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CHAPTER 1 Introduction to XML
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Another spin-o of the browser wars has been the desire by the software giants to merge the Web and the desktop. With the browser becoming more of an application as well as a sur ng tool, it grew in size, complexity, glitz, and glamour. What was needed was a simple, back-to-basics method of data exchange. It is not necessary to change the Web browser paradigm, but it is necessary to create a parallel structure that can blend into the Web as needed or remain separate and still be fully viable. XML meets these needs as a markup for content and data containers or through transformation, with the Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT), into fully presentable Web documents. An XML document can be tailored to suit the needs of the data and the application that requires those data. XML avoids many, if not all, of the pitfalls that HTML has experienced by staying true to its basic design goals of data markup, extensibility, and the openended ability to adapt to a wide variety of applications and their future needs. As the Web expands further into new protocols, such as the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), Wireless Markup Language (WML), Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), and the like, XML and its successors will adapt and evolve to meet those needs. The implementation of XML has remained true to the original premise and promise of XML, which was to provide a content-driven language derived from and compatible with SGML, to provide the tools for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and other data-driven applications for which HTML was lacking, to be platform-independent, and to be distributed over the Web but not limited to the Web browser. This has been accomplished by strictly requiring key components of SGML that were optional in HTML and setting out and adhering to very stringent guidelines in XML.
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Differences Between XML and HTML
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Although HTML, XML, and (their hybrid) XHTML all use markup tags as containers for data elements and appear on the surface to be quite similar, the tags themselves are quite di erent not only in de nition and meaning but also in their methods of creation and speci cation. Whereas HTML and its successor XHTML use elements that are more or less universally de ned and accepted as HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.0 (via the implied DTD that the browser includes), XML allows, encourages, and thrives on elements being created for structuring data to a speci c intent and purpose. If an element is required for XML and is not part of the DTD being referenced, the author can create the element needed and de ne it for inclusion in the DTD speci ed in the XML document. At the core, the di erences between HTML and XML are very simple: HTML is a presentation markup language, readable and rendered by almost any modern Web browser, whereas XML is a content markup language, with no inherent, or built-in, presentation elements, only content-de nition elements.
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Note that the terms tag and element sometimes are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. An element is the opening and closing tag, its
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CHAPTER 1 Introduction to XML
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attributes, and its enclosed text or an empty tag and its attributes; for example, <title>Outline of XML</title> is an element. A tag is simply the opening or closing tag or the empty tag; for example, <title> is the opening tag and </title> is the closing tag.
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The Web is an extremely powerful medium for the exchange of information, but unfortunately, HTML is not designed to accommodate a broad variety of data or datatypes. XML, because of its extensibility and derivation from SGML, is much more suited for data exchange (but without resorting to the complexity of SGML). XML allows elements to be designed as an application-speci c process, de ned in a schema or DTD, and used over the Web in a language that best describes the data itself. By de ning the XML elements needed, a number of otherwise nearly impossible tasks can be accomplished. Again, XML de nes the data, and HTML de nes the presentation. To put it another way, XML processes data, whereas HTML displays data. Let s examine this simple yet crucial di erence further to gain a greater sense of the respective power of the two languages. As anyone who has used HTML even casually knows, most of the elements have to do with the layout and look of the document the presentation. Web professionals are all very familiar with such elements as center or font and so on. These elements (and other presentational elements) don t indicate the type of data contained. There are only a few HTML elements that do this. For Web pages, this is generally adequate, and use of these elements will continue to grow and thrive as the Web continues to expand. However, for indicating the type of data or their purpose, HTML falls a bit short with its minuscule number of content-related elements. Because XML is intended as a content markup language, you can specify what the actual data is that is contained in the tags. For example, you might want to create a list of books that consists of the title, the author, the subject, the publisher, and more. There aren t any HTML elements that you can use to specify that the enclosed text is the name of the author. XML doesn t have these limitations. You are relatively free to create the elements you need as long as you have them de ned in a DTD or other document (such as a schema) that the reading software or agent can access. The story doesn t end here, however. Because XML is content-driven, you need to provide a method for presentation, which is addressed fully in later chapters. Su ce it to say here that you combine the XML document with a stylesheet via the Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) or Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that de nes how the content of each element is presented. The best part is that for software or agents that don t require presentation markup, you can simply provide the XML and the content it contains. In practice, the di erences for document authors are most important at the physical and logical levels, as well as the syntactical level. XML requires that you create well-formed documents. In addition, you can even check documents for validity. The tags used by XML elements are case-sensitive, whereas those used for HTML (at least in practice) are not. In addition, the treatment of attributes, as well as the need for quotations (you can use single or double quotation marks),
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