DTD Question: Attributes vs Elements

Rick Jelliffe ricko at allette.com.au
Sun Mar 21 13:54:39 GMT 1999

From: Frank Boumphrey <bckman at ix.netcom.com>

>It always struck me that the only valid reason for using an attribute
>not an element is that you can force the writer to add an attribute
>wheras you cant force them to add element content.

>As every one else has pointed out the rest is religion!

Lou Burnard, of TEI, has said that a DTD is a theory about a document
(one of my favorite thoughts).

What a DTD-writer has decided is an attribute or element belongs to this
theory. Whether something is an element or attribute reveals, to people
downstream, the DTD-writer's concept of how that information relates to
the total element. This is very far from religion, but is part of the
information modeling.

The question shouldn't be "does an attribute node behave differently in
a parsed document to an element node?", which is what many people seem
to reduce things too. The answer is pretty much "No". The better
question is "Why does the DTD writer think that this is an attribute and
not a part?"

The question is somewhat muddied in that complex attributes (the element
has an IDREF to some other elements somewhere else which contain nested
elements, which give the "attribute" values) are not as conveniently
specified as complex element content.

Rick Jelliffe

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