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XML Power

XML Power

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Published by: chepimanca on Apr 11, 2010
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06/14/2010

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he World Wide Web Consor-tium (W3C) released its pro-posal for the eXtensible MarkupLanguage (XML) back in 1996.Almost immediately, XML received ane x t r a o rdinary amount of attention. Muchof this attention didn’t actually stem fro mXMLs immediate contributions but fro mits potential for future contributions. Inthis article, well look at how XML is be-ing used today and how its positionedfor future gro w t h .
 THE MOVE TO DYNAMIC CONTENT
Although yesterday’s data exchangeneeds were met by such arcane ap-p roaches as comma de-limited files, thegrowth of real time data exchange venues,such as those used for e-commerce, hasi n c reased the need for a standard dataexchange format. Portals, for example,display real time, dynamic content ac-q u i red from news services, weather cen-t res and so forth.Early site integrators acquired partnersite information in HTML and painstak-ingly wrote extraction routines to for-mat and display partner data in their ownWeb sites. They found this approach te-dious and error prone because small for-matting changes, such as added whitespace, broke data extraction ro u t i n e sthat relied on information being in a cer-tain location on a Web page. BecauseXML tags describe the data itself ratherthan just its presentation, this is no longera problem. For example, instead of acouple of HTML tags that simply instructthe browser to display some text in anew paragraph in boldface,<p><b>179.99</b></p>, an XML tagmight say <price>179.99</price>, mak-ing it clear to the software what the databetween the tags is.For this reason, many content prov i d er sa re moving to XML for exchanging dy-namic Web content. The push for XML-based content exchange has focused pri-marily on two areas: the first deals withacquiring existing (or legacy) contentfor use on the Internet. The second fo-cuses on distributing dynamic contentto subscribers.When migrating to new technology,y o u re often forced to bring along lega-cy data. For early Web site developersthis wasn’t a major concern, because
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 XML POWER
H TML tags simply say how data should be presented; XML tags describe what the data betweenthe tags is. It’s such a powerful tool for e-c o m m e rce sites because it allows users to cull info r-m ation from databases in real time. So powerful that Micro s oft has made it central to their .NETst rat e g y. XML’s promise of open-plat form data exchange is finally being realised.
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they dealt with static data content. Forexample, let’s say Acme Shoes publisheda Web page containing the phone num-ber and address of each corporate of-fice. This information wasn’t likely tochange very often, so a manual, one-time conversion of the spreadsheet con-taining the contact information was pro b-ably sufficient to create a Web page.Although static content had its place inearly Web sites, today’s e-commerce sitesdeal with dynamic, real time data. For ex-ample, if you’re interested in bookingan airline flight, you’ll want real time in-f o rmation showing the airlines latestprices, flight schedules and so on. E-c o m m e rce sites must rely on dynamicdata extraction methods to retrieve thistype of data, because it is constantlychanging.Most Internet start-ups generally won’thave issues with such real time data ex-traction, because they’ll most likely buildtheir Web sites using modern, Intern e t -a w a re tools. Traditional brick and mor-tar companies, on the other hand, havefaced significant challenges attemptingto interface their Web sites with legacys y s t e m s .Going back to the Acme Shoes exam-ple, suppose the company’s goal is to letusers purchase shoes online and check the availability of shoe styles, coloursand sizes before placing an ord e r. Un-fortunately, this type of information ishoused in a database on Acme’s 15-year-old mainframe that’s oblivious to the In-t e rnet. Acme’s challenge is to re t r i e v edynamic information, without re - d e-signing its existing legacy system. Ide-ally, the company would like to extracti n f o rmation from its mainframe systemand publish this information in a form a tusable by each new system under de-velopment.At its most fundamental level, thisp rocess breaks down to two basic tasks:collecting the information and distrib-uting it. The Internet community hasadopted two words to describe thesetasks: content aggregation and contentsyndication. When you apply XMLs in-f o rmation exchange prowess to both of these tasks, the result is a cross platformsolution that’s hard to beat.
 AG G R E G ATION AND SYNDICAT I O N
A g g regation is the process of collecting,o rganising and combining data from dis-parate sources. This concept is often as-sociated with large Internet portals, suchas Excite and Yahoo! In reality, manyd i ff e rent types of sites deal with contenta g g regation. In fact, the demand for toolsthat simplify aggregation and syndicationhas increased so much that several pro d-ucts have surfaced that specialise in han-dling one or both of these tasks.One such product is Software A G’ sTamino (www.softwareagusa.com), anXML-based information server that pro-vides integrated access to existing lega-cy data, such as relational databases orO ffice files. Because Tamino is based onXML, unexpected changes in the form a tof a data stream can be processed basedon embedded metadata—or data aboutdata.Another is Metaphoria, from Inform a-tion Architects, which primarily supportsa g g regation and also handles some syn-dication. Metaphoria, written in server-based Java, organises re f e rences to datarather than the actual data itself. To ac-complish this, Metaphoria includes toolsthat collect and build a repository of metadata links. This repository is thenused to access and publish data as need-ed. Metaphoria’s aggregation agents gath-er input from a variety of sources, in-cluding databases, XML documents andHTML documents.Syndication is the process of dissemi-nating data. On the Internet, syndica-
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