What is XML for?

Simon St.Laurent simonstl at simonstl.com
Fri Jan 29 19:37:45 GMT 1999

At 02:11 PM 1/29/99 -0500, David Megginson wrote:
>Simon St.Laurent writes:
> > XML is not just a file format any more, or an interchange format.
> > XML describes a set of structures that are extremely generic, and
> > which map very well to a wide variety of structures used in data
> > processing.
>Actually, strictly speaking, XML 1.0 *is* just a file format, or more
>accurately, a meta-format.  As soon as an XML document is converted
>into SAX events or a DOM tree or SQL tables or persistent objects or
>anything else, it's not XML anymore (though it can, perhaps, be
>written back out as XML, depending on the application).

We're speaking past each other here, with David and a number of others
trying to keep the XML genie in the file format bottle, while I'm saying
XML, not strictly speaking, is a gateway to a lot of other possibilities.

>The question that we're discussing is not whether the rich recursive
>and hierarchical structures that XML can model are useful (I know from
>eight years' experience that they are), but rather, whether XML itself
>-- that is, text files conforming to XML 1.0 -- should be used as the
>primary storage medium for large applications. 

That may be what you're hearing, but I think your assumption that XML is a
simple file format - that XML documents must be stored in enormously long
serial text files - is limiting your perspective too much.  

XML opens the doors to a lot of possibilities for more sophisticated
storage (in object stores, for instance) than the simple crappy file
systems we all know and hate.  The problem isn't that XML files are
inappropriate, but that the structures we've used in the past to store them
aren't very flexible.  Providing a reliable set of structures within a
document, as XML does, opens the door to lots of new possibilities.

Simon St.Laurent
XML: A Primer / Building XML Applications (March)
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