Good XML-Relevant SGML Books for Beginners?

Peter Murray-Rust Peter at
Wed May 21 19:32:01 BST 1997

In message <l03010d01afa8cc063979@[]> Jim Gindling writes:
Thanks for positing, Jim - xml-dev has been a bit sleepy recently.

> Hi all,
> I have been reading like crazy on the web, and have a fair understanding of
> the basic XML concepts.  However, I am still puzzled as to exactly how I
> can accomplish desirable tasks such as:
> + Converting XML documents to HTML (preferably HTML that uses CSS, and
>   preferably using something other than DSSSL, which seems overly complex).

If your sole exposure to DSSSL has been the postscript description (~300
pages) I can sympathise.  However, there is a shortened version (DSSSL-O)
and there will soon be examples of how to tweak existing DSSSL documents.
(Jon Bosak has shown how to do this and you'll find his stuff under in the DSSSL section.  So get a DSSSL engine - Jade or YADE
and run the examples.  There is general agreement that DSSSL is the only
real way forward for significant work and there are free implementations
of engines.

Remember of course that XML documents don't have to make textual sense and
that to format
<MOL><FORMULA>"1cccccc1"</FORMULA></MOL>  <!-- pseudo CML -->
or <EXPR>x<PLUS/>2</EXPR> <!-- simple MathML -->
you will need application-specific software.  So, in general, converting
XML to HTML depends very much on the XML application.

> + Referencing dynamic data within XML documents, that is presumably stored
>   in a database, such as student name, quiz scores, et cetera.

I expect that we shall see XML2SQL/QL2XML applications very shortly.  There is
a lot of discussion on XML-WG about how to transport data rather than text
and there is a *proposal* from Tim Bray to have strongly-typed data in
XML (e.g. FLOAT, DATE).  Having said that, XML doesn't write the applications
for you - it provides a mechanism to hold information.
> I don't expect anybody to answer these questions directly since I
> understand that is not the focus of this list; however, I would really
That is correct!  But it's a slackish period.

> appreciate some guidance in picking one or two good books that will answer
> my questions.

There will doubtless be XML books fairly shortly.  ***Note that the spec is 
still a draft and will remain so for some months***.  It will change, without
doubt, as bugs are thrown up.  The timescale for the first frozen release
is late autumn sometime - any more precise dates anyone?

My own feeling is that 'Learn XML in 21 days/48 hours/without tears' will
present the syntax of the language, but won't reveal the full power of
the language.  It's really only by playing with it, talking to SGML geeks
(an honourable term), and tackling real problems that you really get fluent.
That's because managing information is a very rich subject. 
> Using, I have found the following books that seem relevant.  If
> somebody could give me their thoughts on these, or others, I would be very
> grateful.

I won't comment on the books mentioned - my impression is that there are about
a dozen specialist SGML books in common use - but be aware that XML 
deliberately does not use a large number of SGML features. 


I don't think we have soak tested the parsers yet - I have been converting
my DTDs today and think that I've found 2 (minor) bugs in a parser.  
Let's have some announcements of converted DTDs, ENTITY sets, documents, etc.
Without that it's much harder to learn the language.


Peter Murray-Rust, domestic net connection
Virtual School of Molecular Sciences

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