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Why Will You Need To Use XML? - Introducing the Basics

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  1. Introduction
  2. What is XML?
  3. Why should YOUR business use XML?
  4. What do you have to do to prevent being left behind?
  5. The difference between XML & HTML
  6. Summary - 10 points to remember about XML


1. Introduction

This article aims to provide a non-technical and straightforward explanation of what XML is, focusing on what XML does opposed to how it does it. With the current hype surrounding XML and the certainty that XML will be a crucial part of e-business in the future, it very important that both technical and non-technical business people have at minimum, a basic understanding of what XML is and what it can do for their business.

Industry leaders such as Bill Gates and Jon Bosak (of Sun Microsystems) commonly except that XML will become the most commonly used tool for all data manipulation and data transmission on the World Wide Web and the standard dialect for intra and inter company communication including e-commerce applications.

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2. What is XML?

eXtensible Markup Language, commonly known as XML is a Markup Language (fairly self explanatory?). To understand XML basics, an understanding of the some specific terms is required, the table below outlines these key terms. A central advantage to XML is that it breaks the structure of a document into two categories;

  • Information contained within the document;
  • How this information will be presented.
Information and the rules on how information will be presented have been merged when using traditional HTML.

Markup Defines the layout and content within a document (such as a web page or a word document) by inserting 'tags' and format codes into appropriate locations.
Markup LanguageA set of labels (tags) that are embedded within text that explains individual and groups of elements for identification purposes.
MetalanguageA language used to describe another language, which lets you design your own markup.
ExtensibleWithin IT circles 'extensible' means that you can define or customize your own markup 'tags' for different classes of document.


XML is a metalanguage as it is;
  • not limited by a predefined markup language, it is a language for describing other languages.
  • let's you design your own markup 'tags'. (SGML, the international standard metalanguage for markup is the language used for XML, enabling creation of customized 'tags'.)
XML is extensible as it is;
  • a language that enables the description of elements in document by creating customized 'tags', that are not limited by a predetermined format in the way that HTML is. The advantage of this is that you can describe and reference documents with far greater accuracy and flexibility, so they are easier to locate.
DTD (Document Type Definition) is the language used to describe the contents of a document written in SGML (XML is written in SGML and hence use DTD).

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3. Why use XML?

Simple, you will be able communicate with more customers and vendors so you can make more sales whilst getting greater choice in terms of suppliers, XML also saves time and money lowering operating costs.

A central advantage of XML is that it removes the hassles associated with electronic communication and overcomes the fallacy of the 'global marketplace'. Linguistic, platform, application or format differences are a major communication obstacle with current technology, limiting the number of parties that can communicate with each other. These numerous communication barriers have created a restricted marketplace that fails to correlate with commonly spouted terms such as the 'global e-marketplace'. Using XML, communication over Intranets and Internets (e.g. e-business applications) will begin to operate smoothly for the first time. XML unleashes the efficiency that true world e-business has promised to provide. Using XML, buyers and vendors can communicate with each other regardless of linguistic, platform, application or format differences, thus finally making e-business a profitable and truly global proposition.

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4. What do you have to do to prevent being left behind?

Despite the major advantages that XML provides, it comes as a surprise to most that to become XML enabled does not consume a particularly large amount of time or resources. XML adoption within a company will be necessary in the near future, and late adopters will suffer severe penalties through linguistic, platform, application or format incompatibility with potential customers and vendors, these companies will also be seen as problematical and lacking pro-activeness. For as little as $150, XML development tools will enable any company to convert disparate files from various applications into a unified XML database.

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5. The difference between XML and HTML

XML as we have already discovered is a markup language, with similarities to HTML. XML however was not created to replace HTML as their functionality differs, an easy way to understand XML and HTML is to think of them in the following way;

  • XML was designed to describe information and data and explain what data is held within documents;
  • HTML was designed to display data and to explain how data looks in documents.
It is likely that the web will continue to use HTML to format and display data. XML will enable transmission and description of data between communication platforms that were previously incompatible.

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6. Summary - 10 points to remember about XML

  1. For intra and inter company communication, XML is being accepted as the agreed communication dialect.

  2. XML provides a truly global language for e-commerce.

  3. XML erases the communication barriers such as linguistic, platform, application or format differences between Intra and Internets.

  4. XML is a metalanguage as it is a language for describing other languages.

  5. XML is not limited by a fixed format (such as HTML), customized markup is possible making it a more flexible language.

  6. XML defines a document's data.

  7. HTML merges the information regarding content and how a document looks.

  8. XML is human and machine-readable making it easier to use and understand.

  9. Becoming XML enabled is a relatively quick and cheap process.

  10. XML reduces operating costs by simplifying global communication and decreasing development time.

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I hope this has helped those who previously didn't know what XML is!

If you require any help in creating an XML environment for your business, or have any further questions regarding XML and XML development tools, contact ...