RFC: Attributes and XML-RPC

Reynolds, Gregg greynolds at datalogics.com
Thu Sep 23 20:32:17 BST 1999

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Mark Nutter [mailto:mnutter at fore.com]
> Sent: Wednesday, September 22, 1999 8:01 AM
> To: xml-dev at ic.ac.uk
> Subject: RE: RFC: Attributes and XML-RPC
> At 02:51 PM 09/21/99 -0500, Reynolds, Gregg wrote:
> >This is true; but it doesn't apply.  Attribution is not the same as
> >structure; 
> ...
> Seriously, the problem I see is that there are many places 
> where it isn't 
> possible to determine "correctly" (in some precise definition of 
> "correctness") whether a given piece of data should be an 
> attribute of a 
> particular element, or a sub-element contained within the 
> element.  
> ...
> Is it the nature of "GROUP-ness" to be an attribute of 
> "ACCESS-ness"?  Is 
> one version "correct" and the other "incorrect"?  I don't think so.

All very true; but don't mistake the instrument for the artisan.  The
difficulties we have deciding on exactly how to model the world reflect the
complexities of the world.  We need instruments that reflect the ways we
think; the notion of attribtution is a pretty basic way of looking at
things; therefore it is a Good Thing that we have an artificial language
that reflects this.  Doesn't make it any easier to think, but it doesn't
claim to.

Actually I think there is a big problem of terminology here - "attribute" in
SGML speak sometimes refers to a syntactic feature of (meta-)language,
sometimes to semantic content modeled by that feature.  My remarks are
driven by semantic notions, whereas I think much of the discussion of
attributes is driven by a focus on the particular syntax of XML.  Too bad:
stifles innovation, IMO.  The representation of semantic attributes (along
with hierarchical structure) could be modeled by many different syntaxes;
it's not clear (to me at least) that XML is the best of them.

> It seems to me that the current situation is more of an accident than 
> anything else.  Attributes are currently justified because of 
> the fact that 
> DTD's happen to allow default and enumerated values only for 
> attributes, so 
> if you need default/enumerated values, you have to use 
> attributes.  Secondly, it happens that a lot of XML/DTD work 
> is being done 
> by hand, and attributes are less work to type:
> <directory access="read"/>  -- versus
> <directory><access><read/></access></directory>
> The "warm fuzzy" feeling you get from attributes may just be 
> relief that 
> you don't have to type so much!

Nope.  I use emacs - one big honkin' macro and I don't have to type at all!

> Attributes are a shortcut that make XML 
> easier to code by hand, at the cost of introducing a certain 
> amount of 
> unavoidable ambiguity regarding how a given piece of data should be 
> modelled.

Nah.  They don't introduce any ambiguity that isn't there already.



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