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Exploring the History of XML

written by: Maureen Cutajar•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 3/24/2010

XML (Extensible Markup Language) was officially approved by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1998 but its development came about from the increasing demands of Web developers and the limitations inherent in HTML.

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    The History of XML

    Like HTML, XML is a subset of SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) and it was designed to address the limitations found in both SGML and HTML. Whereas SGML is a powerful tool that allows documents to be defined in both style and content through Document Type Definitions (DTDs) it remains extremely complex to be used for the World Wide Web and it is unsupported by the commercial Internet Browsers.

    On the other hand HTML was designed to be a simple markup language derived from SGML. However, its simplicity also had its limitations especially in terms of form and presentation since HTML has predefined tags. This setback was addressed by the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Nevertheless, the concept of simplicity in HTML was extremely limiting to website developers with the result that it became way more complicated than it was originally intended.

    Furthermore, the style used to render the presentation of web pages defeated the scope of the HTML standard since style sheets where often rendered differently in different browsers, such as Netscape’s and Microsoft’s.

    Discussions in relation to a new Extensible Markup Language emerged in 1996 as an attempt to create a new markup language with the versatility and possibilities of SGML while retaining the simplicity of HTML.

    The pioneers of XML were a group of people including Jon Bosak from Sun and Tim Bray, who applied their knowledge of SGML to create a new markup language stripped away from the complexities of SGML while retaining its potential to define how a particular document could be structured and identifying its tags through Document Type Definitions.

    The result of XML was the possibility to revisit HTML and transmute it into an XML application, better known as XHTML that extended HTML 4 by using XML.

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    The Benefits of XML

    The great potential of XML is its ability to define all types of data in a universally compatible format that can be processed on any platform. This notion proved to be an invaluable benefit for business applications especially since the newly developed language was not bound to any proprietary solution provider.

    Here are a few salient benefits of XML that offered new possibilities for business:

    • XML is a defined standard that is not owned by any proprietary solution. This means that XML cannot be changed by a third-party solution provider making it extinct or incompatible with newer systems.
    • Business owners developing applications in XML can be certain of the interoperability of their data with other systems and applications making it easy to amalgamate information from different applications to yield significant results.
    • This interoperability yields further benefits in business-to-business e-commerce applications since XML can define standard messages when exchanging data in the form of orders and invoices.