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XML Basics - Part One

XMLDo you cringe when you hear the words "XML"?  Are you just not sure what the heck this acronym is all about?  Not to worry!  In this article, Liviu introduces us to XML, the various ways it can be created and parsed, as well as a brief introduction to XML and the way it came to be.

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By: Liviu Tudor
Rating: 5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars / 84
December 15, 2003
  1. · XML Basics - Part One
  2. · Brief History of Data Exchange
  3. · The Need for XML
  4. · DTD, Schema and Valid XML
  5. · DTD

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XML Basics - Part One - Brief History of Data Exchange
(Page 2 of 5 )

The articulate speaking was a great step forward for humanity – due to this, we humans are now able to understand each other. But do we? Have you ever tried speaking Finnish to a French person? Or have you tried to speak Russian in Tahiti and be understood?  You might have a chance – according to the Gaussian distribution of probability, but that is in theory! :)

Every single computer program processes data – it’s a well-known fact (there may be an exception: Adobe – they seem to only process “e-paper” nowadays :).

Back in the old early days of DOS, when WordPerfect was THE word processor, and Lotus-1-2-3 was THE spreadsheet application, everything was hunky-dory. However, once companies had started realising the potential of personal computers, desktop publishing and so on, and adding to this the Windows 3.x factor, in no time we were overwhelmed with all sorts of “suites” that promised to do everything in one package.  In fact the reality, however, was far from what the label read.   But hey, at the time Adobe was (and still is!) the name in graphics processing, WordPerfect (after holding its name for quite a while) was still there, Microsoft Office was fighting its way to the top, so we could still use the files saved in previous versions of these products.

The problem, however, appeared when we wanted to “import” an image from Adobe into WordPerfect, or a WordPerfect document into Microsoft Word. Surely, Windows gave us OLE, but in order to be able to embed a WordPerfect document in Word, you had to have both of them installed, which defeated the purpose of “importing”. Vendors hurried to overcome this by providing a large variety of converters, but as more and more software was being thrown on the market, soon enough it was impossible to have a converter from everything into everything!  Sure, there were a few standards emerging out, (RTF, HTML and PostScript most notably) which in most cases could have been used as an intermediary format, but that didn’t always work!

Imagine a typical company setup – you have the admin system keeping track of the internals, the HR systems to handle employee files, the accountancy system, the purchasing system, the CRM system and so on. If at any time you had to transfer data from one side to another – unless you were lucky enough to have a “hacker” around to manage to make two of these systems “talk” to each other, re-entering the data in both systems was normally the common solution – there was no easy way for data exported by one system to be imported back into another!  Again, a few solutions have emerged (most notably, at that time, the CSV format), and again, most of the solutions were based on an intermediary format. The list could go on…

The problem was there was no definite intermediary format – some word processors could produce RTF but not HTML, other word processors could import HTML but not RTF; some spreadsheets would import CSV data, while some others would expect a fixed-length field format! So really, once you launched your product into the “real world”, there was no way you could be sure that you had covered all the possibilities.

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