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Web Design Fundamentals is a survey of Web design and development techniques and technologies, fundamental concepts, terms, and best practices involved in professional web design. Instructor James Williamson examines popular web development tools, server-side software solutions, content management solutions, and cloud-based software, providing a high-level overview of the world of Web publishing.
XML or Extensible Markup Language is a semantic markup language much like HTML. Unlike HTML, XML does not contain a specific set of tags. Rather, it contains rules for defining document structure and data. In fact, XML's primary purpose is to store and transport structured data from one system to another. It's been wildly successful in doing this and is the accepted standard for sharing data among applications. The magic of XML is not any set of tags or rigid specifications.
Rather, it's in the language's flexibility. The extensible part of its name refers to the fact that you are free to create any tags or tag structure necessary to define your data. Let's say you want to create an XML file to store information on all the vacations that you've taken. You could create a vacations tag to serve as the top level parent tag and then create individual tags for items such as trip, price, duration and description. You can also assign custom attributes to further define tags such as a name attribute on the trip tag to help identify the trips. Wow! That's awesome.
You're probably saying, "What does that have to do with me, a web designer? Sounds like that's more the role of a web developer, right?" Well, for the most part, you're right. However, XML has been so widely adopted across the web, and within so many applications, that you're bound to encounter in one fashion or another during your career. If you specialize in certain areas, like interactive design, learning how to create and handle XML is an essential skill. As a web designer, there are a few areas that you should be aware of, where you're most likely to encounter the use of XML.
RSS Feeds, which we'll discuss in more detail shortly, are XML documents that conform to a specified standard. This allows a website to publish content, such as current headlines or blog postings, and be picked up and reprinted by any other site on the web. Now, often this process is performed by the back-end systems of a site. But designers have to format and define the tag structure of the content that the site is either publishing or reading. Being familiar with the XML format for RSS feeds is crucial to working with those feeds and styling them properly.
An increasingly popular practice in web design is to enhance the power and functionality of websites by using exposed application interfaces from other sites. Sites such as Google Maps, Flickr and Twitter expose their APIs to allow the use of their applications within your own websites. XML is the primary means of exposing data from these sites and to probably integrate those services into your sites, you must become familiar with the XML standards of each application. In many ways, XML works behind the scenes within web applications, making it easier to share information from one system to another.
In most instances, web developers and Server-side applications will handle the bulk of any XML-based work. However, as a designer, you should understand these processes and be prepared to work with XML when necessary. If you're interested in interactive design or working with RSS feeds, I would advise not only learning how to work with XML, but also learning technologies associated with XML, such as XSL and XSLT, which are used to transform XML to other file types such as HTML, also XPath, which is a query language that is used to parse through and select data within XML files.
I think you'll find that learning XML and the common specifications that you might work with isn't hard at all. As a web designer, you are bound to interact with XML documents at some point, and understanding how they're structured is crucially important.
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