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It s got comments See that <!--...--> line That s a comment. You can stick comments here and there just like they were free-floating tags. It s got attributes XML supports two varieties of data: real data and attributes. Real data values come between the innermost tag pairs, as with think XML and 694.34 in the sample. Attributes provide extended information about the tags themselves. I included an attribute named target in the world element. The content of all attributes must be in quotes. I could have made this attribute a subelement instead, and a lot of people do. There is disagreement among programmers as to when data should be an element or an attribute. Let your conscience be your guide. So, there you have it some clean, clear XML data.
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Some Basic and Meaningful XML
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Let s see what that comma-delimited data from Northwind Traders that I listed previously could look like in XML.
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< xml version="1.0" > <productList> <supplier ID="652" fullName="Beverages R Us"> <product ID="1" available="Yes"> <productName>Chai</productName> <category>Beverages</category> <unitPrice>18.00</unitPrice> </product> </supplier> <supplier ID="9874" fullName="We Sell Food"> <product ID="2" available="No"> <productName>Chang</productName> <category>Beverages</category> <unitPrice>19.00</unitPrice> </product> <product ID="3" available="Yes" onSale="true"> <productName>Aniseed Syrup</productName> <category>Condiments</category> <unitPrice>12.00</unitPrice> </product> </supplier> </productList>
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Moving the data to XML has greatly increased the size of the content. But with an increase in size comes an increase in processing value. I was immediately able to get some benefit from the hierarchical structure of XML. In the original data, supplier was just another column. But in the XML version, all the data is now grouped into supplier sections, which makes sense (at least, if that is how I was planning to use the data).
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13: XML
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You can also see that I followed The Rule. Every opening tag has a matching closing tag. Whatever you do, don t forget The Rule. Now, you re saying to yourself, Tim, I could have grouped the data by supplier once I loaded the comma-delimited data into my program. And to that I say, You re right. I told you that XML was just another data format. By itself, the XML content is not all that sexy. It s really the tools that you use with your XML data that make it zoom. Because XML uses a consistent yet generic structure to manage data, it was a snap to develop tools that could process consistent yet generic data in ways that look interesting and specific.
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What About the Human-Readable Part
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One of the tools used with XML is XSLT, which stands for XSL Transformations (XSL stands for eXtensible Stylesheet Language). XSLT is a hard-to-use scripting language that lets you transform some XML data into whatever other data or output format you want. It s just one of a handful of XSL-related languages created to manipulate XML data in complex ways. Ready for some hands-on XSL fun Take the useful chunk of XML listed previously (the <productList> sample), and replace the first xml line with the following two lines:
< xml version="1.0" > < xml-stylesheet type="text/xsl" href="hello.xsl" >
Save all of that beautiful XML text to a file on your desktop as hello.xml. Next, put the following XSLT script into another file on your desktop named hello.xsl. (Notice that I broke one line with a special marker so that the content could fit in this book. Please don t really break the comma-separated list on that line in the file.)
< xml version="1.0" > <xsl:stylesheet xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform" version="1.0"> <xsl:template match="/"> <xsl:text> ProductID,ProductName,SupplierID,Category, UnitPrice,Available </xsl:text> <BR/> <xsl:apply-templates/> </xsl:template> <xsl:template match="supplier"> <xsl:variable name="supID" select="@ID"/> <xsl:for-each select="product"> "<xsl:value-of select="@ID"/>", "<xsl:value-of select="productName"/>", "<xsl:value-of select="$supID"/>", "<xsl:value-of select="category"/>", "<xsl:choose> <xsl:when test="@onSale='true'">On Sale</xsl:when>
XML Content |
<xsl:otherwise> $<xsl:value-of select="unitPrice"/> </xsl:otherwise> </xsl:choose>", "<xsl:value-of select="@available"/>" <BR/> </xsl:for-each> </xsl:template> </xsl:stylesheet>
I told you it was hard to use, and even harder to look at. OK, now for the show. I have Internet Explorer installed on my system, but this should work with most current browsers. Open the hello.xml file in your browser, and voil , the following beautifully formatted text should appear:
ProductID,ProductName,SupplierID,Category,UnitPrice,Available "1","Chai","652","Beverages","$18.00","Yes" "2","Chang","9874","Beverages","$19.00","No" "3","Aniseed Syrup","9874","Condiments","On Sale","Yes"
Now that s more like it. XML and XSLT together have made this advance in data technology possible. (I did cheat a little in this example. You will notice the <BR/> entries in the XSLT script that don t appear in the final output. I added these just to make it look right in your browser.) But seriously, although I was able to generate a comma-separated data set with XSLT, more common tasks for XSLT include generating nicely formatted HTML based on XML data, or generating a new XML document with a specific alternative view of the original data. How does it work Basically, the <xsl:template> elements tell the parser to look for tags in the XML document that match some pattern (such as supplier ). When it finds a match, it applies everything inside the <xsl:template> tags to that matching XML tag and its contents. The pattern specified in the match attributes uses an XML technology called XPath, a system to generically search for matching tags within your XML document. Sounds confusing Well, it is, and don t get me started on how long it took to write that short little XSLT script. XSLT scripting is, blissfully, beyond the scope of this book. Of course, tools are available to make the job easier. But XSLT is useful only if the XML data it manipulates is correct. You could write an XSL Transformation to report on data inconsistencies found in an XML document, but it won t work if some of the tags in your document are misspelled or arranged in an inconsistent manner. For that, you need another advancement in XML technology: XSD.
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