XML --- extensible markup Language --- is an exciting development in web technology. It is the youngest and most comprehensive of markup Language. (Markup refers to any thing on a document that adds special meaning to a particular text; for example, bold text is a form of markup). This language got the name Extensible Markup Language from the characteristic that is not restricted to fixed set of tags, as is HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). An XML user creates his own tags according to need. A tag is a sequence of characters in a markup language used to provide information, such as formatting specifications, about a document.
Markup languages are roughly classified into three types:
SGML (Standardised Generalised Markup Language) is the mother of all markup languages and has been in existence since the late 1960s. In 1986 it becomes an international standard for defining the markup languages. It is used to create other languages, including HTML, which is very popular for its use on the web. HTML was made by Tim Berners Lee in 1991. While on one hand SGML is very effective but complex, on the other, HTML is very easy but limited to a fixed set of tags. This situation raised the need for a language that was as effective as SGML and at the same time as simple as HTML. This gap has now been filled by XML.
The development of XML started in 1996, when a team led by Jon Bosak of sun Microsystems began work on a project for remoulding and cutting the inessential parts of SGML. They took the best of SGML, guided by the experience with HTML, and produced something that was no powerful, but much simpler to use. The World Wide Web Consortium also contributes to the creation and development of the standard for XML. The specifications for XML were laid down in just 26 pages, compared to the 500+ page specifications that define SGML.
Although, XML looks like HTML, there is a world of a difference. While HTML specifies what each tag and attribute means and how the text define by it will look in a browser, XML uses the tag only to delimit pieces of data, and leaves the interpretation of the data completely to the application that reads it. For example, if we see "" in an XML file, it may or may not mean bold (as in HTML) ---- it may mean 'book', ‘bank' or anything else specified by the programmer. HTML is only a presentation technology ---- it carries no description of the content held within its tags ---- whereas in XML a programmer can describe the text in its own tag. Moreover we can specify the importance of a tag in XML so that a hierarchy of data can be represented, which is not possible in HTML.
DOM is a standard set of function called for manipulating XML files from a programming language. Math ML is a describing mathematic as a basis for machine communication. With adequate style-sheet support would ultimately be possible for browsers to natively render mathematical expression, which is not possible in HTML. XML encryption is a process name for encrypting and decrypting digital content. XML signatures provide integrity, message authentication for data of any type. These things are extensively used for providing security in applications.
XML protocol used to develop technologies that allow two or more peers to communicate in distributed environment, using XML as its encapsulation language. Nowadays we can find a number of quality sites made by using XML. Use of XML can also be seen in B2B portals and it is also used in WAP development. WML (Wire-less Markup Language) is derived from XML, which plays the primary role in the development of WAP application.
The most novel features of XML is that it is able to express complex data structure, and even distributed action, in terms of simple, punctuated stream of text. Any network component newer than the Abacus can send and receive XML; almost any processor has sufficient power to parse it. XML is license free, platform independent and well supported. Visual Studio .NET, Hailstorm, .NET platform, latest products from Microsoft, are fully compatible with XML.
Many companies are using this language according to their needs. As this language can be used for various objectives, it can be seen on various platforms, in combination with different languages. XML is a key to the next-generation Internet, offering a way to unlock information so that it can be organised, programmed and edited ---- a way to distribute data in more useful ways to variety of digital devices and allowing web sites to collaborate. Today XML is a young child developing various aspects of its personality; which of these would be the dominating trait to give it its final adult character could be anybody's guess.
About the Author Pawan Bangar, Technical Director, Birbals, India