Working with Data on the Web
Illustration by John Hersey

Working with Data on the Web

with Joseph Lowery

Video: Understanding XML structure

XML is an extremely robust language and a set of standards used to manage all kinds of data on the web and off. It has a great number of adherence in the business world, but it also enjoys widespread use in standard web operations, such as RSS feeds. Let's take a closer look at the language, so you can see why it's so popular, and get a clearer sense of how it's structured. XML stands for Extensible Markup Language. And it's a simple text-based format for structured data.

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Watch the Online Video Course Working with Data on the Web
2h 21m Intermediate Aug 21, 2013

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Often, designers need to convey simple data without the overhead of a relational database such as MySQL. This course introduces web technologies that make it easy for a designer or developer to store, retrieve, and display data online.

First, discover how data is collected via standard and advanced HTML5 forms. Then look at a client-friendly approach to storing that data using simple CSV files. Next, Joseph shows how to store, manage, and style data with the three big players: the granddaddy of static data, XML; the popular JavaScript-based JSON; and the recursively named YAML (YAML Ain't Markup Language), frequently used in Ruby-based projects. Plus, take a close look at basic HTML5 data options, including local storage and the flexible data attribute.

Topics include:
  • Interacting with data through HTML forms
  • Storing data as comma-separated values
  • Saving, retrieving, and displaying data as XML
  • Setting up and updating JSON data
  • Creating a YAML data file
  • Using HTML5 data storage solutions
Subjects:
Developer Web
Software:
HTML XML CSS JSON YAML
Author:
Joseph Lowery

Understanding XML structure

XML is an extremely robust language and a set of standards used to manage all kinds of data on the web and off. It has a great number of adherence in the business world, but it also enjoys widespread use in standard web operations, such as RSS feeds. Let's take a closer look at the language, so you can see why it's so popular, and get a clearer sense of how it's structured. XML stands for Extensible Markup Language. And it's a simple text-based format for structured data.

It was derived from another markup language called SGML. If you're completely new to XML, you'll note a close resemblance to HTML, however you'll find that the syntax is much stricter. The specification was developed and is maintained by the W3C, where there remain a great number of XML related working groups. XML is a tag or element based language. Based on custom tag pairs. Tags can also include custom attributes, as you can see in the code displayed here.

The custom attribute in this case would be gender equals male. All elements must be closed, that is paired with an opening and closing tag. Or, you can have what's known as an empty tag, that is, it's empty of enclosed content. It consists of a single tag closed by the forward slash before the tag's last angle bracket. There are no set element names, everything is custom. There are however, a number of set character entities.

But unlike HTML which has literally dozens of them, there are only four: less than, greater than, ampersand, and quote. XML is the basis for many other standards. Numerous companies work with the Universal Business Language to relay purchase order and invoice information. Many electronic companies rely on the Universal Plug and Play standard to allow devices to communicate with each other. There are even a couple of word processing standards based on XML, like the Open Document Format or ODF, or the OOXML format from Microsoft.

Where the OO stands for open office. The increasingly popular graphic syntax, SVG, short for Scalable Vector Graphics, is also XML-based. Because XML is so open, techniques have developed to define the code available for specific applications. Most notably DTD or Document Type Definitions, and the declarations or namespaces. Styling XML is also very well defined and uses a number of technologies, we'll be covering later in this chapter, including XSLT for transforming XML code into HTML or another syntax.

It also includes xPath, which is used for targeting the path to a specific XML node. As well as XSL-FO, formally just known as XSL, which is short for extensible stylesheet language. XSL-FO is used for formatting XML data for output to screens, print, and other media. Okay? That's the basic XML foundation. Now you're ready to see how you might export web receive data to an XML format.

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