Database would be dvd. This will be used mostly for naming downloadable files.

    $config['vd_prefix'] = 'dvd';
  4. Set your site's full name with the $config['strings']['site_full_name'] variable. This is simply the full name of your site (such as Deafness Variation Database) that will be displayed at the top of every page. For example:

    $config['strings']['site_full_name']  = 'Deafness Variation Database';
  5. Set your site's footer info with the $config['strings']['footer_info'] variable. This text will be dispayed at the bottom of each page on your site. For example:

    $config['strings']['footer_info']  = 'University of Iowa';

    You may also include any HTML.

5. Configure environment

Setting Cordova's environment is useful when switching between development and production servers.

  1. To set your site environment, open the [cordova]/index.php file.

  2. Edit the environment variable to be one of the following options. If in doubt, use Option 1.

    Option 1: define('ENVIRONMENT', 'production'); -- use this option when your site is ready to be released to the public.

    Option 2: define('ENVIRONMENT', 'development'); -- Use this option when your site isn't quite ready to be released to the public yet. If you only have a production server (and no development server), always use Option 1.

  3. Save the file and close it.

6. Configure admin email and password

At this point, you should have a functional website. However, you need to change the administrator password to something more secure.

  1. Navigate to your homepage, and click the "Curators" link at the bottom of the page.
  2. Login using the username admin and the password password.
  3. In the "Admin"" menubar at the top, click the Users link.
  4. In the admin user's row, click the Edit link.
  5. Enter the administrator's email address in the Email field.
  6. Enter a new password in the Password field.
  7. Re-enter the password in the Confirm Password field.
  8. Click the Save User button at the bottom of the page.
7. Install the annotation pipeline

We've setup Cordova to seamlessly pair with kafeen, a local annotation pipeline. Technically, you can run Cordova just fine without kafeen, but we've placed this step in the mandatory section because we highly recommend it. If you'd just like to use Cordova for browsing and editing existing data, kafeen is not required. However, if you'd like to add a new variation (via the web interface), we highly recommend you install kafeen.

  1. Download and install kafeen by visiting the kafeen repository and following the installation guide there.

  2. To enable Cordova to use kafeen, open the [cordova]/application/config/variation_database.php file.

  3. Configure the location of kafeen by editing the $config['annotation_path'] variable. For example:

    $config['annotation_path'] = '/opt/kafeen/';
  4. If you installed Ruby via RVM (this is a great way to install/upgrade Ruby), you need to specify the absolute path to Ruby by editing the $config['ruby_path'] variable. If Ruby 1.9 or greater came pre-installed on your operating system or you're unsure of how Ruby was installed, you can leave the ruby_path empty for now and come back to it later if things don't work (you'll know it doesn't work if Cordova keeps telling you, "No data found" every time you try to add a variation). Otherwise, you can find the full path by typing which ruby into the command-line. Paste the response in the single quotes for ruby_path like the following.

    $config['ruby_path'] = '/usr/local/rvm/rubies/ruby-1.9.3-p484/bin/ruby';
  5. Save the file and close it.

8. Testing the mail server

Cordova is capable of sending emails. For this, you will need to have Sendmail installed and enabled. You can check if Sendmail is working properly by doing the following:

  1. Click the "Contact Us" link in the left-side menubar on the homepage.
  2. Fill out the contact form (as if you were inquiring about the site). You do not need to select "I'm interested in setting up my own variation database."
  3. Click the "Submit" button.
  4. An email should have been sent to the contact email address that you specified above. Check to see if this email sent successfully.

If this doesn't work, then Sendmail is not installed and/or enabled. Here are a couple example installation guides for Sendmail:

Once installed, you can test it out again by following the above steps.

Optional (but noteworthy) site configuration

1. Configure "About" page information

The "About" page that comes standard with Cordova contains a generalized description. You can modify this page however you would like. This file can be found at [cordova]/application/views/pages/about.php. For those who don't know HTML, we've provided a section on the page where you can easily insert whatever text you'd like. It looks as follows:

 <!-- Place your own welcome message between the 2 sets of asterisks (*) below -->
 <!-- ************************************************************************ -->
 <!-- ************************************************************************ -->

For those who are familiar with HTML, you can modify this entire page however you'd like.

2. Configure color scheme

You can choose a different color scheme for your website by overriding the default cascading style sheets (CSS).

  1. Find the hex value (e.g. #002B41, #580000) for your desired color. You can refer to this list of hex values if you'd like.

  2. Open the [cordova]/assets/public/css/override.css file.

  3. Replace the existing hex value with your own.

  4. Uncomment the background-color line by removing /* and */. The file should now look as follows:

/* Override color theme */ #sidebar, #sidebar-sorters fieldset, #sidebar-sorters fieldset legend, #sidebar-sorters-alphabet table { background-color: #580000; } ````

  1. Save the file and close it.
3. Displaying/hiding/changing splash logos

There are two splash logos on the public-facing website, one at the top of the left-side menubar and one at the bottom of the left-side menubar. They are hidden by default, but you can change that by following the steps below.

Top logo

To unhide it:

  1. Open the [cordova]/assets/public/css/override.css file.

  2. Ignore the display: none; line by adding /* at the beginning of the line and */ at the end of line like the following:

/* Hide/unhide splash logo on top / #logo a#logo-splash { / display: none; */ } ````

  1. Save the file and close it. You should now see the default logo in the top-left corner of the homepage.

To change it:

  1. Take an image of your choice and crop/shrink it to 167 pixels (width) x 93 pixels (height).
  2. Save it as a PNG file called logo-top.png.
  3. Place this file in the [cordova]/assets/public/img/ directory. There is already a file called logo-top.png in this directory (it's the default logo), so you can replace it with your own.
Bottom logo

To unhide it:

  1. Open the [cordova]/assets/public/css/override.css file.

  2. Ignore the background-image: none; line by adding /* at the beginning of the line and */ at the end of line like the following:

/* Hide/unhide logo on bottom / #sidebar { / background-image: none; */ } ````

  1. Save the file and close it. You should now see the default logo in the lower-left corner of the homepage.

To change it:

  1. Take an image of your choice and crop/shrink it to 100 pixels (width) x 150 pixels (height).
  2. Save it as a PNG file called logo-bottom.png.
  3. Place this file in the [cordova]/assets/public/img/ directory. There is already a file called logo-bottom.png in this directory (it's the default logo), so you can replace it with your own.

Developer guides

Cordova is written in PHP, built on the popular CodeIgniter web application framework, and utilizes a MySQL database. In addition, Cordova takes advantage of Bootstrap, a powerful HTML/CSS/JavaScript templating system that makes developing beautiful websites much less painful.

For developers looking to expand this application but don't know where to start, you will find the following links to be useful for getting introduced and familiarized with these technologies as well as some best practices.

Cordova API documentation

Each Cordova installation comes packaged with developer API documentation. Once you have Cordova up and running, you can point your browser to the /docs URL (e.g. localhost/cordova/docs, to view the documentation.

CodeIgniter 2

Bootstrap 2


Cordova is licensed under the MIT license. Cordova also uses third party software packages (see below) which each have their own respective licenses. You may freely utilize Cordova under the MIT license, but please be mindful of the third party licenses if you happen to modify their source code.

Third party dependencies

Cordova depends on the following third party, open source software:

  • CodeIgniter 2 - PHP web application framework
  • Bootstrap 2
  • Ion Auth - authentication library for CodeIgniter
  • dompdf (installs automatically; not distributed with Cordova source)
  • pChart (installs automatically; not distributed with Cordova source)


Q: Only my homepage is showing. What do I do?

A: You must do both of the following things:

  1. In your server's HTTPD configuration (e.g. httpd.conf), you need to change AllowOverride None to AllowOverride All. You also need to have FollowSymLinks as one of the Options. Example:

     <Directory />
           Options FollowSymLinks             # <-- HERE
           AllowOverride All                  # <-- HERE
     <Directory "/var/www/html">
           Options Indexes FollowSymLinks     # <-- HERE
           AllowOverride All                  # <-- HERE
           Order allow,deny
           Allow from all
  2. Enable mod_rewrite for Apache.

Here are a few nice guides for doing this:

Q: Why does it say "No data found" whenever I try to submit a new variation?

A: You need to specify the correct path to Ruby. kafeen is most likely installed properly but isn't ever run. This is because Cordova does not know the correct path to Ruby. Please refer to the configuration section above called "Install the annotation pipeline" for more information on setting the proper path to Ruby.


Sean Ephraim |

Nikhil Anand |


Web-based management of genetic variation data




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