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XML is all about data. More than that, it's about structuring data in a manner which makes it accessible to all.

Because it is both platform and language independent, XML is rapidly becoming the 'de facto' method for passing information.

Regardless of whether a web application is written in JSP, ASP or some other language, you can be sure that very soon they will all talk in XML.

XML is all about describing and structuring data in a manner that allows portability across platforms and software. Essentially there are two types of data files, Binary and Text.

A binary file is made of 1's and 0's and it is up to the software, which created the file, to understand what all these bits mean. It cannot be assumed that another application will be able to decipher the bit order of a file created by a different application.

In a text file the bit order is grouped in a standardised way. Because of this, text files can be understood by any application, which understands the 'standard' code. The disadvantage of text files is the difficulty in adding additional information such as formatting into the code. For example you can save a document as a '.txt' file and many applications will be able to read the file. However, you cannot save any formatting information such as 'bold' or 'italic'. You simply get the words.

Markup language
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) combines the advantages of binary and text files. By surrounding text with tags that describe their format, documents can be displayed in a presentable fashion to any application which understood the standardised HTML tags.

This is the basis for the World Wide Web, where documents are displayed via the browser, in a presentable fashion to anyone with access to the Internet. Furthermore, any simple text editor can create an HTML file, making such documents easily portable.

However, the defined standard numbers of html tags naturally make HTML limited. It is really only suited for displaying information.

<html>
<head>
<title>Test Page</title>
<body>
<p> Hello There!</p>
</body>
</html>

Above is an example of a very simple html file.

Extensible Markup Language
XML was created to overcome the shortcomings of HMTL. XML is not really a language but a way of describing a syntax, which can be customised.

<name>
<first>John</first>
<last>Smith</last>
</name>

Above is an example of very simple XML.

In XML text is surrounded by tags, which rather than be set by standards, are set according to individual requirements. This allows data to be structured and tagged allowing it to be easily extracted. As we have full control over the structure of XML, we can shape the data so that it makes sense to our particular application.

Not only that, but if we want to share the data with other programs XML allows us to structure the same data in different ways. XML has no specific application; it is designed for whatever use you need it for. There is no finite set of tags as in HTML.

XML is platform and language independent. Any time one computer programme needs to talk to another (whether Unix, Windows or Java based) XML is a potential for exchanging data.

In a working environment where documents, content and data need to be shared across multiple platforms, XML offers numerous advantages. Indeed, if all the data and documents of a large corporation were stored in XML format, that information could be universally available to all.

 

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