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Technical insight: XML – the gateway for communication

By Regardt van de Vyver

In the web world, you create one HTML page to speak to people across the globe. But how do you speak to people via devices such as a Palm Pilot or web-enabled phone?

Each device is unique and the individual content and graphics must be programmed and written so it can be read and interpreted by each device’s browser. But making sure your content runs appropriately on all devices are difficult.

Enter extensible mark-up language (XML).

XML is the computing world’s new saviour. Its set of tools allows developers to create web pages – and much more – and allows developers to set standards defining the information that should appear in a document, and in what sequence.

A factor that sets XML apart from other standards is that it makes it possible to define the content of a document separately from its formatting, making it easy to reuse that content in other applications or for other presentation environments.

It also provides a basic syntax that can be used to share information between different kinds of computers, different applications, and even different companies without needing to pass through various levels of conversion.

In addition to advantages such as simplicity, extensibility, and interoperability, XML provides a simple format that is flexible enough to accommodate diverse needs. Even developers performing tasks on different types of applications with different interfaces and different data structures can share XML formats and tools, and then convert those formats into data structures those various applications can use.

But what is XML?

XML documents are built upon a core set of basic structures. While the structures themselves can grow complex as layers and layers of detail are added, the mechanisms underlying those structures require very little implementation effort, from either authors or developers.

These basic structures can be used to represent complex sets of information, from the full contents of a document to a set of commands for a program, without needing to change the structures themselves.

XML can be used on a wide variety of platforms and can be interpreted with a wide variety of tools, and supports a number of key standards for encoding, allowing it to be used all over the world in a number of different computing environments.

Ultimately, XML is the common thread uniting a wide variety of applications, smoothly managing data across distributed applications. It allows databases to trade tables, business applications to trade updates, and document systems to share information.

XML provides a gateway for communication between applications, even applications on wildly different systems, and it will most certainly revolutionise the way people share data.

Regardt van de Vyver is Technical Manager at Graphic Image Technologies, a media focused company operating in the Digital Video, advanced Web and Multimedia environment.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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