[Local archive copy mirrored from the canonical URL: http://www.csclub.uwaterloo.ca/u/relander/Academic/XML/xml_rw.html, which is the authoritative source. August, 1997.]

XML Rescues the Web

Written by Richard Lander

Other than for sites that exhibit ant farms or amateur trapeze artists, HTML just doesn't cut it. The Web has outgrown the fixed element set that HTML is; however, since Navigator and Internet Explorer only support HTML, the Web can be extremely constraining. The limitations of HTML, a much passionately debated topic, will no longer be a concern for information providers and Web developers with the entrance of the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Both Navigator and Internet Explorer will support XML by the end of the year. XML is an SGML-like markup language designed under the auspices of the WWW Consortium. Customized element sets and stylesheets are a part of XML. No longer will the latest version of HTML be a blessing, but merely a half-remembered concept.

Although commercial, entertainment and academic sites make up a large part of the Web, it is littered with millions of sites that are of little interest to the average Web-user. Much of what is of interest or of use is too complex for HTML and has long been filling up burgeoning SGML closets. A great deal of academic and technical writing is written in SGML. Much of that work can not be displayed in HTML browsers because of the mathematical, chemical, and other complex information that it contains. Converting those kind of documents to HTML cripples them.

SGML closets everywhere are about to burst open with the introduction of XML. XML will allow for a much more interesting and useful Web. Netscape and Microsoft are working on their next-generation push-browsers, partly based on the XML standard. Academics are writing XML markup languages capable of handling complex mathematical and chemical information. The Web will soon transform itself into a mental playground of entertainment, commerce and academia. The useless exposes of esoteric interests may begin to fade away as the Web is better able to define itself with XML.

XML provides the means to accomplish much of what HTML has not been able to. No longer will information and Web developers have to constrain their ideas with a fixed element set. They will create element sets, really new markup languages, to conform to the nature of their documents. Many documents do not conform well to the Web-page document-type (HTML) and as such do not fare well on the Web. XML, coupled with DSSSL, a stylesheet language, will offer developers a means to overcome the fixed styling that Web browsers have employed.

For the amateur Web-developer, making minor modifications to the HTML element set and stylesheet is a quick-and-easy way to attain originality. By adding a few elements to HTML, amateurs can create markup languages that perfectly fit the documents that they create. DSSSL styling, in its basic form, is straight-forward and makes for interesting and original eye-catching Web documents.

Beyond HTML, XML boasts new types of linking unheard of to HTML veterans. HTML offers only unidirectional links. Those are the type that get you there, never to return, or not at all. XML employs links that are two-way, allowing users to return to the world from which they came. These links can be managed outside of Web-pages making "404 Not-Found" pages a less frequent Web companion.

The XML specification will soon be finished. Information on the specification and work being done in XML can be found at W3C at http://www.w3.org/XML/. Big-league software vendors have promised to support XML, making it the defacto Web-language that HTML was and that SGML only hoped to be. We will all be using it, soon. For amateur Web-developers though, XML will not establish itself until late this year. The future is coming and it's based on XML.

Creator: Rich'd Lander
Last Updated: July 1, 1997.