XML: Extensible Markup Language

This essay has a total of 4087 words and 23 pages.


XML





XML: Extensible Markup Language

The World Wide Web is in the process of undergoing a radical change that allows new
services and opportunities to businesses and individuals. HTML - the HyperText Markup
Language - is a language that is predominately used to generate most of the web sites
available today. Now, however, Extensible Markup Language is in the process of replacing
HyperText Markup Language as the most favored format. Extensible Markup Language will
allow the use and functionality of the web to continue to expand.



Extensible Markup Language is based on Standard Generalized Markup Language. First, what
is Standard Generalized Markup Language?


Both HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and XML (Extensible Markup Language) are based on
SGML - Standard Generalized Markup Language. Standard Generalized Markup Language has been
an international standard since 1986 (ISO 8879). It is a meta-language, which simply means
that it can be used to create other languages.


Standard Generalized Markup Language is a descendent from earlier markup languages first
developed at IBM as early as 1969. The oldest direct ancestor is GML, which both stands
for General Markup Language and contains the initials of the IBM researchers who created
it: Charles F. Goldfarb, Edward Mosher, and Raymond Lorie.


Standard Generalized Markup Language is a far more extensive markup language than
Extensible Markup Language or HyperText Markup Language, and to this day remains as the
ultimate language in the field. The ultimate goal and success of Standard Generalized
Markup Language is that it conquered the computer-age old problem of being able to
communicate across different computer platforms. It allows computers to share and
communicate data regardless of the computer’s hardware, operating system, or
software applications being used. Applications such as Adobe Framemaker
use it for desktop publishing. But, in general, Standard Generalized Markup Language is
considered much too complex for widespread e-business and other similar applications. A
need for a new language to handle the new demands of the e-business world became clear.
The designers of Extensible Markup Language were looking to generate a markup language
that would allow the functionality of Standard Generalized Markup Language without the
complexity. By strategically omitting large chunks of Standard Generalized Markup
Language, they created Extensible Markup Language, which provides roughly eighty percent
of the functionality with only about twenty percent of the complexity. Extensible Markup
Language became the “RISC computer” of the markup language world.

What is HyperText Markup Language?

HTML - HyperText Markup Language - as stated above, is a limited subset of Standard
Generalized Markup Language. It is a very limited subset of the parent language and
provides very limited functionality. Simply, HyperText Markup Language allows the designer
to mark up a document with human-readable tags that describe the document’s data and
its display format. Documents created in HyperText Markup Language are static,
non-interactive, and not dynamic in their generation.


The power of HyperText Markup Language was that it, like Standard Generalized Markup
Language, allows communication across different computer platforms to occur and that it is
relatively simple to master. It is very limiting; however, in the functionality it allows
the designer to put into his or her application. Something more powerful was needed.



The Web. The Need.

In the past the exchange of data has been hindered by the incompatible formats of
proprietary hardware and software, as I mentioned above. That was less of a problem when
computers rarely communicated to each other. Now, however, communication between different
computer platforms is a very common occurrence. And, it is a major obstacle to the spread
of global networking and the growth of business transactions through the World Wide Web.
As stated above, HyperText Markup Language allows data to be tagged so that its style or
format can be read on different platforms. It advanced the cause significantly but, again,
is still very limiting in its functionality.


We’ve been faced with the task of web data processing for a long time in various industries. For example:

Reuse instead of double data storage: when parts of information are used in several works
or works are published in several formats (web books, web magazine articles, online
manuals, books, magazine articles, etc.); in technical documentation where parts of
information are taken out of the same data pool and are then reassembled for online
manuals or web pages. Currently, the generator may need to save redundant data in several
places because the output requirements are different. They can’t save data in one
location then put it together in various formats to satisfy different needs using
HyperText Markup Language. Note: that unlike HyperText Markup Language, Extensible Markup
Language is not just about the Web. Extensible Markup Language is about structured data
where the Web is an output option.


In addition, there are many areas about the existing World Wide Web that could see
significant improvement through the implementation of the Extensible Markup Language.
Search engines, for example, will not be limited to word searches. They will actually be
able to find results from search requests by viewing actual data. This will be an
extremely powerful improvement over the existing options.


In areas of electronic commerce, the use of the Extensible Markup Language format holds
incredible potential. By allowing documents to be created dynamically or personalized for
each instance of a transaction, companies can generate invoices, purchase orders, etc. on
the fly!



Extensible Markup Language to the Rescue!

The World Wide Web has been used in the past mostly as a static library. A site designer
would create, through HyperText Markup Language, a page on his/her computer and upload it
to a web server. When accessed from the outside by a user, the page would display to the
user exactly as the designer created it. Now, through Extensible Markup Language, users
are accessing the web to view “pages” that are not actually stored on a web
server. Instead, the pages are generated dynamically from information available to the web
server. That information can come from databases on the web server, from the site
owner’s enterprise databases, or even from other web sites. It takes the information
and uses it to create a custom view for the user.


And, the information that is displayed does not need to be displayed as it currently
exists on the originating web server. Through Extensible Markup Language technology, the
information can be analyzed, extracted, sorted, styled, and customized to create a
personalized web experience for the end user.


Extensible Markup Language can label data in very useful ways. Extensible Markup Language
is also a meta-language (a language for creating other languages). This is important
because with each application, the user can essentially create the language required for
successful delivery of the task.


The nature of Extensible Markup Language can be difficult to explain. Extensible Markup
Language can appear to be different things to different people:


 For consumers and researchers, Extensible Markup Language promises to help search
engines and intelligent agents return more meaningful results from inquiries for
information into the World Wide Web.


 For all of the companies now looking to venture into the electronic commerce
(e-commerce) market, Extensible Markup Language provides a low-cost way to exchange
purchase orders, invoices, and other business-related documents over the World Wide Web.


 For content providers, the Extensible Markup Language can be used to
automatically reformat a document to feed to many different publishing media, thus
eliminating the need for redundant data storage in the process! This is incredibly
powerful stuff!


IBM is in the process of developing and strongly supporting Extensible Markup Language.
IBM sees this language as a strategic technology for spreading electronic business across
different computing platforms, much as the JAVA software environment does. In fact, the
JAVA environment and the Extensible Markup Language environments are extremely
complementary.


JAVA, however, only allows the creator to generate platform-independent applications. The
use of the Extensible Markup Language enables the manipulation of platform-independent
data. In combination with the Internet, which enables platform-independent networking,
they provide the three prerequisites for universal computing:


 global communications,
 portable software, and
 portable data.

The easiest way to explain Extensible Markup Language is that it is a way of tagging any
kind of data to make its significance understandable even to the computers. A human may be
able to tell the difference between a subtotal and a total of an invoice, say. Or, the
human can easily tell the difference between a billing address as opposed to a shipping
address, or a retail price vs. a sale price, because the human has logic “built
in.” The computers and software, however, need additional information in order to
tell the differences between the data elements.


It is apparent that Extensible Markup Language’s strength and usefulness will be to
benefit the computers in the future:


“The most important application for Extensible Markup Language in the years to come
will be computer-to-computer communications instead of computer-to-human or human-to-human
communications. It is all about exchanging data.”


- Simon Phipps, IBM’s chief Java/Extensible Markup Language evangelist.

The tags created in the Extensible Markup Language resemble the tags created in the
HyperText Markup Language used today to create Web pages. There are two important
differences, however:


 Extensible Markup Language tags separate content from presentation, and
 Extensible Markup Language is extensible - that is, it allows for the creation of
new tags for unforeseen purposes. Thus, you can “create” the language to fit
the needs of your application.


Both HyperText Markup Language tags and Extensible Markup Language tags enclose a keyword
or character in angle brackets like this:


*I*Sample HyperText Markup Language tags*/I*

In the example above, the HyperText Markup Language tag *I* means the following text
“Sample HyperText Markup Language tag” should appear in Italics. The */I* tag
turns the italics off and returns the font format to the previous type style. Extensible
Markup Language tags follow the same syntax format, enclosing content between
“on” and “off” type of tags, but the meaning is very different.
While HyperText Markup Language tags generally indicate only how the content should
appear, Extensible Markup Language tags indicate what the content means. Content therefor
grows more accessible to different kinds of software and less dependent on a specific
output device. How is the Extensible Markup Language generated document formatted for
display? I’ll get to that shortly.


The value of the information discussed in the above paragraph is apparent when you look at
the differences in how HyperText Markup Language and Extensible Markup Language might be
used to label some information on the World Wide Web. The following is an example of a
HyperText Markup Language code for product pricing of college books:


*H3* Sale Price-The Architecture of Computer Hardware and System Software by Irv Englander
$135.00*/H3* *I* (Suggested retail price: $175.00) */I* *B*Shipping and handling costs:
$45.00 UPS Ground*/B*


In the above example, the pair of *H3*, *I*, and *B* tags merely indicate that the
enclosed text should appear in heading type, in Italics, or in bold font, respectively.
The tags including the “/” character mean to end the heading, italics, or bold
font. The tags used in this example give no hint as to what the enclosed content refers
to.


That is not a problem for human readers. It is a problem for a search engine or automated
“shopbot” program seeking out the lowest price for the overpriced college
textbook on the World Wide Web. They would have to be very “smart” to say the
least to figure out which amount is the true selling price. Because there is no standard
method of specifying the information through the use of the HyperText Markup Language,
different World Wide Web sites will display the prices in different ways.
Continues for 12 more pages >>




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