Editor: Peter Flynn (

Originally maintained on behalf of the World Wide Web Consortium's XML Special Interest Group

v. 2.1 (2002-01-01)

Frequently Asked Questions about the Extensible Markup Language


This is the list of Frequently-Asked Questions about the Extensible Markup Language. It is restricted to questions about XML: if you are seeking answers to questions about HTML, scripts, Java, databases, or penguins, you may find some pointers, but you should probably look elsewhere as well. It is intended as a first resource for users, developers, and the interested reader, and does not form part of the XML Specification.


The following people have helped with contributions:

Terry Allen, Tom Borgman, Tim Bray, Robin Cover, Bob DuCharme, Christopher Maden, Eve Maler, Makoto Murata, Peter Murray-Rust, Liam Quin, Michael Sperberg-McQueen, Joel Weber many other members of the SIG as well as FAQ readers around the world. Please mail any corrections or additions to the editor. Sadly, the form for comments found at the end of previous versions has had to be discontinued due to abuse. Please post questions to the relevant mailing list or newsgroup, not to the editor.

Recent changes

2.1January 2002Added Humanities mailing list; added more references for XML and databases; added the Namespaces FAQ; corrected some misunderstandings in character encodings; changed the editor's email address; added a new question on root elements; updated the XLink to W3C Recommendation; updated the SGML FAQ address; fixed some broken links; added translations into German and Amharic; minor revisions to some wording. Editing this time was done in epcEdit 1.02.


Paragraphs which have been added since the last version are indicated with a pilcrow (¶). Paragraphs which have been changed since the last version are indicated with a section sign (§). Paragraphs marked for deletion but retained at the moment for information are indicated with a plus/minus sign (±).


The FAQ is divided into four sections: General, User, Author, and Developer. The questions are numbered independently within each section. As the numbering may change with each version, comments and suggestions should refer to the version number (see Recent changes above) as well as the Section and Question Number.

Please submit bug reports, suggestions for improvement, and other comments relating to this FAQ only to the maintainer at Comments about the XML Specification itself and related specifications should be directed to the W3C.


  • Translations (those I know about) are at:
  • German: [Karin Driesen].
  • Amharic: [Abass Alamnehe];
  • Japanese: [Murata Makoto];
  • Spanish: currently inaccessible. It was at [Jaime Sagarduy];
  • Korean: currently inaccessible. It was at [Kangchan Lee];
  • Chinese: [Neko] and; [Jiang Luqin]
  • French: [Jacques André];
  • Czech: [Miloslav Nic];
  • I would be grateful if the translators of those copies which have become inaccessible would contact me with the new URL.

    You can download the XML logo as a GIF, JPG, or EPS file; and an icon for your file system in ICO (Microsoft Windows), Mac, or XPM (X Window system) format.

    List of Questions

    A. General questions

    A.1 What is XML?

    XML is the Extensible Markup Language. It is designed to improve the functionality of the Web by providing more flexible and adaptable information identification.

    It is called extensible because it is not a fixed format like HTML (a single, predefined markup language). Instead, XML is actually a `metalanguage' --a language for describing other languages--which lets you design your own customized markup languages for limitless different types of documents. XML can do this because it's written in SGML, the international standard metalanguage for text markup systems (ISO 8879).

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    A.2 What is XML for?

    XML is intended `to make it easy and straightforward to use SGML on the Web: easy to define document types, easy to author and manage SGML-defined documents, and easy to transmit and share them across the Web.'

    It defines `an extremely simple dialect of SGML which is completely described in the XML Specification. The goal is to enable generic SGML to be served, received, and processed on the Web in the way that is now possible with HTML.'

    `For this reason, XML has been designed for ease of implementation, and for interoperability with both SGML and HTML'

    [Quotes are from the XML specification]. XML is not just for Web pages: it can be used to store any kind of structured information, and to enclose or encapsulate information in order to pass it between different computing systems which would otherwise be unable to communicate.

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    A.3 What is SGML?

    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. There is an SGML FAQ at which is posted every month to the comp.text.sgml newsgroup, and the SGML Web pages are at

    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.

    ISO standards like SGML are governed by the International Organization for Standardization in Geneva, Switzerland, and voted into or out of existence by representatives from every country's national standards body.

    If you have a query about an international standard, you should contact your national standards body for the name of your country's representative on the relevant ISO committee or working group.

    If you have a query about your country's representation in Geneva or about the conduct of your national standards body, you should contact the relevant government department in your country, or speak to your public representative.

    The representation of countries at the ISO is not a matter for this FAQ. Please do not submit queries to the editor about how or why your ISO representatives have or have not voted on a specific standard.

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    A.4 What is HTML?

    HTML is the HyperText Markup Language (RFC 1866), a small application of SGML used on the Web.

    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. See the question on extending HTML. There is also an XML version of HTML.

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    A.5 Aren't XML, SGML, and HTML all the same thing?

    Not quite; SGML is the mother tongue, and has been used for describing thousands of different document types in many fields of human activity, from transcriptions of ancient Irish manuscripts to the technical documentation for stealth bombers, and from patients' clinical records to musical notation. SGML is very large and complex, however, and probably overkill for most common applications.

    XML is an abbreviated version of SGML, to make it easier for you to define your own document types, and to make it easier for programmers to write programs to handle them. It omits all the options, and most of the more complex and less-used parts of SGML in return for the benefits of being easier to write applications for, easier to understand, and more suited to delivery and interoperability over the Web. But it is still SGML, and XML files may still be processed in the same way as any other SGML file (see the question on XML software).

    HTML is just one of the SGML or XML applications, the one most frequently used in the Web.

    Technical readers may find it more useful to think of XML as being SGML-- rather than HTML++.

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    A.6 Who is responsible for XML?

    XML is a project of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and the development of the specification is being supervised by their XML Working Group. A Special Interest Group of co-opted contributors and experts from various fields contributed comments and reviews by email.

    XML is a public format: it is not a proprietary development of any company. The v1.0 specification was accepted by the W3C as Recommendation on Feb 10, 1998.

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    A.7 Why is XML such an important development?

    It removes two constraints which were holding back Web developments:

    1. § dependence on a single, inflexible document type (HTML) which was being much abused for tasks it was never designed for;
    2. the complexity of full SGML, whose syntax allows many powerful but hard-to-program options.

    § XML allows the flexible development of user-defined document types. It provides a robust, non-proprietary, persistent, and verifiable file format for the storage and transmission of text and data both on and off the Web; and it removes the more complex options of SGML, making it easier to program for.

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    A.8 Why not just carry on extending HTML?

    HTML is already overburdened with dozens of interesting but incompatible inventions from different manufacturers, because it provides only one way of describing your information.

    XML allows groups of people or organizations to create their own customized markup applications for exchanging information in their domain (music, chemistry, electronics, hill-walking, finance, surfing, petroleum geology, linguistics, cooking, knitting, stellar cartography, history, engineering, rabbit-keeping, mathematics, genealogy, etc).

    HTML is at the limit of its usefulness as a way of describing information, and while it will continue to play an important role for the content it currently represents, many new applications require a more robust and flexible infrastructure.

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    A.9 Why do we need all this SGML stuff? Why not just use Word or Notes?

    Information on a network which connects many different types of computer has to be usable on all of them. Public information cannot afford to be restricted to one make or model or manufacturer, or to cede control of its data format to private hands. It is also helpful for such information to be in a form that can be reused in many different ways, as this can minimize wasted time and effort. Proprietary data formats, no matter how well documented or publicized, are simply not an option: their control still resides in private hands and they can be changed or withdrawn arbitrarily without notice.

    SGML is the international standard for defining this kind of application, but those who need an alternative based on different software for other purposes are entirely free to implement similar services using such a system, especially if they are for private use.

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    A.10 Where do I find more information about XML?

    Online, there's the XML Specification and ancillary documentation available from the W3C; Robin Cover's SGML/XML Web pages with an extensive list of online reference material and links to software; and a summary and condensed FAQ from Tim Bray.

    The items listed below are the ones I have been told about. Please mail me if you come across others.

    • Annual XML Conferences are run in North America and Europe by IDEAlliance (formerly the Graphic Communications Association [GCA]). XML Europe 2002 is in Barcelona, Spain, on 19--24 May. See IDEAlliance's Web site for details of the December XML Conference.
    • The Extreme Markup Languages 2002 conference takes place on 4--9 August at the Wyndham Montréal Hotel, Montréal, Canada.
    • The annual XML Summer School takes place in Wadham College, Oxford on 26--31 July 2002 (win a place!).

    There are many other XML events around the world: most of them announced on the mailing lists and newsgroups.

    There are lists of books, articles, and software for XML in Robin Cover's SGML and XML Web pages. That site should always be your first port of call: please look there first before using the form in this FAQ to ask about software or documentation.

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    A.11 Where can I discuss implementation and development of XML?

    The two principal online media are the Usenet newsgroups and the mailing lists.

    When you join a mailing list you will be sent details of how to use it. Please Read The Fine Documentation because it contains important information, particularly about what to do if your company or ISP changes your email address.

    Please note that there is a lot of inaccurate and misleading information published in print and on the Web about subscribing to mailing lists. Don't guess: read the documentation.

  • Mailing lists in other languages
  • Gianni Rubagotti writes: A new Italian mailing list about XML is born: to subscribe, send a mail message without a subject line but with text saying subscribe XML-IT to Everyone, Italian or not, who wants to debate about XML in our tongue is welcome.
  • Gianni also runs the Humanities XML List.
  • JP Theberge writes: A French mailing list about XML has been created. To subscribe, send subscribe to
  • Jarno Elovirta writes: a Finnish mailing list about XML has been set up. To subscribe, send an email to with subscribe XML-Fin in the message body. The list is also hypermailed for online reference at
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    A.12 What is the difference between XML and C or C++?

    C and C++ (and other languages like FORTRAN, or Pascal, or BASIC, or Java or dozens more) are programming languages with which you specify calculations, actions, and decisions to be carried out in order:

    mod curconfig[if left(date,6) = "01-Apr", t.put "April Fool!", 
        f.put days('31102002','DDMMYYYY')-days(sdate,'DDMMYYYY')
        " shopping days to Samhain"];

    XML is a markup specification language with which you can design ways of describing information (text or data), usually for storage, transmission, or processing by a program: it says nothing about what you should do with the data (although your choice of element names may hint at what they are for):

    <part num="DA42" models="LS AR DF HG KJ" update="2001-11-22">
      <name>Camshaft end bearing retention circlip</name>
      <image drawing="RR98-dh37" type="SVG" x="476" y="226"/>
      <maker id="RQ778">Ringtown Fasteners Ltd</maker>
      <notes>Angle-nosed insertion tool <tool id="GH25"/> is
             required for the removal and replacement of this item.</notes>

    On its own, an SGML or XML file (and HTML) doesn't do anything. It's a data format which just sits there until you run a program which does something with it. See also the question about how to run or execute XML files.

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    B. Existing users of SGML (including HTML: everyone who browses the Web)

    B.1 What do I have to do to use XML?

    For the average user of the Web, nothing except use a browser which works with XML (see the question about browsers). Remember some XML components are still being implemented, so some features are still either undefined or have yet to be written. Don't expect everything to work yet!

    You can use XML browsers to look at some of the stable XML material, such as Jon Bosak's Shakespeare plays and the molecular experiments of the Chemical Markup Language (CML). There are some more example sources listed at, and you will find XML (particularly in the disguise of XHTML) being introduced in places where it won't break older browsers.

    If you want to start preparations for creating your own XML files, see the questions in the Authors' Section and the Developers' Section.

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    B.2 Why should I use XML instead of HTML?

    • Authors and providers can design their own document types using XML, instead of being stuck with HTML. Document types can be explicitly tailored to an audience, so the cumbersome fudging that has to take place with HTML can become a thing of the past: authors and designers are free to invent their own markup elements;
    • Information content can be richer and easier to use, because the descriptive and hypertext linking abilities of XML are much greater than those of HTML.
    • XML can provide more and better facilities for browser presentation and performance, using CSS and XSL stylesheets;
    • It removes many of the underlying complexities of SGML in favor of a more flexible model, so writing programs to handle XML is much easier than doing the same for full SGML.
    • Information will be more accessible and reusable, because the more flexible markup of XML can be used by any XML software instead of being restricted to specific manufacturers as has become the case with HTML.
    • Valid XML files are kosher SGML, so they can be used outside the Web as well, in existing SGML environments.

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    B.3 Where can I get an XML browser?

    Remember the XML specification is still relatively new, so a lot of what you see now is experimental, and because the potential number of different XML applications is unlimited, no single browser can be expected to handle 100% of everything.

    Some of the generic parts of XML (eg parsing, tree management, searching, formatting, etc) are being combined into general-purpose libraries or toolkits to make it easier for developers to take a consistent line when writing XML applications. Such applications can then be customized by adding semantics for specific markets, or using languages like Java to develop plugins for generic browsers and have the specialist modules delivered transparently over the Web.

    • MSIE5.5 handles XML but currently still renders it via the HTML model. Microsoft were also the architects of a hybrid (invalid) solution (islands) in which you could embed fragments of XML in HTML files because current HTML-only browsers simply ignored element markup which they didn't recognize, but his has now been superseded by XHTML. MSIE includes an implementation of an obsolete draft of XSLT (WD-xsl): you need to upgrade it and replace the parser (see for details).
    • The publicly-released Netscape code (Mozilla) and the almost indistinguishable Netscape 6 (there is no v5) have XML/CSS support, based on James Clark's expat XML parser, and this seems to be more robust, if less slick, than MSIE. Mozilla 0.9.6 is reported to have some XSLT capability.
    • The authors of the former MultiDoc Pro SGML browser, CITEC, joined forces with Mozilla to produce a multi-everything browser called DocZilla, which reads HTML, XML, and SGML, with XSL and CSS stylesheets. This runs under NT and Linux and is currently still in the alpha stage. See for details. This is by far the most ambitious browser project, and is backed by solid SGML expertise, but seems to be rather a long time coming.
    • Opera now supports XML and CSS on MS-Windows and Linux and is the most complete implementation so far. The browser size is tiny by comparison with the others, but features are good and the speed is excellent, although the earlier slavish insistence on mimicking everything Netscape did, especially the bugs, still shows through in places.

    See also the notes on software for authors and developers, and the more detailed list on the XML pages in the SGML Web site at

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    B.4 Do I have to switch from SGML or HTML to XML?

    No, existing SGML and HTML applications software will continue to work with existing files. But as with any enhanced facility, if you want to view or download and use XML files, you will need to use XML-aware software. There is much more being developed for XML than there ever was for SGML, so a lot of users are moving.

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    C. Authors of SGML (including writers of HTML: Web page owners)

    C.1 Does XML replace HTML?

    No. XML itself does not replace HTML: instead, it provides an alternative which allows you to define your own set of markup elements. HTML is expected to remain in common use for some time to come, and a Document Type Definition for HTML is available in XML syntax as well as in original SGML. XML is designed to make the writing of DTDs much simpler than with full SGML. (See the question on DTDs for what one is and why you might want one.)

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    C.2 Do I have to know HTML or SGML before I learn XML?

    No, although it's useful because a lot of XML terminology and practice derives from 15 years' experience of SGML.

    Be aware that `knowing HTML' is not the same as `understanding SGML' . Although HTML was written as an SGML application, browsers ignore most of it (which is why so many useful things don't work), so just because something is done a certain way in HTML browsers does not mean it's correct, least of all in XML.

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    C.3 What does an XML document look like inside?

    The basic structure is very similar to most other applications of SGML, including HTML. XML documents can be very simple, with no document type declaration (DTD), and straightforward nested markup of your own design:

    <?xml version="1.0" standalone="yes"?>
      <greeting>Hello, world!</greeting>
      <response>Stop the planet, I want to get off!</response>

    Or they can be more complicated, with a DTD specified (see the question on document types), and maybe an internal subset (local DTD changes in [square brackets]), and a more complex structure:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1"?>
    <!DOCTYPE titlepage SYSTEM "" 
    [<!ENTITY % active.links "INCLUDE">]>
    <titlepage id="BG12273624">
      <white-space type="vertical" amount="36"/>
      <title font="Baskerville" size="24/30"
       alignment="centered">Hello, world!</title>
      <white-space type="vertical" amount="12"/>
    <!-- In some copies the following decoration is 
    hand-colored, presumably by the author -->
      <image location="" 
       type="URL" alignment="centered"/>
      <white-space type="vertical" amount="24"/>
      <author font="Baskerville" size="18/22" 
       style="italic">Vitam capias</author>
      <white-space type="vertical" class="filler"/>

    Or they can be anywhere between: a lot will depend on how you want to define your document type (or whose you use) and what it will be used for.

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    C.4 How does XML handle white-space in my documents?

    The SGML rules regarding white-space have been changed for XML. All white-space, including linebreaks, TAB characters, and regular spaces, even between those elements where no text can ever appear, is passed by the parser unchanged to the application (browser, formatter, viewer, converter, etc), identifying the context in which the white-space was found (element content, data content, or mixed content). This means it is the application's responsibility to decide what to do with such space, not the parser's:

    • insignificant white-space between structural elements (space which occurs where only element content is allowed, ie between other elements, where text data never occurs) will get passed to the application (in SGML this white-space gets suppressed, which is why you can put all that extra space in HTML documents and not worry about it. This is not so in XML);
    • significant white-space (space which occurs within elements which can contain text and markup mixed together, usually mixed content or PCDATA) will still get passed to the application exactly as under SGML. It is the application's responsibility to handle it correctly.
    My title for 

    The parser must inform the application that white-space has occurred in element content, if it can detect it. (Users of SGML will recognize that this information is not in the ESIS, but it is in the Grove.) In the above example, the application will receive all the pretty-printing linebreaks, TABs, and spaces between the elements as well as those embedded in the chapter title. It is the function of the application, not the parser, to decide which type of white-space to discard and which to retain.

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    C.5 Which parts of an XML document are case-sensitive?

    All of it, both markup and text. This is significantly different from HTML and most other SGML applications. It was done to allow markup in non-Latin-alphabet languages and to obviate problems with case-folding in scripts which are caseless.

    • Element type names are case-sensitive: you must stick with whatever combination of upper- or lower-case you use to define them (either by first usage or in a DTD). So you can't say <BODY>...<body>: upper- and lower-case must match; thus <IMG/> and <img/> are two different element types;
    • For well-formed files with no DTD, the first occurrence of an element type name defines the casing;
    • Attribute names are also case-sensitive, on a per-element basis: for example <PIC width="7in"/> and <PIC WIDTH="6in"/> in the same file exhibit two separate attributes, because the different casings of width and WIDTH distinguish them;
    • Attribute values are also case-sensitive. CDATA values (eg HRef="MyFile.SGML") always have been, but ID and IDREF attributes are now case-sensitive as well;
    • All general and parameter entity names (&Aacute;), and your data content (text), are case-sensitive as always.

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    C.6 How can I make my existing HTML files work in XML?

    Either convert them to conform to some new document type (with or without a DTD) and write a stylesheet to go with them; or edit them to conform to XHTML.

    It is necessary to convert existing HTML files because XML does not permit end-tag minimization (missing </p>, etc), unquoted attribute values, and a number of other shortcuts which are normal in most HTML DTDs. However, many HTML authoring tools already produce almost (but not quite) well-formed XML. As a preparation for XML, the W3C's HTML Tidy program can clean up some of the formatting mess left behind by inadequate HTML editors, and even separate out some of the formatting to a stylesheet, but there is usually still some hand-editing to do.

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    Converting valid HTML to XHTML

    If your HTML files are valid (full formal validation with an SGML parser, not just a simple syntax check), then try validating them as XHTML. If you have been creating clean HTML without embedded formatting then this process should throw up only mismatches in upper/lowercase element and attribute names, and empty elements (plus perhaps the odd non-standard element type name if you use them). Simple hand-editing or a short script should be enough to fix these changes.

    If your HTML validly uses end-tag omission, this can be fixed automatically by a normalizer program like sgmlnorm (part of SP) or by the sgml-normalize function in an editor like Emacs/psgml (don't be put off by the names, they both do XML).

    If you have a lot of valid HTML files, could write a script to do this in a programming language which understands SGML/XML markup (such as Omnimark, Balise, SGMLC, or a system using one of the SGML libraries for Perl, Python, or Tcl), or you could even use editor macros if you know what you're doing.

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    Converting to a new document type

    If you want to move your files out of HTML into some other DTD entirely, there are already many native XML application DTDs, and several XML versions of popular SGML DTDs like TEI and DocBook to choose from. There is a pilot site run by CommerceNet ( for the exchange of XML DTDs.

    Alternatively you could just make up your own markup: so long as it makes sense and you create a well-formed file, you should be able to write a CSS or XSLT stylesheet and have your document displayed in a browser.

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    Converting invalid HTML to well-formed XHTML

    If your files are invalid HTML (95% of the Web) they can be converted to well-formed DTDless files as follows:

    • replace the DOCTYPE Declaration with the XML Declaration
    • <?xml version="1.0" standalone="yes" encoding="iso-8859-1"?>
    • If there was no DOCTYPE Declaration, just prepend the XML Declaration.
    • change any EMPTY elements (eg every <BASE>, <ISINDEX>, <LINK>, <META>, <NEXTID> and <RANGE> in the header, and every <AREA>, <ATOP>, <AUDIOSCOPE>, <BASEFONT>, <BR>, <CHOOSE>, <COL>, <FRAME>, <HR>, <IMG>, <KEYGEN>, <LEFT>, <LIMITTEXT>, <OF>, <OVER>, <PARAM>, <RIGHT>, <SPACER>, <SPOT>, <TAB>, and <WBR> in the body of the document) so that they end with /> instead, for example <img src="mypic.gif" alt="Picture"/>;
    • make all element names and attribute names lowercase;
    • ensure there are correctly-matched explicit end-tags for all non-empty elements; eg every <p> must have a </p>, etc;
    • escape all < and & non-markup (ie literal text) characters as &lt; and &amp; respectively (there shouldn't be any isolated &lt; characters to start with);
    • ensure all attribute values are in quotes.

    § Be aware that some HTML browsers may not accept XML-style EMPTY elements with the trailing slash, so the above changes may not be backwards-compatible. An alternative is to add a dummy end-tag to all EMPTY elements, so <IMG src="foo.gif"/> becomes <img src="foo.gif"></img>. This is still valid XML provided you guarantee never to put any text content in such elements. Adding a space before the slash (eg <img src="foo.gif" />) may also fool older browsers into accepting XHTML as HTML.

    If your HTML files fall into this category (HTML created by some WYSIWYG editors is frequently invalid) then they will almost certainly have to be converted manually, although if the deformities are regular and carefully constructed, the files may actually be almost well-formed, and you could write a program or script to do as described above. The oddities you may need to check for include:

    • do the files contain markup syntax errors? For example, are there any missing angle-brackets, backslashes instead of forward slashes on end-tags, or elements which nest incorrectly (eg <B>an element starting <I>inside another</B> but ending outside</I>)?
    • are there any URLs (eg in hrefs or srcs) which use backslashes instead of forward slashes?
    • do the files contain markup which conflicts with HTML DTDs, such as headings or lists inside paragraphs, list items outside list environments, header elements like <base>preceding the first <html>, etc?
    • do the files use imaginary elements which are not in any known HTML DTD? (large amounts of these are used in proprietary markup systems masquerading as HTML). Although this is easy to transform to a DTDless well-formed file (because you don't have to define elements in advance) most proprietary or browser-specific extensions have never been formally defined, so it is often impossible to work out meaningfully where the element types can be used.
    • Are there any non-ISO Latin-1 (8859-1) characters or wrongly-coded characters in your files? Look especially for native Apple Mac characters left by careless designers, or any of the illegal characters (the 32 characters at decimal codes 128--159 inclusive) inserted by MS-Windows editors. These need to be converted to the correct characters in ISO 8859-1 or the relevant plane of Unicode (and the XML Declaration should show iso-8859-1 encoding unless you specifically know otherwise).
    • § Do your files contain invalid (old Mosaic/Netscape-style) comments? Comments must look <!-- like this --> with double-dashes each end and no double (especially not multiple) dashes in between.

    If you answer Yes to any of these, you can save yourself a lot of grief by fixing those problems first before doing anything else. You will likely then be getting close to having well-formed files.

    Markup which is syntactically correct but semantically meaningless or void should be edited out before conversion. Examples are spacing devices such as repeated empty paragraphs or linebreaks, empty tables, invisible spacing GIFs etc: XML uses stylesheets, so you won't need any of these.

    Unfortunately there is rather a lot of work to do if your files are invalid: this is why many professional Webmasters will always insist that only valid or well-formed files are used (and why you should instruct designers to do the same), in order to avoid unnecessary manual maintenance and conversion costs later.

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    C.7 Is there an XML version of HTML?

    The W3C has released XHTML as `a reformulation of HTML 4 in XML 1.0' . This specification defines HTML as an XML application, and provides three DTDs corresponding to the ones defined by HTML 4.0. The semantics of the elements and their attributes are as defined in the W3C Recommendation for HTML 4.0. These semantics provide the foundation for future extensibility of XHTML. Compatibility with existing HTML user agents is possible by following a small set of guidelines.

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    C.8 If XML is just a subset of SGML, can I use XML files directly with existing SGML tools?

    Yes, provided you use up-to-date SGML software which knows about the WebSGML Adaptations to ISO 8879 (the features needed to support XML, such as the variant form for EMPTY elements; some aspects of the SGML Declaration such as NAMECASE GENERAL NO; multiple attribute token list declarations, etc).

    An alternative is to use an SGML DTD to let you create a fully-normalised SGML file, but one which does not use empty elements; and then remove the DocType Declaration so it becomes a well-formed DTDless XML file.

    Most SGML tools now handle XML files well, and provide an option switch between the two standards. (see the pointers in the question on software).

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    C.9 I'm used to authoring and serving HTML. Can I learn XML easily?

    Yes, very easily, but at the moment there is still a need for tutorials, simpler tools, and more examples of XML documents. Well-formed XML documents may look similar to HTML except for some small but very important points of syntax.

    The big practical difference is that XML has to stick to the rules. HTML browsers let you serve them broken or corrupt HTML because they don't do a formal parse but elide all the broken bits instead. With XML your files have to be correct or they simply won't work at all. One outstanding problem is that some browsers claiming XML conformance are also broken. Try yours on the test file at

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    C.10 Can XML use non-Latin characters?

    Yes, the XML Specification explicitly says XML uses ISO 10646, the international standard 31--bit character repertoire which covers most human (and some non-human) languages. This is currently congruent with Unicode and is planned to be superset of Unicode.

    The spec says (2.2): `All XML processors must accept the UTF-8 and UTF-16 encodings of ISO 10646...' . UTF-8 is an encoding of Unicode into 8-bit characters: the first 128 are the same as ASCII, the rest are used to encode the rest of Unicode into sequences of between 2 and 6 bytes. UTF-8 in its single-octet form is therefore the same as ISO 646 IRV (ASCII), so you can continue to use ASCII for English or other unaccented languages using the Latin alphabet. Note that UTF-8 is incompatible with ISO 8859-1 (ISO Latin-1) after code point 126 decimal (the end of ASCII). UTF-16 is an encoding of Unicode into 16-bit characters, which lets it represent the next two planes. UTF-16 is incompatible with ASCII because it uses two 8-bit bytes per character.

    Bertilo Wennergren adds: UTF-16 is an encoding that represents each Unicode character of the first plane (the first 64K characters) of Unicode with a 16-bit unit--in practice with two bytes for each character. Thus it is backwards compatible with neither ASCII nor Latin-1. UTF-16 can also access an additional 1 million characters by a mechanism known as surrogate pairs (two 16-bit units for each character).

    `...the mechanisms for signalling which of the two are in use, and for bringing other encodings into play, are [...] in the discussion of character encodings.' The XML Specification explains how to specify in your XML file which coded character set you are using.

    Use of UCS-4 can only legally be specified in SGML or XML when the WebSGML Adaptations to ISO 8879 are implemented: this enables numbers longer than eight digits to be used in the SGML Declaration.

    `Regardless of the specific encoding used, any character in the ISO 10646 character set may be referred to by the decimal or hexadecimal equivalent of its bit string' : so no matter which character set you personally use, you can still refer to specific individual characters from elsewhere in the encoded repertoire by using &#dddd; (decimal character code) or &#xHHHH; (hexadecimal character code, in uppercase). The terminology can get confusing, as can the numbers: see the ISO 10646 Concept Dictionary. Rick Jelliffe has XML-ized the ISO character entity sets. Mike Brown's encoding information at is a very useful explanation of the need for correct encoding. There is an excellent online database of glyphs and characters in many encodings from the Estonian Language Institute server at

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    C.11 What's a Document Type Definition (DTD) and where do I get one?

    A DTD is a formal description in XML Declaration Syntax of a particular type of document. It sets out what names are to be used for the different types of element, where they may occur, and how they all fit together. For example, if you want a document type to be able to describe Lists which contain Items, the relevant part of your DTD might contain something like this:

    <!ELEMENT List (Item)+>
    <!ELEMENT Item (#PCDATA)>

    This defines a list as an element type containing one or more items (that's the plus sign); and it defines items as element types containing just plain text (Parsed Character Data or PCDATA). Validating parsers read the DTD before they read your document so that they can identify where every element type ought to come and how each relates to the other, so that applications which need to know this in advance (most editors, search engines, navigators, databases) can set themselves up correctly. The example above lets you create lists like:


    How the list appears in print or on the screen depends on your stylesheet: you do not normally put anything in the XML to control formatting like you had to do with HTML before stylesheets. This way you can change style easily without ever having to edit the document itself.

    A DTD provides applications with advance notice of what names and structures can be used in a particular document type. Using a DTD when editing files means you can be certain that all documents which belong to a particular type will be constructed and named in a consistent and conformant manner. DTDs are less important for processing documents already known to be well-formed, but they are still needed if you want to take advantage of XML's special attribute types like the built-in ID/IDREF cross-reference mechanism.

    There are thousands of DTDs already in existence in all kinds of areas (see the SGML/XML Web pages for pointers). Many of them can be downloaded and used freely; or you can write your own (see the question on creating your own DTD. Existing SGML DTDs need to be converted to XML for use with XML systems: read the question on converting SGML DTDs to XML, and expect to see announcements of popular DTDs becoming available in XML format.

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    C.12 How do I create my own DTD?

    You need to use the XML Declaration Syntax (very simple: declaration keywords begin with <! rather than just the open angle bracket, and the way the declarations are formed also differs slightly). Here's an example of a DTD for a shopping list, based on the fragment used in an earlier question:

    <!ELEMENT Shopping-List (Item)+>
    <!ELEMENT Item (#PCDATA)>

    It says that there shall be an element called Shopping-List and that it shall contain elements called Item: there must be at least one (that's the plus sign) but there may be more than one. It also says that the Item element may contain parsed character data (PCDATA, ie text).

    Because there is no other element which contains Shopping-List, that element is assumed to be the `root' element, which encloses everything else in the document. You can now use it to create an XML file: give your editor the declarations:

    <?xml version="1.0"?>
    <!DOCTYPE Shopping-List SYSTEM "shoplist.dtd">

    (assuming you put the DTD in that file). Now your editor will let you create files according to the pattern:


    It is possible to develop complex and powerful DTDs of great subtlety, but for any significant use you should learn more about document systems analysis and document type design. See for example Developing SGML DTDs by Maler and el Andaloussi, Prentice Hall, 1997, 0-13-309881-8, which was written for SGML, but perhaps 95% of it applies to XML as well, as XML is much simpler than full SGML--see the list of restrictions which shows what has been cut out.

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    C.13 Can a root element type be explicitly declared in the DTD?

    Bob DuCharme writes: No. This is done in the document's Document Type Declaration, not in the DTD. In a Document Type Declaration like this:

    <!DOCTYPE chapter SYSTEM "docbookx.dtd">

    the whole point of the `chapter' part is to identify which of the element types declared in the specified DTD should be used as the root element (also known as the `document element'--the element to be used to enclose the whole document). I believe the highest level element in DocBook is `set', but I find it hard to imagine someone creating a document to represent a set of books. We are free to use set, book, chapter, article, or even para as the document element for a valid DocBook document.

    [One job some parsers do is determine which element type[s] in a DTD are not contained in the content model of any other element type: these are by deduction the prime candidates for being default root elements. (PF)]

    This is A Good Thing, because it adds flexibility to how the DTD is used. It's the reason that XML (and SGML) have lent themselves so well to electronic publishing systems in which different elements were mixed and matched to create different documents all conforming to the same DTD.

    I've seen schema proposals that let you specify which of a schema's element types could be a document's root element, but after a quick look at section 3.3 of Part 1 of the W3C Schema Recommendation and the RELAX NG schema for RELAX, I don't believe that either of these let you do this. I could be wrong.

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    C.14 Does XML let me make up my own tags?

    No, it lets you make up names for your own elements. If you think tags and elements are the same thing you are already in trouble: read the rest of this question carefully.

    Before we start this one, Bob DuCharme notes: Don't confuse the term `tag' with the term `element' . They are not interchangeable. An element usually contains two different kinds of tag: a start-tag and an end-tag, with text or more markup between them.

    XML lets you decide which elements you want in your document and then indicate your element boundaries using the appropriate start- and end-tags for those elements. Each <!ELEMENT... declaration defines a class of elements that may or may not be used in a document conforming to that DTD. We call this class of elements an `element type' . Just as the HTML DTD includes the H1 and P element types, your document can have color and price element types.

    Non-empty elements are made up of a start-tag, the element's content, and an end-tag. <color>red</color> is a complete instance of the color element. <color> is only the start-tag of the element, showing where it begins; it is not the element itself.

    Empty elements are a special case that may be represented either as a pair of start- and end-tags with nothing between them (eg <price retail="123"></price>) or as a single empty element start-tag that has a closing slash to tell the parser `don't go looking for an end-tag to match this' (eg <price retail="123"/>). [Bob DuCharme]

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    C.15 I keep hearing about alternatives to DTDs. What's a Schema?

    § A DTD is for specifying the structure (only) of an XML file: it gives the names of the elements, attributes, and entities that can be used, and how they fit together. DTDs are designed for use with traditional text documents, not rectangular or tabular data, so the concept of data types does not exist: text is just text. If you need to specify numeric ranges or to define limitations or checks on the text content, a DTD is the wrong tool.

    § The W3C XML Schema recommendation provides a means of specifying element content in terms of data types, so that document type designers can provide criteria for validating the content of elements as well as the markup itself. Schemas are written as XML files, avoiding the need for processing software to be able to read XML Declaration Syntax, which is different from XML Instance Syntax.

    § Schemas are a formal W3C Recommendation, and a number of sites are serving useful applications as both DTDs and Schemas, eg and There is a separate Schema FAQ at The term `vocabulary' is sometimes used to refer to `DTDs and Schemas' together. Designers should note that Schemas are aimed at database-style applications where element data content requires validation: they are inappropriate for traditional text publishing applications.

    Authors and publishers should note that the plural of Schema is Schemas: the use of the singular to do duty for the plural is a foible dear to the semi-literate; the use of the old (Greek) plural schemata is now unnecessary didacticism. Writers should also note that the plural of DTD is DTDs: there is no apostrophe.

    Bob DuCharme adds: Many XML developers were dissatisfied with the syntax of the markup declarations described in the XML spec for two reasons. First, they felt that if XML documents were so good at describing structured information, then the description of a document type's own structure (its schema) should be in an XML document instead of written with its own special syntax. In addition to being more consistent, this would make it easier to edit and manipulate the schema with regular document manipulation tools. Secondly, they felt that traditional DTD notation didn't allow document type designers the power to impose enough constraints on the data--for example, the ability to say that a certain element type must always have a positive integer value, that it may not be empty, or that it must be one of a list of possible choices. This eases the development of software using that data because the developer has less error-checking code to write.

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    C.16 How do I upload or download XML to or from a database?

    Ask your database manufacturer: they all provide XML import and export modules. In some trivial cases there will be a 1:1 match between field names and element types; but in most cases some programming is required to establish the matches, but this can usually be stored as a procedure so that subsequent uses are simply commands or calls with the relevant parameters.

    Users from a database or computer science background should be aware that XML is not a database management system: it is a text markup system. While there are many similarities, some of the concepts of one are simply non-existent in the other: XML does not possess some database-like features in the same way that databases do not possess markup-like ones. It is a common error to believe that XML is a DBMS like Oracle or Access and therefore possesses the same facilities. It doesn't. [PF]

    Database users should read the article Requirements for XML Document Database Systems by Airi Salminen and Frank Wm. Tompa which was presented at the ACM Symposium on Document Engineering in Atlanta (Nov 2001). (Thanks to Bart Lateur for identifying the link.) Ronald Bourret also maintains a good resource on XML and Databases discussing native XML databases at

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    C.17 How will XML affect my document links?

    The linking abilities of XML systems are much more powerful than those of HTML, so you'll be able to do much more with them. Existing HREF-style links will remain usable, but the new linking technology is based on the lessons learned in the development of other standards involving hypertext, such as TEI and HyTime, which let you manage bidirectional and multi-way links, as well as links to a span of text (within your own or other documents) rather than to a single point. These features have been available to SGML users for many years, so there is considerable experience and expertise available in using them.

    § The XML Linking Specification (XLink) and XML Extended Pointer Specification (XPointer) documents contain the details. An XML link can be either a URL or a TEI-style Extended Pointer (XPointer), or both. A URL on its own is assumed to be a resource; if an XPointer or XLink follows it, it is assumed to be a sub-resource of that URL; an XPointer on its own is assumed to apply to the current document (all exactly as with HTML).

    An XLink is always preceded by one of #, ?, or |. The # and ? mean the same as in HTML applications; the | means the sub-resource can be found by applying the link to the resource, but the method of doing this is left to the application. An XPointer can only follow a #.

    The TEI Extended Pointer Notation (EPN) is much more powerful than the fragment address on the end of some URLs, as it allows you to specify the location of a link end using the structure of the document as well as (or in addition to) known, fixed points like IDs. For example, the linked second occurrence of the word `XPointer' two paragraphs back could be referred to as,*).child(2,#element,'p').child(3,#element,'link'), meaning the third link element within the second paragraph within the second object in the element whose ID is hypertext (this question). Count the objects from the start of this question in the XML source (which has the ID hypertext):

    1. the first child object is the title of the question (<q>);
    2. the second child object is the answer (the <a> element);
    3. within the <a> element go to the second paragraph;
    4. count to the third link.

    David Megginson has produced an xpointer function for Emacs/psgml which will deduce an XPointer for any location in an XML document.

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    C.18 Can I do mathematics using XML?

    Yes, if the document type you use provides for math. The mathematics-using community is developing software, and there is a MathML Recommendation at the W3C, which is a native XML application. It would also be possible to make XML fragments from other DTDs, such as the long-expired HTML3, the near-obsolete HTML Pro, or ISO 12083 Math, or OpenMath, or one of your own making. Browsers which display some math embedded in SGML already exist (eg DynaText, Panorama, Multidoc Pro).

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    C.19 How does XML handle metadata?

    Because XML lets you define your own markup language, you can make full use of the extended hypertext features (see the question on Links) of XML to store or link to metadata in any format (eg ISO 11179, Dublin Core, Warwick Framework, Resource Description Framework (RDF), and Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS)).

    There are no predefined elements in XML, because it is an architecture, not an application, so it is not part of XML's job to specify how or if authors should or should not implement metadata. You are therefore free to use any suitable method from simple attributes to the embedding of entire Dublin Core/Warwick Framework metadata records. Browser makers may also have their own architectural recommendations or methods to propose.

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    C.20 Can I use JavaScript, ActiveX, etc in XML files?

    This will depend on what facilities the browser makers implement. XML is about describing information; scripting languages and languages for embedded functionality are software which enables the information to be manipulated at the user's end, so these languages do not normally have any place in an XML file itself, but in stylesheets like XSL and CSS.

    XML itself provides a way to define the markup needed to implement scripting languages: as a neutral standard it neither encourages not discourages their use, and does not favour one language over another, so the field is wide open.

    ¶ Server-side script embedding, like PHP or ASP, can be used with the relevant server to modify the XML code on the fly, as the document is served, just as they can with HTML. Authors should be aware, however, that embedding server-side scripting may mean the file as stored is not valid XML: it only becomes valid when processed and served, so care must be taken when using validating editors or other software to handle or manage such files.

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    C.21 Can I use Java to create or manage XML files?

    Yes, any programming language can be used to output data from any source in XML format. There is a growing number of front-ends and back-ends for programming environments and data management environments to automate this.

    There is a large body of `middleware' written in Java and other languages for managing data either in XML or with XML output. There is a suite of Java tutorials (with source code and explanation) available at

    Please do not mail the FAQ editor with questions about your Java programming bugs. Ask one of the Java newsgroups instead.

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    C.22 How do I execute or run an XML file?

    You can't and you don't. XML is not a programming language, so XML files don't `run' or `execute' . XML is a markup specification language and XML files are data: they just sit there until you run a program which displays them (like a browser) or does some work with them (like a converter which writes the data in another format, or a database which reads the data), or modifies them (like an editor).

    ¶ If you want to view or display an XML file, open it with an XML editor or an XML browser.

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    C.23 How do I control appearance?

    § In HTML, default styling was built into the browsers because the tagset of HTML was predefined and hardwired into browsers. IN XML, where you can define your own tagset, browsers cannot possibly be expected to guess or know in advance what names you are going to use and what they will mean, so you need a stylesheet if you want to display formatted text.

    § Browsers which read XML will probably accept and use a CSS stylesheet at a minimum, but you can also use the more powerful XSLT stylesheet language to transform your XML into HTML--which browsers, of course, already know how to display (and that HTML can still use a CSS stylesheet).

    ¶ This transformation into HTML can be done either inside the browser, or by the server before the file is sent. Transformation in the browser offloads the processing from the server, but may introduce browser dependencies, leading to some of your readers being excluded. Transformation in the server makes the process browser-independent, but places a heavier processing load on the server.

    As with any system where files can be viewed at random by arbitrary users, the author cannot know what resources (such as fonts) are on the user's system, so the same care is needed as with HTML using fonts. To invoke a stylesheet from an XML file, include one of the stylesheet declarations:

    <?xml-stylesheet href="foo.xsl" type="text/xsl"?>
    <?xml-stylesheet href="foo.css" type="text/css"?>

    The Cascading Stylesheet Specification (CSS) provides a simple syntax for assigning styles to elements, and has been implemented in most browsers.

    The Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) has been created for use specifically with XML. Dave Pawson maintains a comprehensive FAQ at XSL uses XML syntax (an XSL stylesheet is an XML file) and has widespread support from several major vendors (see the questions on browsers and other software) although current browser support is limited. XSL comes in two flavours:

    • XSL itself, which is a pure formatting language, and which needs a text formatter like FOP, PassiveTeX, or XEP to create printable output (in PDF). Currently I am not aware of any Web browsers which support direct XSL rendering;
    • XSLT (T for Transformation), which is a language to specify transformations of XML into HTML either inside the browser or at the server before transmission. It can also specify transformations from one vocabulary of XML to another, and from XML to plaintext (which can be any format, including RTF and LaTeX).

    Currently only Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 and above, and Mozilla 0.9.6 and above handle XSLT inside the browser (MSIE5.5 needs some post-installation surgery to remove the obsolete WD-xsl and replace it with the current XSL-Transform processor; MSIE6 and Mozilla work as delivered). But there is a growing use of server-side processors like Cocoon and PropelX, which let you store your information in XML but serve it auto-converted to HTML, thus allowing the output to be used by any browser. XSLT is also widely used to transform XML into non-SGML formats for input to other systems (for example to transform XML into LaTeX for typesetting.

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    C.24 How do I use graphics in XML?

    Graphics have traditionally just been links which happen to have a picture file at the end rather than another piece of text. They can therefore be implemented in any way supported by the XLink and XPointer specifications (see earlier question), including using similar syntax to existing HTML images. They can also be referenced using XML's built-in NOTATION and ENTITY mechanism in a similar way to standard SGML, as external unparsed entities.

    The linking specifications, however, give you much better control over the traversal and activation of links, so an author can specify, for example, whether or not to have an image appear when the page is loaded, or on a click from the user, or in a separate window, without having to resort to scripting.

    XML itself doesn't predict or restrict graphic file formats: GIF, JPG, TIFF, PNG, CGM, and SVG at a minimum would seem to make sense; however, vector formats are normally preferred for non-photographic images.

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    Using entities for images

    You cannot embed a raw binary graphics file (or any other binary [non-text] data) directly into an XML file because any bytes happening to resemble markup would get misinterpreted: you must refer to it by linking (see below). It would, however, in theory be possible to include a text-encoded transformation of a binary file as a CDATA Marked Section, using something like UUencode with the markup characters ] and > removed from the map so that they could not occur and be misinterpreted, or even simple hexadecimal encoding as used in PostScript. For vector graphics, however, the solution is to use SVG (see below).

    Bob DuCharme adds: All the data in an XML document entity must be parseable XML. You can define an external entity as either a parsed entity (parseable XML) or an unparsed entity (anything else). Unparsed entities can be used for picture files, sound files, movie files, or whatever you like. They can only be referenced from within a document as the value of an attribute (much like a bitmap picture on an HTML Web page is the value of the img element's src attribute) and not part of the actual document. In an XML document, this attribute must be declared to be of type ENTITY, and the entity's declaration must specify a declared NOTATION, because if the entity isn't XML, the XML processor needs to know what it is. For example, in the following document, the colliepic entity is declared to have a JPEG notation, and it's used as the value of the empty dog element's picfile attribute.

    <?xml version="1.0"?> 
    <!DOCTYPE dog [
    <!NOTATION JPEG SYSTEM "Joint Photographic Experts Group">
    <!ENTITY colliepic SYSTEM "lassie.jpg" NDATA JPEG>
    <!ELEMENT dog EMPTY>
    <!ATTLIST dog picfile ENTITY #REQUIRED>
    <dog picfile="colliepic"/>

    The XLink and XPointer linking specifications describe other ways to point to a non-XML file such as a graphic. These offer more sophisticated control over the external entity's position, handling, and appearance within the XML document.

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    Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)

    Peter Murray-Rust writes: GIFs and JPEGs cater for bitmaps (pixel representations of images: all made up of coloured dots). Vector graphics (scalable, made up of draqwing specifications) are being addressed in the W3C's graphics activity as Scalable Vector Graphics (see [With the specification now virtually complete,] it will be possible to transmit the graphical representation as vectors directly within the XML file. For many graphics objects this will mean greatly decreased download time and scaling without loss of detail.

    Max Dunn writes: SVG has really taken off recently, and is quite an XML success story [...] there are already nearly conformant implementations. We recently started an SVG FAQ at which we are planning to move to

    XSLT can be used to generate SVG from XML; details are at (be careful to use XSLT, not Microsoft's obsolete WD-xsl). Documents can also interact with SVG images (see

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    D. Developers and Implementors (including WebMasters and server operators)

    D.1 Where's the spec?

    Right here ( Includes the EBNF. There are also versions in Japanese (; Spanish (; Korean ( and a Java-ised annotated version at

    Eve Maler maintains the DTD used for the spec itself; the DTD is also to encode several other W3C specifications, such as XLink, XPointer, DOM, XML Schema, etc. There is documentation available for the DTD. Note that the XML spec needs to use a special one-off version of the DTD, since the real original DTD used for it has long since been lost.

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    D.2 What are these terms DTDless, valid, and well-formed?

    XML lets you use a Document Type Definition (DTD) to describe the markup (elements and other constructs) available in any specific type of document. However, the design and construction of a DTD can be complex and non-trivial, so XML also lets you work without a DTD. DTDless operation means you can invent markup without having to define it formally, provided you stick to the rules of XML syntax.

    To make this work, a DTDless file is assumed to define its own markup by the existence and location of elements where you create them. When an XML application encounters a DTDless file, it builds its internal model of the document structure while it reads it, because it has no DTD to tell it what to expect. There must therefore be no surprises or ambiguous syntax: the document must be `well-formed' (must follow the rules).

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    Well-formed documents

    To understand why this concept is needed, look at standard HTML as an example:

    • The <IMG> element, which is defined (in the SGML DTDs for HTML) as EMPTY, doesn't have an end-tag (there is no such thing as </IMG>); and many other HTML elements (such as <P>) allow you to omit the end-tag for brevity.
    • If an XML processor reads an HTML file without knowing this (because it isn't using a DTD), and it encounters <IMG> or <P> or many other start-tags, it would have no way to know whether or not to expect an end-tag, which makes it impossible to know if the rest of the file is correct or not, because it has now lost track of whether it is inside an element or if it has finished with it.

    Well-formed documents therefore require start-tags and end-tags on every normal element, and any EMPTY elements must be made unambiguous, either by using normal start-tags and end-tags, or by affixing a slash to the start-tag before the closing > as a sign that there will be no end-tag.

    All XML documents, both DTDless and valid, must be well-formed. They must start with an XML Declaration if necessary (for example, identifying the character encoding or using the Standalone Document Declaration):

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1" standalone="yes"?> 
    David Brownell notes: XML that's just well-formed doesn't need to use a Standalone Document Declaration at all. Such declarations are there to permit certain speedups when processing documents while ignoring external parameter entities--basically, you can't rely on external declarations in standalone documents. The types that are relevant are entities and attributes. Standalone documents must not require any kind of attribute value normalization or defaulting, otherwise they are invalid.

    Rules for well-formedness:

    • All tags must be balanced: that is, every element which may contain character data or sub-elements must have both the start-tag and the end-tag present (omission is not allowed except for empty elements, see below);
    • All attribute values must be in quotes. The single-quote character (the apostrophe) may be used if the value contains a double-quote character, and vice versa. If you need isolated quotes as data as well, you can use &apos; or &quot;. Do not under any circumstances use the automated typographic ( `curly' ) inverted commas substituted by some wordprocessors for quoting attribute values.
    • any EMPTY elements (eg those with no end-tag like HTML's <IMG>, <HR>, and <BR> and others) must either end with />or they must look like non-EMPTY elements by having a real end-tag (but no content). Example: <BR> would become either <BR/> or <BR></BR> (with nothing in between).
    • There must not be any isolated markup-start characters (< or &) in your text data. They must be given as &lt; and &amp; respectively, and the sequence ]]> may only occur as the end of a CDATA marked section: if you are using it for any other purpose it must be given as ]]&gt;.
    • Elements must nest inside each other properly (no overlapping markup, same as for HTML);
    • DTDless well-formed documents may use attributes on any element, but the attributes are all assumed to be of type CDATA. You cannot use ID/IDREF attribute types for parser-checked cross-referencing in DTDless documents.
    • XML files with no DTD are considered to have &lt;, &gt;, &apos;, &quot;, and &amp; predefined and thus available for use. With a DTD, all character entities must be declared, including these five. If you need other character entities in a DTDless file, you can declare them in an internal subset without referencing anything other than the root element type (thanks to Richard Lander for this):
    • <?xml version="1.0" standalone="yes"?>
      <!DOCTYPE example [ 
      <!ENTITY mdash "---"> 
      <example>Hindsight&mdash;a wonderful thing.</example> 

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    Valid XML

    Valid XML files are well-formed files which have a Document Type Definition (DTD) and which conform to it. They must already be well-formed, so all the rules above apply.

    A valid file begins with a Document Type Declaration, but may have an optional XML Declaration prepended:

    <?xml version="1.0"?> 
    <!DOCTYPE advert SYSTEM ""> 

    The XML Specification predefines an SGML Declaration for XML which is fixed for all instances and is therefore hard-coded into most XML software (the declaration has been removed from the text of the Specification and is now in a separate document). The specified DTD must be accessible to the XML processor using the URL supplied in the SYSTEM Identifier, either by being available locally (ie the user already has a copy on disk), or by being retrievable via the network.

    It is possible (many people would say preferable) to supply a Formal Public Identifier with the PUBLIC keyword, and use an XML Catalog to dereference it, but the Specification mandates a SYSTEM Identifier so this must still be supplied (after the PUBLIC identifier: no further keyword is needed):

    <!DOCTYPE advert PUBLIC "-//Foo, Inc//DTD Advertisements//EN" 

    The test for validity is that a validating parser finds no errors in the file: it must conform absolutely to the definitions and declarations in the DTD.

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    D.3 Which should I use in my DTD, attributes or elements?

    There is no single answer to this: a lot depends on what you are designing the document type for.

    Traditional editorial practice is to put the real text (what would be printed) as character data content, and keep the metadata (information about the text) in attributes, from where they can more easily be isolated for analysis or special treatment like display in the margin or in a mouseover:

    <l n="184"><sp>Portia</sp><text>The quality of mercy is not strain'd,</text></l>

    But from the systems point of view, there is nothing wrong with storing the data the other way round, especially where the volume of text data on each occasion is relatively small:

    <line speaker="Portia" text="The quality of mercy is not strain'd,">184</line>

    A lot will depend on what you want to do with the information and which bits of it are easiest accessed by each method. A rule of thumb for conventional text documents is that if the markup were all stripped away, the bare text should still be readable and usable, even if unformatted and inconvenient. For database output, however, or other machine-generated documents like e-commerce transactions, human reading may not be meaningful, so it is perfectly possible to have documents where all the data is in attributes, and the document contains no character data in content models at all. See for more information.

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    D.4 What else has changed between SGML and XML?

    The principal changes are in what you can do in writing a Document Type Definition (DTD). To simplify the syntax and make it easier to write processing software, a large number of SGML markup declaration options have been suppressed (see the list of omitted features).

    An extra Name Start Character is permitted in XML Names (the colon) for use with namespaces (enabling DTDs to distinguish element source, ownership, or application). A colon may only appear in mid-name, not at the start or the end.

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    D.5 What's a namespace?

    Randall Fowle writes: A namespace is a collection of element and attribute names identified by a Uniform Resource Identifier reference. The reference may appear in the root element as a value of the xmlns attribute. For example, the namespace reference for an XML document with a root element x might appear like this: <x xmlns="">.

    More than one namespace may appear in a single XML document, to allow a name to be used more than once. Each reference can declare a prefix to be used by each name, so the previous example might appear as <x xmlns:spc="">, which would nominate the namespace for the `spc' prefix: <spc:name>Mr. Big</spc:name>.

    James Anderson adds: in general, note that the binding may also be effected by a default value for an attribute in the DTD.

    § The reference does not need to be a physical file; it is simply a way to distinguish between namespaces. The reference should tell a person looking at the XML document where to find definitions of the element and attribute names using that particular namespace. Ronald Bourret maintains the Namespace FAQ at

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    D.6 What XML software can I use today?

    Details are no longer listed in this FAQ as they are now changing too rapidly to be kept up to date: see the XML Web pages at and watch for announcements on the mailing lists and newsgroups.

    For a detailed guide to some examples of XML programs and the concepts behind them, see the editor's book Understanding SGML and XML Tools (Kluwer, 1998, 0-7923-8169-6).

    An important distinction is evident between the two major classes of XML application: `document' and `data' , and this is reflected especially in editing and development software. Document-style applications are in the nature of traditional publishers' work: text and images in a structured environment, with fonts and formatting. Data-style applications are found in e-commerce, with XML being used as a container for information being passed between systems, usually unformatted and unseen by humans. While in theory it would be possible to use a data-class editor to write a novel, or a document-class editor to create invoices, specialist users in both classes should remain aware that the other applications do exist.

    For browsers see the question on XML Browsers and the details of the xml-dev mailing list for software developers. Bert Bos keeps a list of some XML developments in bison, flex, perl and Python.

    Information for developers of Chinese XML systems can be found at the Chinese XML Now! website of Academia Sinica: This site includes an FAQ and test files.

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    D.7 Do I have to change any of my server software to work with XML?

    The only changes needed are to make sure your server serves up .xml, .css, .dtd, .xsl, and whatever other file types you will use as the correct MIME content (media) types.

    The details of the settings are specified in RFC 3023. Most new versions of Web server software come preset.

    All that is needed is to edit the mime-types file (or its equivalent: as a server operator you already know where to do this) and add or edit the relevant lines for the right media types. In some servers (eg Apache), individual content providers or directory owners may also be able to change the MIME types for specific file types from within their own directories by using directives in a .htaccess file. The media types required are:

    • text/xml for XML documents which are `readable by casual users' ;
    • application/xml for XML documents which are `unreadable by casual users' ;
    • text/xml-external-parsed-entity for external parsed entities such as document fragments (eg separate chapters which make up a book) subject to the readability distinction of text/xml;
    • application/xml-external-parsed-entity for external parsed entities subject to the readability distinction of application/xml;
    • application/xml-dtd for DTD files and modules, including character entity sets.

    The RFC has further suggestions for the use of the +xml media type suffix for identifying ancillary files such as XSLT (application/xslt+xml).

    If you run scripts generating XHTML which you wish to be treated as XML rather than HTML, they may need to be modified to produce the relevant Document Type Declaration as well as the right media type if your application requires them to be validated.

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    D.8 Can I still use server-side inclusions?

    Yes, so long as what they generate ends up as part of an XML-conformant file (ie either valid or just well-formed).

    Server-side tag-replacers like shtml, PHP, JSP, ASP, Zope, etc store almost-valid files using comments, Processing Instructions, or non-XML markup, which gets replaced at the point of service by text or XML markup. It is unclear why some of these systems continue to use non-XML markup. There are also some XML-based preprocessors for formats like XVRL (eXtensible Value Resolution Language) which resolve specialised references to external data and output a normalised XML file.

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    D.9 Can I (and my authors) still use client-side inclusions?

    The same rule applies as for server-side inclusions, so you need to ensure that any embedded code which gets passed to a third-party engine (eg calls to SQL, Java, LiveWire, etc) does not contain any characters which might be misinterpreted as XML markup (ie no angle brackets or ampersands). Either use a CDATA marked section to avoid your XML application parsing the embedded code, or use the standard &lt;, and &amp; character entity references instead.

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    D.10 I'm trying to understand the XML Spec: why does XML have such difficult terminology?

    For implementation to succeed, the terminology needs to be precise. Design goal eight of the specification tells us that `the design of XML shall be formal and concise' . To describe XML, the specification therefore uses formal language drawn from several fields, specifically those of text engineering, international standards and computer science. This is often confusing to people who are unused to these disciplines because they use well-known English words in a specialised sense which can be very different from their common meanings--for example: grammar, production, token, or terminal.

    The specification does not explain these terms because of the other part of the design goal: the specification should be concise. It doesn't repeat explanations that are available elsewhere: it is assumed you know this and either know the definitions or are capable of finding them. In essence this means that to grok the fullness of the spec, you do need a knowledge of some SGML and computer science, and have some exposure to the language of formal standards.

    Sloppy terminology in specifications causes misunderstandings and makes it hard to implement consistently, so formal standards have to be phrased in formal terminology. This FAQ is not a formal document, and the astute reader will already have noticed it refers to `element names' where `element type names' is more correct; but the former is more widely understood.

    Those new to the terminology may find it useful to read something like the Gentle Introduction to SGML chapter of the TEI Guidelines.

    Thanks to Bob DuCharme for suggestions and some bits from his book on the XML Spec.

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    D.11 Is there a Developer's API kit for XML?

    Several are available or under development, such as SAX. Details of these and other XML software are held on the XML Web pages.

    The established conversion and application development engines like Balise, Omnimark, and SGMLC all have XML capability and they all provide APIs. Details of XML software of all kinds is on the XML Web pages.

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    D.12 How does XML fit with the DOM?

    The Document Object Model (DOM) ( provides an abstract API for constructing, accessing, and manipulating XML and HTML documents. A binding of the DOM to a particular programming language provides a concrete API. Microsoft and other vendors provide APIs which let you use the DOM to query and manipulate XML documents in memory. The public Working Draft for the DOM Level 3 XPath is at

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    D.13 Is there a conformance test suite for XML processors?

    James Clark has a collection of test cases for testing XML parsers at which includes a conformance test.

    Mary Brady, OASIS XML Conformance TC Chair, writes: A much larger and more comprehensive suite is the NIST/OASIS Conformance Test Suite, available from, which contains contributions from James Clark, OASIS and NIST, Sun, and Fuji Xerox.

    Carmelo Montanez writes: NIST has developed a number of XSLT/XPath tests, which will be part of the official OASIS XSLT/XPath suite (not yet released). These tests are available from our web site at (click on `XSL Testing' ). The expected output may be slightly different from one implementation to another. The OASIS XSLT technical committee has a solution for that problem, however our tests do not yet implement such solution. Please forward any comments to

    Jon Noring writes: For those who are interested, I took the current and complete Unicode 3.0 `cast' of characters and their hex codes, and created a simple XML document of it to test XML browsers for Unicode conformity. It is not finished yet--I need to add comments and to fix the display of rtl characters (ie Hebrew, Arabic). It is found at: It is quite large, almost 900K in size, so be prepared. IE5 renders many of the characters in this XML document--and for the ones it does render it appears to do so correctly. I look forward to when Opera will do likewise. I haven't tested the current version of Mozilla/Netscape for Unicode conformity.

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    D.14 How do I include one DTD (or fragment) in another?

    This works exactly the same as for SGML. First you declare the entity you want to include, and then you reference it by name as a parameter:

    <!ENTITY % mylists SYSTEM "dtds/listfrag.ent">

    Such declarations traditionally go all together towards the top of the main DTD file, where they can be managed and maintained, but this is not essential so long as they are declared before they are used. You use Parameter Entity Syntax for this (the percent sign) because the file is to be included at DTD compile time, not when the document instance itself is parsed.

    Note that a URL is compulsory in XML as the System Identifier for all external file references: standard rules for dereferencing URLs apply (assume the same method, server, and directory as the containing document). A Formal Public Identifier can also be used, following the same rules as elsewhere.

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    D.15 I've already got SGML DTDs: how do I convert them for use with XML?

    There are numerous projects to convert common or popular SGML DTDs to XML format (for example the TEI DTD, both Lite and full versions).

    The following checklist comes courtesy of Seán McGrath (author of XML By Example, Prentice Hall, 1998):

    1. No equivalent of the SGML Declaration. So keywords, character set etc are essentially fixed;
    2. Tag mimimization is not allowed, so <!ELEMENT x - O (A,B)> becomes <!ELEMENT X (A,B)> and <!ELEMENT x - O EMPTY> becomes <!ELEMENT X EMPTY>;
    3. #PCDATA must only occur at the extreme left (ie first) in an OR model, eg <!ELEMENT x - - (A|B|#PCDATA|C)> (in SGML) becomes <!ELEMENT x (#PCDATA|A|B|C)*>, and <!ELEMENT x (A,#PCDATA)> is illegal;
    4. No CDATA, RCDATA elements [declared content];
    5. Some SGML attribute types are not allowed in XML eg NUTOKEN;
    6. Some SGML attribute defaults are not allowed in XML eg CONREF;
    7. Comments cannot be inline to declarations like <!ELEMENT x (A,B) -- this is an SGML comment in a declaration -->;
    8. A whole bunch of SGML optional features are not present in XML: all forms of tag minimization (OMITTAG, DATATAG, SHORTREF, etc); Link Process Definitions; Multiple DTDs per document; and many more: see for the list of bits of SGML that were removed for XML;
    9. And [nearly] last but not least, CONCUR!
    10. There are some important differences between the internal and external subset portion of a DTD in XML: Marked Sections can only occur in the external subset; and Parameter Entities must be used to replace entire declarations in the internal subset portion of a DTD, eg the following is invalid XML:
      <!DOCTYPE x [ 
      <!ENTITY % modelx "(A|B)*"> 
      <!ELEMENT x %modelx;> 

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    D.16 What's the story on XML and EDI?

    Electronic Data Interchange has been used in e-commerce for many years to exchange documents between commercial partners to a transaction. It has required special proprietary software, but there are now moves to enable EDI documents to travel inside XML. Details of developments are at and there is a guideline document at

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    How far are we going?

    Date: Fri, 09 Jul 1999 14:26:17 -0500 (EST)
    From: The Internet Oracle <>
    Subject: The Oracle replies!
    X-Planation: X-Face can be viewed with
    The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
    Your question was:
    > Oh Oracle most wise, all-seeing and all-knowing,
    > in thy wisdom grant me a response to my request:
    > Is XML really going to cut the mustard?
    And in response, thus spake the Oracle:
    } Well, since XML is a subset of SGML, and SGML 
    } has a <cut mustard> tag, I'd have to say yes.
    } You owe the Oracle a B1FF parser.

    For the SGML-curious among our readers, that's:

    <!element cut - - (#pcdata)>
    <!attlist cut mustard (mustard) #REQUIRED>
    <!-- :-) -->

    Revision history

    0.131 January 1997First draft. Sample questions devised by participants.
    0.23 February 1997Revised draft. Additional questions and answers.
    0.317 February 1997Extensive revision following comments from the group. Changes to markup and organization.
    0.423 February 1997Minor editorial changes
    0.51 April 1997Added Multidoc Pro as SGML browser; question on XML math; fixed ambiguity in explanation of NETs; added JUMBO; ERB changes of March 26; more details of linking and tools; adding element declaration minimization to the forbidden list.
    1.01 May 1997Added reference to ToC and printed URLs; added disclaimer at A6; combined old A11 with A5 to explain SGML/XML/HTML; clarified explanation of XML not replacing HTML at C1; added new course and conference at (new) A11; clarified B1, C4, C8; added FPI server at C12; removed examples in C13.
    1.11 October 1997No more minimization parameters in element declarations; parsers must now pass all white-space to the application; everything is now case-sensitive, including all markup; a new proposal for stylesheets: XSL, which combines DSSSL and CSS in an XML format; Java[Script] and and metadata and their use in XML; updated list of software; first XML book is published; new public mailing list XML-L
    1.21 February 1998Added a Mac icon (thanks to Martin Winter and others); removed Draft from references to the spec; changed revision colours; the RMD is gone: replaced references to it with standalone; updated some broken URLs; [1.21] minor edits to URLs and updates on translation; added XUA to details of MIME types.
    1.31 June 1998Removed the math plugin (Linux Netscape is broken and refused to elide it); updated list of events (need more); fixed some broken URLs; added Spanish and Korean translations and the Annotated Spec; updated details of MS/NS browser development; clarified the use of FPI vs SysiD; updated link to Feb 10 Rec Spec; added pointers to the SGML Decl for XML; updated references to XLink and XPointer; corrected a reference to ancient Sumerian writing; clarified the need for conversion of HTML DTDs to XML.
    1.41 October 1998Added maintainer's email address under Availability; Added note about ISO representation and voting on standards; added Greek translation; updated details of conferences; changed the URL for the new SGML/XML Web Pages; updated details of browsers; corrected reference to the SGML omitted features from XML; updated details of converting HTML to XML; added mention of comp.text.xml; extended the questions on graphics and how to use XML with current browsers; added questions on DOM, conformance testing, DTD includes, SGML DTDs into XML, EDI; (1.41) corrected errors in MIME types, URLs, SDD, and images.
    1.5June 1999Added new XML mailing lists in Italian and in French; added details of developer resources in Chinese; two more translations under way (Chinese and Czech); updated links to the question on DTDs; added question on the use of Java to generate and manage XML; added question on when to use attributes and when to use element markup; added question on the use of XML syntax to describe DTD data (schemas); expanded on the explanation of the use of formal language in the spec; added question on the difference between XML and C++; separated information on XML versions of HTML into a separate question.
    1.6July 2000Added French and Czech translations and a Finnish mailing list, and reorganised the list of translations; updated URLs for newsgroups; clarified reference to Unicode; reworded question on terminology; added more links to the question on conformance testing; corrected error in content model example for mixed content; updates to the question on stylesheets; Minor edits to the question on software; major changes to the question on servers and media types; updated question on XML Schemas; added new question on `executing' XML `programs'; replaced the math example with one less likely to distress the gentle susceptibilities of some readers; added a new question on knowing SGML/HTML before XML.
    2.0June 2001DTD changed from DocBook SGML to QAML XML; removed query form; most questions revised and in some cases rewritten; updated references to new versions of associated standards, recommendations, and working drafts; added pointer to Jon Noring's Unicode test page and NIST's XSLT/XPath test suite; updated Eve Maler's links to the DTD for the spec; added warnings on speling and punk chew asian; added question on namespaces; fixed bug in question on stylesheets; inserted explanation of `document' vs `data' software; added new mailing list on XSL:FO; updated Robin Cover's URL throughout; updated the question on media types for RFC 3023; Extended question of graphics to cover SVG. For 2.01 there were minor typos, some updated links (to recent versions of the standards, and in the section on More Information), and a few wording changes. Thanks to James Cummings for a very thorough proofread. Editing was done using GNU Emacs and psgml-mode.
    2.1January 2002Added Humanities mailing list; added more references for XML and databases; added the Namespaces FAQ; corrected some misunderstandings in character encodings; changed the editor's email address; added a new question on root elements; updated the XLink to W3C Recommendation; updated the SGML FAQ address; fixed some broken links; added translations into German and Amharic; minor revisions to some wording. Editing this time was done in epcEdit 1.02.