we see XML having larger significance with Web Services being the next big thing. And all Web Service platforms which are built tightly around XML as a technology.
While the basic websites will still be raised on a solid foundation of HTML, e-commerce sites will have solid XML reinforcement layers. Even Microsoft believes that XML is the way the web is heading for web/database integration. And Sun and the Linux community have been there supporting XML for long. Future versions of all Microsoft products will include native XML support. And .Net is build around XML.
Points of Interest
Users can easily handle structured databases on the web. XML can be easily changed into database files and vice-versa. So, users can directly import a variety of data on the web to their own database.
What makes XML such a great technology? Why is XML so popular among all leading vendors as far as their future technology options are concerned? Is XML all style and no substance? What are the new business opportunities that open up with XML? We take a look at all these issues….
A Bit of History
As mentioned earlier, XML has been around for some time — 1998 to be precise when the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) ratified the XML standards. However, even in late 1997, when the technology was being put together from pieces of standards suggested by different companies, the hype was huge. By late 1999, even Microsoft and Sun started embracing XML as the future standard on which next-generation web pages would be designed.
In 2001, we see XML having larger significance with Web Services being the next big thing. And all Web Service platforms which are built tightly around XML as a technology.
What Makes XML So Hot?There is no doubt that XML is over-hyped. No one can disagree on that. However, it is a technology that has now captured desktops, markets and mind share.
As the web moves toward its third generation, everyone is convinced that XML is the technology to look out for. While the basic websites will still be raised on a solid foundation of HTML, e-commerce sites will have solid XML reinforcement layers. Even Microsoft believes that XML is the way the web is heading for web/database integration. And Sun and the Linux community have been there supporting XML for long. Future versions of all Microsoft products will include native XML support. And .Net is build around XML.
But to what problem is XML the solution, and why should you care? First, XML is not a predefined set of tags used to format documents. Nor is it a set-in-stone, standardized "template" for cranking out web pages. Formatting isn't XML's bag. Defining the font and feel of web pages will remain HTML's gig going forward.
XML defines the data or information a web page contains (or transmits) through user-created tags that are part of the HTML text stream. Those "tags" are described in files called Document Type Definitions (DTD). Compared to HTML, XML has a number of advantages as listed in Table 1.
A word processor entwines content
Concept of structure is hardly present.
The trouble with WYSIWYG is what yousee is all you get
HTML documents cannot be processed
Structure of document is as important as the content itself.
Presentation of information is also important, but is kept well separated from the content.
In XML, you create document content by concentrating on how information is arranged
XML documents are essentially databases of information. They can be processed, harvested, reported on and queried just like traditional databases.
XML is the abbreviation for 'Extensible Markup Language'. The term, 'Extensible' means that XML is not a fixed format like HTML. And 'markup language' is a mechanism to identify structures in a document (or information). Structured information contains both content (words, pictures etc.) and some indication of how to present that content in the documents. XML specification defines a standard way to determine the structure of documents. XML is considered to become the new common Internet language substituting HTML. It was originally created to enable generic SGML to be served, received and processed on the web in the way that is now possible with HTML. In other words, XML is designed to make it easy and straightforward to use SGML on the web.
In order to get a clear understanding about XML, we first need to know what SGML and HTML are. SGML is the abbreviation for 'Standard Generalized Markup Language'. It's an international standard for defining the structure and content of different types of electronic document. It's a 'mother tongue' used for describing thousands of different document types in many fields of human activity, from transcriptions of ancient Irish manuscripts to the technical documentation for stealth bombers, and from patients' clinical records to musical notation. It's so powerful we can define any kind of document with the SGML, but the problem is that it's too complicate to use (even on the web).
On the other hand, HTML is 'HyperText Markup Language'. It's just one of the SGML document types. But the most frequently used on the web. It defines a simple, fixed type of document with markup designed for a common class of office or technical report, with headings, paragraphs, lists, illustrations etc and some provision for hypertext and multimedia. It's easy to use but has a lot of limitations. For example, with HTML, we can only design or present some limited formats of documents. Also, HTML has a very limited hypertext linking ability, so its information content capacity is restricted.
XML is a simplified version of SGML, to make it easier for you to define users' own document types, and to make it easier for programmers to write programs to handle them. It omits the more complex and less-used parts of SGML in return for the benefits of being easier to write applications for, easier to understand and more suited to delivery and interoperability over the web.
Although XML was created to overcome the shortcomings of HTML, it becomes more and more popular all over the world. It is even considered a critical technology which can change the future of the web. And there are some reasons for this:
1. Through XML, it is possible to exchange documents and data of a variety of formats easily and perfectly. Because XML can process and present data in various ways, it is possible for each user to exchange his data/documents in different formats.
2. Users can easily handle structured databases on the web. XML can be easily changed into database files and vice-versa. So, users can directly import a variety of data on the web to their own database.
3. Better Internet searching possible. Because XML eliminates the uncertainties of information, the speed and accuracy of Internet searching will be improved.
4. Authors and providers can design their own document types. Document types can be explicitly tailored to users, so the cumbersome fudging that has to take place with HTML to achieve special effects can become a thing of the past.
5. Information content can be richer and easier to use because the hypertext linking abilities of XML are much greater than those of HTML.
If each firm's DBMS supports XML, it can freely import and use a huge volume of XML or HTML format data on the web as if they are the data in the database (Open-Platform data exchange). Thus, XML becomes a hot issue in the DBMS area. Most DBMS companies such as Oracle, IBM, Cybase and Infomix are releasing new products incorporating XML; Oracle released 'XML utilities', a software changing internal data (data in the database stored as column or table) into XML format. IBM developed 'XML parser' interpreting XML data from outside in the database. 'Web data Blade', 'Infomix Dynamic Server with Universal Server Option' (Infomix), 'Cybase Adaptive Server 12.0' (Cybase), 'Object Store 6.0' (Object Design) are other products which have been released.
It's clear that XML is the emerging lingua franca of electronic content and commerce. And XML makes Internet searching faster and better, because XML lets e-commerce vendors tag products and the information associated with them (price, size, colour, features) in a common way. And, of course, this makes it easy for customers to compare shops across the web.
More important contributions, however, are being made in the B2B area because XML is emerging as an alternative to EDI. Electronic Document Interchange has been used in B2B for many years to exchange documents between commercial partners. It has required special proprietary software (and also a lot of money), but now XML becomes a new way of exchanging data between firms. Or, at least, many firms are trying to incorporate XML and EDI. XML is especially a better alternative for small firms because it is easy and cheap. (In general, the total transaction cost will be reduced by 50% using XML). Thus, until 2001, it is expected that 70% of B2B transactions on the web will be made on the XML base. IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are planning to release new E-commerce solutions based on XML. IBM has released 'Net Commerce', E-Commerce Solution and 'Web Sphere', Web application Server. Microsoft's Biztalk framework is yet another example.
Benefits of XML
1. Flexible tag markup.The most important feature of XML is that the elements of your document can be whatever you choose. This flexibility allows you to markup your documents using easily understood elements—with meaning rather than presentation. This in turn yields a large return on investment, with limitless possibilities for expressing information due to an infinite tag set. Marking up documents with XML produces highly reusable text—written once and available for use in many different contexts.
2. XML lets you define document structures and make the inherent structure explicit. The flexibility described above allows you to define structure according to your needs. All documents have some implicit structure, be it as simple as a paragraph formatting.With XML, you can take the implicit and make it explicit, making it possible toprocess the text based on its true structure.
3. XML is vendor-independent. Your company is not locked into using a particularvendor, which renders XML documents timeless. This benefit is especially important if you are legally required to keep your documents for a long period of time. In such cases, tying your documents to one vendor proves risky, since even the most establishedvendors may not exist in a few years. One of the most common mistakes made in the business world, aside from looking for a quick fix to a complex problem, is not adapting to change. XML provides you with guarantees by allowing you to design your own standards for re-use.
4. XML is application independent. Just as documents are not tied to a vendor, likewise,they are not locked to an application. Therefore, your documents remain available even when the software becomes obsolete. Additionally, you are afforded the freedom to change the data formats by simply applying a new stylesheet. Using XML to create your documents ensures that your data remains future-proof and platform-independent.
5. XML documents can be validated. In many situations, validation is crucial. Data must be verified to ensure your information will be correctly processed by other applications. Validation is an essential part of successful data management.
6. XML provides context. Using the structures defined by a DTD, it is possible forusers to hone in on relevant information quickly. XML can be used to describe datacontained in a wide variety of applications, from describing collections of web pages to data records. There is no need for a built-in description of the data, since the data is self-describing.
7. XML supports information re-use. The rich structure and device independence of XML means that it can be easily re-used in many different contexts. Unlike typical data formats, XML also makes it possible to re-use information at a very fine grained-level:(i.e. the level of a single element). For instance, XML's structure makes it easy to retrieve all the section titles used on a website.
Future of XML
With all the activity surrounding XML, it's difficult to predict where it will be in six months. Tim Bray, co-author of the XML specifications, says, "We have produced a tool that's designed to be general purpose and the broad range of people leaping on board is evidence that we've succeeded." But, at least we can expect the following three things:· First of all, with no doubt, it will be the most important component boosting e-commerce. · Second, while B2B is a huge core market for XML, wireless will be an even bigger market for XML because of XML's ability to easily morph into the appropriate format for a device.· Third, XML can also solve internal communication problems between various applications.
Although XML began as a tag language, it has become one of the key technologies opening up the future. Confirming a bright future for XML, Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and Chairman of the W3C, said that if software applications and search engines can automatically find the data and manipulate it easily with the help of XML, and after that if companies build systems that can connect with one another and open up their own data to the web, it will open up possibilities for (enormous) new business opportunities. And this will be a great basis for civilization to automate the world. Nobody knows the future of XML because it has more potential than we had expected in it.