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Last modified: October 27, 2001
Signed Document Markup Language (SDML)

[October 27, 2001]

[June 21, 1998] As of June 19, 1998, the W3C acknowledged receipt of a NOTE submission from the Financial Services Technology Consortium (FSTC) for the Signed Document Markup Language (SDML), Specification 2.0. References: NOTE-SDML-19980619, W3C Note 19-June-1998. Author: Jeff Kravitz (IBM). The topic of the proposal is within scope for the W3C Digital Signature Initiative. The goal of SDML language, as part of the Electronic Check Project, is to "a) tag the individual text items making up a document, b) group the text items into document parts which can have business meaning and can be signed individually or together, c) allow document parts to be added and deleted without invalidating previous signatures, and d) allow signing, co-signing, endorsing, co-endorsing, and witnessing operations on documents and document parts." Abstract: "The SDML 2.0 specification describes a generic method for digitally signing a document, one or more sections of a document and/or multiple documents together. The signed documents may be web pages, e-mail messages or any text based documents. SDML requires the use of public key cryptography and hash algorithms and will support all of the common methodologies in use today and those which will be developed in the future. The authors of SDML have defined its structure, in part, through the use of the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). SDML is a generalization of the Financial Services Markup Language (FSML), developed by the Financial Services Technology Consortium. FSML defines the specific document parts needed for electronic checks, e.g., the tags needed to identify check specific data items, the semantics of the data items, and processing requirements for electronic checks. Note that the SGML Document Type Definition is presented in Appendix A; among the 'Issues and Directions' still under discussion: "Convergence with the new XML standard. XML, a new SDML-based standard from the W3C is a subset of SGML, as is SDML, but was developed in order to allow for more flexible documents on the World Wide Web. XML is essentially a subset of SGML. A number of issues related to the differences between XML and SGML, as well as some problems caused by the differences in goals for the two languages, will need to be resolved if SDML were to migrate to become XML-compatible." The W3C reviewers "expect that the next phase of DSig would want to move to an XML-compliant syntax, and fully address internationalization requirements."

[May 06, 1998] "The Signed Document Mark-up Language (SDML) was developed as an outgrowth of the work of the Financial Services Technology Consortium (FSTC) Electronic Check project, and has been created, fine-tuned, and tested by multiple banks and hardware/software companies over a period of about two years. SDML may be used for a wide variety of purposes, such as electronic funds transfer, electronic commerce, or any form of signed contract or agreement." SDML is said to be a "generalized version of FSML (Financial Services Markup Language). FSML is an SGML-like markup language designed to allow the creation of electronic financial documents. FSML was developed by the FSTC Electronic Check Project."

On May 06, 1998, the Financial Services Technology Consortium (FSTC) released "two white papers on messaging format structures for E-commerce. Both documents were prepared by members of the FSTC Electronic Check Project team. The first is a detailed description of the FSTC-developed Signed Document Markup Language (SDML). The second document is an analysis of the issues associated with making SDML compliant with the Extensible Markup Language (XML) maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In addition, the FSTC intends to submit a proposal to the W3C to start a project that would integrate the capabilities found in SDML into a future release of XML." [from the press release]


  • [June 21, 1998] Signed Document Markup Language (SDML), Specification 2.0. [local archive copy]
  • Announcement for the SDML NOTE submitted to the W3C
  • W3C Staff Comment on the SDML submission
  • Financial Services Technology Consortium (FSTC)
  • Historic: "SDML is a message format structure that allows an entity such as a bill payer to provide an electronic document whose author and integrity can be authenticated such as an electronic promise to pay from funds on deposit at a bank. SDML documents may be digitally signed using public key cryptographic signature and hash algorithms in an algorithm-independent fashion to provide a method of ensuring verifiability of origin, integrity, and accountability...SDML is a generalization of the FSTC-developed Financial Services Markup Language (FSML), which defines the specific document parts needed for electronic checks, the tags which identify check-specific data items, the semantics of the data items, and processing requirements for electronic checks... SDML was developed as an outgrowth of work by the FSTC Electronic Check Project. The Electronic Check project, from its inception, sought to develop a solution to the issues of authentication of authorship or approval and the integrity of contents associated with electronic financial instruments. The project determined that the essence of the problem was to develop a generalized structure for creating, processing, and displaying electronic "signed writings," where cryptographic signatures would substitute for manual signatures and an electronic message would take the place of paper. The structure would need to support the same business operations as signed paper checks, such as signing, co-signing, and witnessing of signatures, and attaching and removing associated documents such as remittance slips, invoices, and deposit slips..." From FSTC. [cache]
  • SDML Specifications 2.0. February 15, 1996, Revised April 20, 1998. By Jeff Kravitz (IBM Research), with the assistance of the members of the FSTC Electronic Check Project Team. [local archive copy]
  • "SDML and XML. Comparison of SDML and XML." April 14, 1998, April 20, 1998. By Michael Lu (Citicorp), with assistance from: Jim Flynn (@Work Technology), Frank Jaffe (BankBoston), Jeff Kravitz (IBM Research), and Stuart Marks (Sun). [local archive copy]
  • Press Release on the SDML documents - "FSTC Publishes SDML Specification."

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