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Keep XML Naked
Just because XML will eventually disappear into the infrastructure doesn't mean we never have to see it again.
by Kurt Cagle

Posted October 9, 2002

It has become the prevailing opinion that XML will eventually disappear completely into the infrastructure—to the extent that programmers will never see "naked" XML. Instead, they'll only see it clothed through specialized editors, viewers, and monitors. XML will become the medium moving through the pipes, perhaps with occasional JPEG, PNG, or MP3 files being ferried along in specialized XML envelopes.

Proponents of this viewpoint fall into a few distinct camps. The XML Brokers, the most extreme side, see XML as little more than a common vocabulary for handling remote procedure calls mediated by a SOAP server of some sort and encoding well-defined data with explicit type definitions. This gang sees XML's primary role as text-based COM or CORBA, with a tinge of SQL thrown in for good measure.

The XML Linguists, comprising the second camp, are still in the clothed-XML category. They believe XML is useful for more than just encoding SOAP messages, but they want it accessed only through some form of editor that hides its "complexity." The operant dialect of this group is Resource Description Framework (RDF) language, which defines associations between different objects in a system through the XML Linking Language (XLink) protocol. This camp also includes experts in the XML Topic Map (XTM) language, which ascribes specific topic associations to XML entities that make it possible to manipulate classes of objects through their associations, and the Defined Subjects Group, which is involved in creating a collective (and consistent) taxonomy of everything. A gathering of XML Linguists is most notable for its erudition, although the gloves come off whenever a simple question is asked, like What is the meaning of 'meaning'?, even in innocence. (The W3C has recently issued the first Ontology Working Language, or OWL, which brings together both the XTM and RDF experiences. More on this in a later column.)

More than gloves come off amid the XML Document People. The oldest of the XML groups, many in this camp hail from the realm of Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) and still tend to think of XML as a baby version of that august language. For a while, the XML Document crowd all but disappeared—perhaps off to nudist colonies that most people have heard of but almost no one has ever visited, or at least admitted visiting.

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