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In early 1996, it was becoming clear that HTML, the most successful electronic document format in history, was suffering from growing pains. More precisely, every significant Web community wanted it to grow in a different direction. It was hard to see how to accomplish this without losing the essential simplicity and integration of display, hypertext, and GUI that have driven HTML's success.
With this in mind, the W3C in May of 1996 launched the project that has now become the W3C XML Activity which led to today's W3C Recommendation. The working group that designed and refined XML contained a unique combination of publishing-industry veterans and Web pioneers; bolstered by W3C's unique position in the center of the Web industry, and strength of its Membership -- to date more than 243 organizations strong.
The key features of XML are:
Optimized for Use on the Internet
XML is interoperable and carefully designed to avoid the requirement for delivery of multiple document components when one will do. Furthermore, all external addressing in the XML domain is accomplished through the use of standard Web addresses.
Built on Experience with SGML
SGML is Standard Generalized Markup Language, a ten-year old ISO standard that has proved invaluable in large-scale publishing applications in the public and private sectors. XML, while much simpler than SGML, and optimized for network applications, is fully compatible, thus leveraging the substantial installed base of SGML tools and experience.
Easy to Process
Programs to process XML are easy to write. Within a few days of the first public draft, freeware implementations arrived on the Internet. The number of implementations is now well into double digits, and is rapidly growing.
Solid Base for Internationalization
XML draws on several generations of internationalization experience, and avoids the pitfalls of insufficient attention to internationalization, and of being so general as to impair interoperability. This is made possible by leveraging the use of the Unicode (ISO 10646) standard for internationalized character sets.
A General-purpose Tool
While optimized for network delivery, the design of XML includes many features designed to support authoring, indexing, and other types of application. XML's generality is evident from the fact that its first wave of applications seems to be concentrated in the areas of structured machine-to-machine data interchange, and especially generalized metadata; none of these applications were particular design targets of the group, which thought it was building a document-centric format.
Designed to Support Automation
Unlike any other Internet data format, the specification of XML includes a precise and rigorous set of rules for error and exception handling. This empowers application builders, who can create XML software using relatively lightweight and simple data-handling modules, in the expectation that the data will usually be well-formed, and that when errors occur, the correct fallback procedures are well-known and common across the industry.
XML was developed, according to normal W3C practice, by a small group (the XML Working Group) which received technical input from a larger Special Interest Group, and which drove the editorial processes that led to the creation of the XML specification. W3C staff members played an integral role of guiding and facilitating the process.
The specification progressed through a set of design goals and succession of interim drafts, resulting in the XML 1.0 Recommendation. Virtually all the serious technical discussion and decision-making took place via teleconferences, email, and Web postings; very little face-to-face interaction was involved. Not only did this allow the worldwide members of the Working Group the opportunity to contribute to the development of the specification, it enabled the process to progress at an accelerated pace.
XML 1.0, at the moment of its birth, represents one of the more dramatic successes of the consensus-based, standards-building process that the W3C exists to foster.
October: World Wide Web Consortium [W3C] founded
March: "SGML on the Web" is one of the Activity areas W3C uses to recruit new Members
June: Generic SGML Activity formally launched
August: SGML Editorial Review Board (ERB) and SGML Working Group (WG) officially chartered
September: Report on the SGML Activity at Seybold San Francisco; SGML Editorial Review Board (ERB) begins
November: Announcement of first XML Working Draft at SGML '96, Boston
April: First XML-link Working Draft and second XML-lang Working Draft released at WWW6
June: Third XML-lang Working Draft released
July: XML-lang renamed to XML and XML-link renamed to XLL; second XLL (XML-Link) Working Draft released
July: Old SGML ERB and SGML WG dissolved; new XML WG and XML SIG formed under new W3C process
August: Fourth XML (XML-lang) Working Draft released
November: Fifth XML Working Draft released
December: Release of the XML 1.0 Proposed Recommendation at the SGML/XML '97 Conference
February: W3C issues XML 1.0 as a W3C Recommendation
Further information on XML can be found at http://www.w3.org/XML/
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