Feeling good about SML

Mark Birbeck Mark.Birbeck at iedigital.net
Fri Nov 19 06:24:43 GMT 1999

Robert La Quey wrote the following to me personally, but I hope he
doesn't mind me replying to the group. It's time I came clean!:
> Hi Mark,
> I find this just a little odd coming from you, especially after the 
> fine (elegant, simple, cogent) arguments that you made for replacing
> DTDs with schemas. Everything I saw in your examples could be 
> performed in an SML that left out all off the stuff that Don listed,
> as well as the DTDs. 

It's true. But then I don't like DTDs. I can't handle all them funny
characters. I do use the Microsoft XML Schema preview though, because I
think the principles are sound, even if the spec is continuing to
evolve. In other words I think validation is an important issue.

> I do agree that for the vast majority of (even embedded) apps that
> the parser footprint is not an issue. Conceptual baggage is, and XML
> has a lot of stuff as you dig in that just is not essential.

To who?

> So your analogy is false. Breaks are essential. Non-skid 
> breaks are nice but not essential. DTDs are not essential.
> The ability to handle every encoding humankind has ever
> conceived of is not essential. 

It is. As well as the ones not yet conceived of.

> I think you are an advocate for an SML but just have not yet realized 
> that fact. 
> I wonder, "Why?".

It's possible that I may be denying some inner desire to be pro-SML! But
I doubt it.

My point is based on an assumption that I haven't dared air in public
for fear of death threats. It is simply that it won't be that long
before there becomes little point in talking about XML 'as such'.

For example, I have developed a layer to allow my clients to update all
sorts of data on my server. The data is stored in a database, but
appears to be files to them, through a WebDAV interface. For the author
information stored in the database I use the XML version of vCard; for
the magazine articles I use XMLNews-Story; for the subjects that link
people and articles together I use Dublin Core, and to create contents
pages and publication information I use RDF. When PageMaker articles are
imported they get converted to XHTML before being converted to
XMLNews-Story. Oh, and SOAP is used to get some other bits and bobs from
another server.

Now, am I using XML? Well of course I am, but I'm also using binary,
electricity, RDBMS, C++, COM, blah blah blah. Sure, XML is still new
enough for it to have its own mailing list - just like electricity would
have done if it could have. But after a while you have to say that the
'concepts' of RDF, SOAP and WebDAV are something that is more than the
fact that they use XML for their implementation. Eventually XML will be
'seen' by the equivalent of particle physicists today. The rest of us
mere mortals will use their parsers, editors, class libraries,
protocols, and so on.

I feel that to a certain extent the point I am referring to may have
already arrived on this list. The guys on the WebDAV list, for example,
are not discussing whether their spec is too complicated. They're
getting on trying to solve conceptual problems. And we will all benefit
from it. I would have no problem, for example, seeing a discussion under
the general heading of XML about how we can build tools that 'hide' the
DOM from programmers. Microsoft just posted something like this up on
BizTalk. I'm still in two minds as to whether I could use this approach
in my code. What do others think? Or what about developing layers that
pull XML in and out of databases without other programmers needing to
worry about what's underneath?

Anyway, I do think we should aim up not down; rather than trying to
throw away stuff which is of fundamental significance, let's develop
things that make those important techniques easier to take advantage of.

Best regards,


Mark Birbeck
Managing Director
x-port.net Ltd.
220 Bon Marché Centre
241-251 Ferndale Road
w: http://www.iedigital.net/
t: +44 (171) 501 9502
e: Mark.Birbeck at iedigital.net

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