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August 3, 1998 (Vol. 20, Issue 31)

Business to get XML repository

By Jeff Walsh and Matthew Nelson

The XML/EDI Group has announced it is developing a repository for business transactions based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML).

The repository would store the tag sets, document type definitions (DTDs), Extensible Stylesheet Language templates, and other schema needed for effective business-to-business communication, according to Bruce Peat, chairman of the XML/EDI Group.

Using XML to facilitate Internet-commerce and electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions can solve a number of nagging problems that have dogged the wide deployment of I-commerce, according to Rik Drummond, owner of the Drummond group, an electronic-commerce consulting company, in Ft. Worth, Texas.

"One of the biggest problems with e-commerce is you just can't convey information between applications very well," Drummond said. "You can't do it with a common syntax, and we don't have a common set of semantics. XML is very possibly a common set of syntax to move these applications; that's what everyone is excited about."

The XML/EDI Group is also forming a working group to organize the development of the repository. Peat noted that although representatives from Microsoft, Netscape, IBM, and other large software companies are listed as being on the working group, the group is not yet officially endorsed by any of those companies.

"The idea connecting these various groups in their initiatives is really the key," Peat said. "Our intention is to have an open standard, so there's no major drivers."

Peat noted that posting DTDs online and sharing them among partners is not a new concept, but previously it had only existed among small groups. By opening up the repository, it will serve as a global library for companies to share their preferred formats.

The repositories are not limited to text, however. Anything that can be sent via MIME can be housed in the repository, which opens it up to scripts, Java applets, and various forms and templates.

Peat is convinced that XML/EDI is the wave of the future, and he expects a majority of the transactions in the United States to be using XML/EDI by the year 2002.

Recently, the XML/EDI Group began working with the Unified Modeling Language Group, which will enable people to model their business objects, map them to XML DTDs, and exchange complex objects via HTTP.

"Everybody's been trying to find how we can exchange documents in a way between a standard and a proprietary database," Peat said. "Groups will pick the standard and tailor it for their need, and in that tailoring they create their own maps."

The XML/EDI Group also announced that it is working with Data Interchange Standards Association and CommerceNet to map the X12 standard used for EDI in North America to XML.

A draft of the specification is available online at the XML/EDI Group Web site. The XML/EDI Group, in Alexandria, Va., is at http://www.xmledi.com.

Copyright (c) 1998 InfoWorld Media Group Inc.

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