HOME - Writing Index - Back to Samples page

-- An article written in 2002 for jBASE Software, Framingham, Mass. --

jBASE Speaks XML

An Introduction to XML (Extensible Markup Language) with jBASE

By Bill Ross

    Parlez-vous XML? The new Web standard data-handling language is on the tip of the tech world's tongue, and jBASE speaks it fluently. All of technology's major players are fully committed to XML, and development surges. But the practical-minded naturally want to know, what can it do for us now?

    XML in a Nutshell

    XML is a markup language for networked documents containing structured information, and has quickly become acknowledged as the emerging standard data format of the Internet. Like HTML, it is an open standard, governed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), so that companies have the confidence to fund development with a specification they can depend on. Like HTML, it is a subset of SGML; unlike HTML, XML is a language that describes data, where an HTML document controls only structure and visual presentation.

    HTML can't distinguish between content and structure, making it difficult if not impossible to automatically extract data from a page. If the Internet is in fact going to become the international engine of commerce that's been envisioned for it, a standard way to recognize and exchange data is needed. A new language is required that can express the hierarchical relationships of data, such as with database records and object hierarchies.

    The W3C, the Net's non-profit standards body, answered these needs in 1998 with the XML 1.0 specification. XML is designed (and is being designed, as a young, quickly evolving standard,) to overcome HTML's limitations at data handling, providing for more robust information exchange abilities through the Net.

    Just how Extensible does a Markup Language need to be?

    The "Extensible" in XML's name explains that it's more accurately called a meta-language, because it is a language for creating markup languages that describe data, a core set of specifications which can be used to define other domain- or industry-specific "vocabularies." The addition of XML capabilities to a software product is similar to a database or tool carrying open database connectivity drivers, and virtually all of the major business applications being shipped today are XML-aware.

    It's been widely predicted that an overwhelming percentage of application-to-application traffic that passes over public networks will be in XML format in just a couple of years. The publication of the W3C standard jump-started the market, development continues at an almost feverish pace, and now, according to the Gartner Group, "XML has little comparison as a comprehensive portable data standard."

    "Web Services" - Just a Buzz, or For Real?

    Along with any mention of XML comes the reigning idea for its prime application, "Web services." Like its illustrious forebears in the history of super-hot buzzwords, it means many things to many different people and companies, and has comparatively little to show for itself yet in terms of working end-products.

    Web Services refers to designing and executing Web applications that can automatically find each other and collaborate in business transactions, without additional programming or human intervention. They are modular applications that access the network through standardized XML messaging, and perform functions from simple requests to complicated business processes. Custom tags, the "Extensible" part, control the interpretation of data between applications and between organizations. These capabilities are currently being put to the test in a wide range of applications, for databases, e-commerce, Java, Web development, searching, all those and more by wireless, and on and on.

    The concept of automated processes running on a worldwide network has been made practical by trends like the universal adoption of the Web and the availability of cheaper bandwidth and storage, and now has the strong backing of most if not all of the relevant industry giants. IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and a long list of others are investing heavily in both development and marketing, as well as spending a great many hours in the working committees and various consortia trying to guide its growth. For example, all of those companies belong to OASIS, a non-profit, global consortium of more than 400 corporations in 100 countries. OASIS and the United Nations jointly sponsor ebXML, using XML to create a global framework for e-business data exchange.

    Among the innumerable stupendous claims being made for the technology's potential, an executive from Sun called XML, "the fundamental change of this century," comparing it to the way mass production transformed manufacturing. But for all that, the hype is not unjustified: most likely, it's here that the concrete is being poured for the technical foundation of worldwide electronic business.

    It may seem as if the only money anyone is making from Web services or XML so far is from the very healthy sales of development tools, but this is a quite proper state of affairs for such a young technology. Much of present activity is still in the phase of laying the groundwork, and testing experimental applications. However, XML is already handling production jobs in a wide range of businesses around the world.

    Continued >>



    HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language, a subset of SGML, provides a tag set used to create an HTML document. The tags or elements tell the browser how to display the information. The tags are used to "mark," in a hierarchical format, the different components of the document. If you are going to create your own Web pages, you will need to gain an understanding of the workings of HTML. It defines a very simple class of report-style documents, with section headings, paragraphs, lists, tables, and illustrations, with a few informational and presentational items, and some hypertext and multimedia.


    Server interfaces from Microsoft (Internet Server Application Protocol Interface) and Netscape (Netscape Server Application Programming Interface).


    jBASE External Device Interface, middleware that allows jBASE to store and retrieve data from any major platform or application.


    SGML is the Standard Generalized Markup Language (ISO 8879:1985), the international standard for defining descriptions of the structure of different types of electronic document. SGML is very large, powerful, and complex. It has been in heavy industrial and commercial use for over a decade, and there is a significant body of expertise and software to go with it.

    XML is a lightweight cut-down version of SGML which keeps enough of its functionality to make it useful but removes all the optional features which make SGML too complex to program for in a Web environment.


    Domain- or industry-specific flavors of XML.

    W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)

    The World Wide Web Consortium was created in October 1994 to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability. W3C has around 500 Member organizations from all over the world and has earned international recognition for its contributions to the growth of the Web.

    Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web, founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Laboratory for Computer Science [MIT/LCS] in collaboration with CERN, where the Web originated.

    Web Services

    Web Services refers to designing and executing Web applications that can automatically find each other and collaborate in business transactions, without additional programming or human intervention.

    Web services is an umbrella term used to describe components and services that are addressable and available using web technology, reusable building blocks that handle functions like currency conversion, language translation, shipping, or claims processing.

    Web services are a new breed of Web application. They are self-contained, self-describing, modular applications that can be published, located, and invoked across the Web. Web services perform functions, which can be anything from simple requests to complicated business processes. Once a Web service is deployed, other applications (and other Web services) can discover and invoke the deployed service.

    "jBASE Speaks XML" Continued >>

Back to Top

Writing Samples - Writing Index -