What is Definer?

Definer is a dictionary of all terms defined in the Acts of New Zealand that are available on the legislation website. Definer offers three services that interact with the dictionary:

  1. Cloud Timeline

    Cloud Timeline shows the most popular terms in a decade starting from the year 1900. Popularity is measured in terms of frequency of appearance of a term within the Act it is defined in. Each decade shows a Tag Cloud with popular terms appearing larger than less popular ones. A tag can be clicked on to search for its definition.
  2. Smart Search

    Smart Search allows the user to search for the definition of a certain term. Some terms are defined more than once in the same act or in different Acts. All definitions of a term are presented along with the Act and section of the Act in which the term was defined. When a section in the same Act is referred to in the definition of a term, an external link is added to point to the relevant section on the NZ legislation website.
  3. Term Index

    Term Index presents all terms contained in the dictionary. The terms are arranged alphabetically and spread across multiple pages to ease navigation. Each term is presented once even if it is defined multiple times. All available definitions will be displayed once you click on the term.


How was it created?

The New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) provides most New Zealand Acts online in XML format. All Acts provided on the legislation website have been retrieved and analysed to extract all terms ("def-term") and their corresponding definitions. These include all five types of Acts (Public, Private, Local, Provincial and Imperial) for all the years available. Only the latest version of an Act is considered in the analysis.

Frequencies of all terms in the their respective Acts have been calculated and used in the Cloud Timeline. The terms have been indexed and organised in a database so it can be searched easily.


Technologies used

Definer was developed using Ruby on Rails 3, uses a MySQL database and is running on a CentOS server. The front end is developed using HTML, CSS, JQuery and JQuery Tools.



All acts provided by the New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office have no copyright and thus can be used without requiring permission.

The magnifier icon on the home page is licensed under the LGPL license.

The index icon on the home page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

The external link icon is a modified version of the Wikipedia icon and is licensed with the GNU GPL license.


About the developer

Definer is created by Mohammad Abullatif, a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Auckland. He can be contacted via


Possible extensions to Definer

Given the similarity in formats between Regulations and Acts, Definer can be easily extended to include all the terms defined in the New Zealand Regulations.

Also, the website uses the UTF-8 character encoding so that translations of the Acts to other languages (e.g. Te Reo) could be easily included.


Tracking website usage

This website uses Google Analytics to collect statistical information about the usage of the website. The information collected includes your IP address and date and time of visit.

Collected statistics are used to measure the level of usage of the website and is not used to identify visitors in anyway.

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