"Clean Specs"

W. Eliot Kimber eliot at dns.isogen.com
Sun Feb 7 19:32:54 GMT 1999

At 11:05 AM 2/7/99 -0800, Tim Bray wrote:

>My own personal take - the XML spec has holes that I'm more deeply
>aware of than anyone in the world, but it's a bearable compromise
>given the combined resource/time/political constraints - and the 
>real-world problems with XML are not the spec itself, but SGML-derived 
>bogosities like parameter entities.

I'm with Tim here: writing specs, and in particular, standards is difficult
at best. And, like anything, it is a human activity, which means it will be
flawed, by definition.  The editors had a very hard job and did, IMNSHO, an
excellent job within the constraints they had.

And XML does suffer from things in SGML that are objectively not well
designed (entities in SGML are just a mess generally).

The XML spec had a particularly tough row to hoe: it had to be both as
rigorous as possible and as easy-to-use as possible. These two things are
generally not compatible, especially for a general audience.  As Paul P.
points out, if you don't already understand the formal notation of the
spec, understanding the spec completely and unambiguously is hard.  That
the editors got close is a testament to their skill and tenacity.

Compare, for example, the DSSSL spec, which is, in my opinion, one of the
better technical standards I've worked with. James Clark relied heavily on
formal notation and limited the prose, especially non-normative prose. This
makes the DSSSL spec hard to learn DSSSL from initially (you've got to
learn two new syntaxes: the formal production syntax and the expression
language syntax), but once you learn them, there is little ambiguity. 


<Address HyTime=bibloc>
W. Eliot Kimber, Senior Consulting SGML Engineer
ISOGEN International Corp.
2200 N. Lamar St., Suite 230, Dallas, TX 75202.  214.953.0004

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