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Imperfect XML Rants Raves Tips and Tricks from an Insider Dec 2004

by David Megginson

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Book Description

This book does not introduce the basics of XML syntax, nor does it explainhow popular APIs and tools work, or provide design patterns or recipes forcoding: there are many other XML books that do an excellent job of that.Instead, this is a book about XML planning and decision making. Everyoneinvolved with an XML project has to make decisions of some kind: whether tosupport XML at all, how to plan and schedule a project, what kind of goals toset, what standards to support, or what technical approaches to take. This bookis about problem solving. It provides detailed solutions to certain specificcommon problems, and it also teaches problem-solving strategies.*Provides a map to navigate through the maze of XML-related standards.*Brings together information that matters to technologists and managers, sothat they can make important strategic and tactical decisions together.*Presents a balanced view of XML, showing both where it does and does notwork.

From the Back Cover

"Most books in this area are either beginners' guides, in-depth reference works to the foundational standards, or guides to using XML in particular environments or application areas. This book takes a broader approach for non-beginners and describes where XML can be used profitably in the real world. Highly recommended."
--Dr. Marc J. Hadley, Senior Staff Engineer, Web Technologies and Standards division, Sun Microsystems

"Imperfect XML is a thorough and engaging exploration of the issues XML practitioners are likely to face, with considered advice from one of the trailblazing authorities in the field."
--Neil Bradley, XML and Publishing Consultant and author of The XML Companion, The XSL Companion, and The XML Schema Companion

XML projects can fail for all kinds of reasons, from unrealistic overall goals to mishandled low-level technical decisions. Fortunately, one of the world's leading XML experts is ready to show you how to avoid XML pitfalls on your next project.

Since its invention, David Megginson has been helping to drive XML to new levels. He led the team that developed the SAX streaming API now used worldwide, has been a key contributor to the World Wide Web Consortium, and has served as a consultant to many of the world's leading companies, including Boeing, Reuters, and McGraw-Hill. Drawing on this vast experience, Megginson offers in this book expert solutions and problem-solving guidance for virtually any XML project challenge. You'll discover best practices for planning, budgeting, scheduling, and managing any XML project: content management, data interchange, legacy integration, or Web services. And you'll find technical insights that only an expert like Megginson can offer.

Coverage includes

  • Setting expectations and planning for extensibility-- key success factors in XML projects
  • Choosing standards, technical approaches, and architecture
  • Overcoming hidden pitfalls in single-source publishing from XML source
  • Intelligent searching with XML: essential design and implementation strategies
  • Using XML in enterprise integration: practical realities and workarounds
  • Scaling smoothly from demo to production system
  • Making XML fast: real help for overcoming XML performance problems
  • Managing the security risks associated with sending XML data across the Internet
  • Recognizing when XML technology is wrong for your project

From start to finish, Imperfect XML presents a clear-eyed view of XML's advantages and limitations--and technical and management solutions proven to make it work.

About the Author

David Megginson, principal of Megginson Technologies, has been active within the SGML and XML communities since 1991. He led the original initiative that created SAX, the leading streaming API for XML that has been implemented in products by IBM, Oracle, Apache, and Sun. He also chaired the XML Information Set Working Group at the W3C Consortium and was a member of its XML Working Group. In 2000, he received the Java Technology Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Java Community from Sun and JavaPro magazine.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Welcome to your second book about the Extensible Markup Language (XML). This may in fact be your third or twentieth XML book, but I did not design it to be your first. This book does not introduce the basics of XML syntax, explain how popular APIs and tools work, or offer design patterns or recipes for writing XML applications--many other XML books do an excellent job of that. Instead this book is about XML planning and decision making. Everyone involved with an XML project has to make decisions of some kind: whether to support XML at all, how to plan and schedule a project, what kind of goals to set, what standards to support, or what technical approaches to take. The best standards and libraries available will not help you at all if you try to use XML the wrong way or if XML is not the right technology for your project.

XML and its family of related specifications can be a complex and disruptive technology. The business success or failure of many XML projects hinges on the tiniest technical details, such as the choice of a parsing API; the technical success or failure of many XML projects depends on human factors, such as human resources and office politics. These responsibilities are usually divided between technologists and managers, but that division does not work as well for XML: A manager needs to master an unusually large number of technical details to plan and run an XML-related project, and a technologist needs to spend much more time than usual thinking about business needs and people skills to build effective systems.

As a result, this book deliberately takes a middle-level view of XML decision making, concentrating on the gray area between low-level technical issues and high-level management issues, the area that most technical books ignore. This book has many simple examples of XML markup and some source code listings, but nothing too complicated; there are many basic references of costs and benefits but little hard-core business theory and few case studies--and not a single pie chart--guaranteed. This is a book of XML rants, raves, tips, and tricks.

Together with facts, such as descriptions of specifications, this book contains many of my personal opinions, such as statements about the success or failure of individual specifications. I trust that you will be capable of distinguishing the two and that even when you disagree with the opinions, you will find them useful for identifying areas where other people are likely to disagree. In particular, unlike most XML-related books, this book tries not to overhype the technology.

The Idea of XML

Some of us inside the XML community believe that the technology is very useful but that it has been oversold. When XML first emerged in the late 1990s, the World Wide Web Consortium W3C and others promoted it not only as a technology but also as a social idea. Technically, XML was a simpler replacement for the older, complicated Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). Socially, it was supposed to be the next logical step past the Hypertext Markup Language HTML and the Web, ending the browser wars and enabling users to do new kinds of things on the Web, such as using software agents to analyze structured online information and perform such tasks as finding the lowest price for a pair of jeans. A common early description of XML, "SGML for the Web," touches on both ideas.

Technically, the core XML standard has been a runaway success. Several years on, there is little doubt that XML has replaced SGML: Vendors do not release new SGML products, and nearly all markup conferences have dropped SGML from their titles. People do not start new SGML projects, and the number of older SGML projects still being maintained shrinks every year. As a technology, XML has met and surpassed its technical goal of providing a simpler alternative to SGML. XML is easier than SGML ever was: For example, I spent six fruitless months of spare evenings trying to implement even a skeletal SGML parser in Java; I had the first prototype of the AElfred XML parser running after a few hours' work. SGML documents were almost never perfectly portable across systems, because all parsers supported different entity-resolution mechanisms and different SGML declarations; XML documents move seamlessly from parser to parser, XSLT engine to XSLT engine. XML is not without its own warts, but it has done well enough that it has infected many areas that SGML barely touched, such as save formats and configuration files for desktop applications. It has come to the point that developers feel that they have to justify not using XML as the basis for any new file format.

Socially, however, XML has not done nearly so well. Technical superiority is not enough: New technologies, such as the Internet, railroads, or vaccination, succeed because of a strong, contagious social message. Parents convince other parents to have their children inoculated; friends get their friends to use e-mail or text messaging so that they can communicate; small towns once competed with one another to have railroads pass through them to avoid being left behind by the new economy.

Most people do not care that XML is cleaner and easier to implement than other file formats: People want to know what XML will let them do and why they should do that. If XML does not capture people's imaginations--if it does not, at least in some small way, change their lives--it will stay just another tool in a technologist's toolbox, like Unicode or structured programming. If that happens, all the people who have invested heavily in XML start-ups and products are going to be very disappointed.

To date, XML in general has not managed to affect people's lives the way peer-to-peer file transfer, cell phones, video games, text messaging, or automated teller machines have. XML came out in 1998; today, one compelling social trend--Web logs, or blogs--happens to use XML, but more general XML applications have not yet succeeded. In 2004, despite the continuing hype, XML lacks momentum.

That lack of momentum matters a lot to anyone planning an XML project: An XML implementer has to start almost from scratch each time, convincing yet another small group of managers and users that XML is a good idea for them and working with their strengths and weaknesses to integrate XML into their small social group. If the project is successful, it ends up as an XML island, with little or no connection to other small XML islands.

If XML is not the answer, however, it may be part of it. Many quiet but critical infrastructure technologies--ASCII, Unicode, the Internet Protocol (IP), and the Transmission Control Protocol--provide a firm foundation for higher-level successes, such as the Web. As mentioned earlier, XML is already the foundation of the Web log movement, and that movement has significantly transformed the Web. XML did not make that transformation happen but provided a basic technology that made it easier for bloggers to share information, and provided software, libraries, and best practices to help them do it.

Structure of the Book

This book consists of three major parts.

  1. Part One (Chapters 1 and 2) deals with making initial high-level decisions about XML, concentrating on standards support and project planning.
  2. Part Two (Chapters 3-5) introduces the three major areas of XML work--documents, data, and networking--together with detailed discussions of the advantages, disadvantages, and special issues involved in making design and implementation decisions for each one.
  3. Part Three (Chapters 6-8) concentrates on special issues that affect all areas of XML and require more detailed discussion: searching, working with legacy, or non-XML data, and XML performance and size.

You do not need to read the chapters in order: Each one is designed as a free-standing essay or article on a major XML topic, with only occasional cross-references. It would probably be a good idea, however, to start by reading Chapter 1, on XML standards and specifications, as a knowledge of XML specifications is useful background information for any XML reading.

If you are looking for information on specific topics, the glossary, bibliography, and index make excellent starting points. Use the glossary to find definitions of unfamiliar terms or concepts, and then use the index to find where the book discusses them.




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