XML Interview Questions and Answers

40+ XML Interview Questions & Answers

XML Interview Questions and Answers
XML Interview Questions and Answers

1. What is XML?
XML is the Extensible Markup Language. It improves the functionality of the Web by letting you identify your information in a more accurate, flexible, and adaptable way. It is extensible because it is not a fixed format like HTML (which is a single, predefined markup language). Instead, XML is actually a metalanguage—a language for describing other languages—which lets you design your own markup languages for limitless different types of documents. XML can do this because it’s written in SGML, the international standard metalanguage for text document markup (ISO 8879).

2. What is a markup language?
A markup language is a set of words and symbols for describing the identity of pieces of a document (for example ‘this is a paragraph’, ‘this is a heading’, ‘this is a list’, ‘this is the caption of this figure’, etc). Programs can use this with a style sheet to create output for screen, print, audio, video, Braille, etc. Some markup languages (e.g. those used in word processors) only describe appearances (‘this is italics’, ‘this is bold’), but this method can only be used for display, and is not normally re-usable for anything else.

3. Where should I use XML?
Its goal is to enable generic SGML to be served, received, and processed on the Web in the way that is now possible with HTML. XML has been designed for ease of implementation and for interoperability with both SGML and HTML. Despite early attempts, browsers never allowed other SGML, only HTML (although there were plug-in), and they allowed it (even encouraged it) to be corrupted or broken, which held development back for over a decade by making it impossible to program for it reliably. XML fixes that by making it compulsory to stick to the rules, and by making the rules much simpler than SGML. But XML is not just for Web pages: in fact it’s very rarely used for Web pages on its own because browsers still don’t provide reliable support for formatting and transforming it.

Common uses for XML include:

Information identification
because you can define your own markup, you can define meaningful names for all your information items. Information storage because XML is portable and non-proprietary, it can be used to store textual information across any platform. Because it is backed by an international standard, it will remain accessible and processable as a data format. Information structure XML can therefore be used to store and identify any kind of (hierarchical) information structure, especially for long, deep, or complex document sets or data sources, making it ideal for an information-management back-end to serving the Web. This is its most common Web application, with a transformation system to serve it as HTML until such time as browsers are able to handle XML consistently. Publishing The original goal of XML as defined in the quotation at the start of this section. Combining the three previous topics (identity, storage, structure) means it is possible to get all the benefits of robust document management and control (with XML) and publish to the Web (as HTML) as well as to paper (as PDF) and to other formats (e.g. Braille, Audio, etc) from a single source document by using the appropriate style sheets. Messaging and data transfer XML is also very heavily used for enclosing or encapsulating information in order to pass it between different computing systems which would otherwise be unable to communicate. By providing a lingua franca for data identity and structure, it provides a common envelope for inter-process communication (messaging).

Web services
Building on all of these, as well as its use in browsers, machine-processable data can be exchanged between consenting systems, where before it was only comprehensible by humans (HTML). Weather services, e-commerce sites, blog newsfeeds, AJAX sites, and thousands of other data-exchange services use XML for data management and transmission, and the web browser for display and interaction.

4. Why is XML such an important development?
It removes two constraints which were holding back Web developments:
1. dependence on a single, inflexible document type (HTML) which was being much abused for tasks it was never designed for;
2. the complexity of full SGML, whose syntax allows many powerful but hard-to-program options.
XML allows the flexible development of user-defined document types. It provides a robust, non-proprietary, persistent, and verifiable file format for the storage and transmission of text and data both on and off the Web; and it removes the more complex options of SGML, making it easier to program for.
Describe the role that XSL can play when dynamically generating HTML pages from a relationaldatabase.
Even if candidates have never participated in a project involving this type of architecture, they should recognize it as one of the common uses of XML. Querying a database and then formatting the result set so that it can be validated as an XML document allows developers to translate the data into an HTML table using XSLT rules. Consequently, the format of the resulting HTML table can be modified without changing the database query or application code since the document rendering logic is isolated to the XSLT rules.

5. How can I include a conditional statement in my XML?
You can’t: XML isn’t a programming language, so you can’t say things like
<google if {DB}=”A”>bar</google>
If you need to make an element optional, based on some internal or external criteria, you can do so in a Schema. DTDs have no internal referential mechanism, so it isn’t possible to express this kind of conditionality in a DTD at the individual element level.
It is possible to express presence-or-absence conditionality in a DTD for the whole document, by using parameter entities as switches to include or ignore certain sections of the DTD based on settings either hardwired in the DTD or supplied in the internal subset. Both the TEI and Docbook DTDs use this mechanism to implement modularity.
Alternatively you can make the element entirely optional in the DTD or Schema, and provide code in your processing software that checks for its presence or absence. This defers the checking until the processing stage: one of the reasons for Schemas is to provide this kind of checking at the time of document creation or editing.
I have to do an overview of XML for my manager/client/investor/advisor.

6. Aren’t XML, SGML, and HTML all the same thing?
Not quite; SGML is the mother tongue, and has been used for describing thousands of different document types in many fields of human activity, from transcriptions of ancient Irish manuscripts to the technical documentation for stealth bombers, and from patients’ clinical records to musical notation. SGML is very large and complex, however, and probably overkill for most common office desktop applications. XML is an abbreviated version of SGML, to make it easier to use over the Web, easier for you to define your own document types, and easier for programmers to write programs to handle them. It omits all the complex and less-used options of SGML in return for the benefits of being easier to write applications for, easier to understand, and more suited to delivery and interoperability over the Web. But it is still SGML, and XML files may still be processed in the same way as any other SGML file (see the question on XML software). HTML is just one of many SGML or XML applications—the one most frequently used on the Web. Technical readers may find it more useful to think of XML as being SGML– rather than HTML++.

7. Who is responsible for XML?
XML is a project of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and the development of the specification is supervised by an XML Working Group. A Special Interest Group of co-opted contributors and experts from various fields contributed comments and reviews by email. XML is a public format: it is not a proprietary development of any company, although the membership of the WG and the SIG represented companies as well as research and academic institutions. The v1.0 specification was accepted by the W3C as a Recommendation on Feb 10, 1998.
8. Why is XML such an important development?
It removes two constraints which were holding back Web developments:
1. dependence on a single, inflexible document type (HTML) which was being much abused for tasks it was never designed for;
2. the complexity of full question A.4, SGML, whose syntax allows many powerful but hard-to-program options.
XML allows the flexible development of user-defined document types. It provides a robust, non-proprietary, persistent, and verifiable file format for the storage and transmission of text and data both on and off the Web; and it removes the more complex options of SGML, making it easier to program for.
Give a few examples of types of applications that can benefit from using XML.
There are literally thousands of applications that can benefit from XML technologies. The point of this question is not to have the candidate rattle off a laundry list of projects that they have worked on, but, rather, to allow the candidate to explain the rationale for choosing XML by citing a few real world examples. For instance, one appropriate answer is that XML allows content management systems to store documents independently of their format, which thereby reduces data redundancy. Another answer relates to B2B exchanges or supply chain management systems. In these instances, XML provides a mechanism for multiple companies to exchange data according to an agreed upon set of rules. A third common response involves wireless applications that require WML to render data on hand held devices.

9. What is DOM and how does it relate to XML?
The Document Object Model (DOM) is an interface specification maintained by the W3C DOM Workgroup that defines an application independent mechanism to access, parse, or update XML data. In simple terms it is a hierarchical model that allows developers to manipulate XML documents easily Any developer that has worked extensively with XML should be able to discuss the concept and use of DOM objects freely. Additionally, it is not unreasonable to expect advanced candidates to thoroughly understand its internal workings and be able to explain how DOM differs from an event-based interface like SAX.

10. What is SOAP and how does it relate to XML?
The Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) uses XML to define a protocol for the exchange of information in distributed computing environments. SOAP consists of three components: an envelope, a set of encoding rules, and a convention for representing remote procedure calls. Unless experience with SOAP is a direct requirement for the open position, knowing the specifics of the protocol, or how it can be used in conjunction with HTTP, is not as important as identifying it as a natural application of XML.

11. Why not just carry on extending HTML?
HTML was already overburdened with dozens of interesting but incompatible inventions from different manufacturers, because it provides only one way of describing your information. XML allows groups of people or organizations to question C.13, create their own customized markup applications for exchanging information in their domain (music, chemistry, electronics, hill-walking, finance, surfing, petroleum geology, linguistics, cooking, knitting, stellar cartography, history, engineering, rabbit-keeping, question C.19, mathematics, genealogy, etc). HTML is now well beyond the limit of its usefulness as a way of describing information, and while it will continue to play an important role for the content it currently represents, many new applications require a more robust and flexible infrastructure.

12. Why should I use XML?
Here are a few reasons for using XML (in no particular order). Not all of these will apply to your own requirements, and you may have additional reasons not mentioned here (if so, please let the editor of the FAQ know!).
* XML can be used to describe and identify information accurately and unambiguously, in a way that computers can be programmed to ‘understand’ (well, at least manipulate as if they could understand).
* XML allows documents which are all the same type to be created consistently and without structural errors, because it provides a standardised way of describing, controlling, or allowing/disallowing particular types of document structure. [Note that this has absolutely nothing whatever to do with formatting, appearance, or the actual text content of your documents, only the structure of them.]
* XML provides a robust and durable format for information storage and transmission. Robust because it is based on a proven standard, and can thus be tested and verified; durable because it uses plain-text file formats which will outlast proprietary binary ones.
* XML provides a common syntax for messaging systems for the exchange of information between applications. Previously, each messaging system had its own format and all were different, which made inter-system messaging unnecessarily messy, complex, and expensive. If everyone uses the same syntax it makes writing these systems much faster and more reliable.
* XML is free. Not just free of charge (free as in beer) but free of legal encumbrances (free as in speech). It doesn’t belong to anyone, so it can’t be hijacked or pirated. And you don’t have to pay a fee to use it (you can of course choose to use commercial software to deal with it, for lots of good reasons, but you don’t pay for XML itself).
* XML information can be manipulated programmatically (under machine control), so XML documents can be pieced together from disparate sources, or taken apart and re-used in different ways. They can be converted into almost any other format with no loss of information.
* XML lets you separate form from content. Your XML file contains your document information (text, data) and identifies its structure: your formatting and other processing needs are identified separately in a stylesheet or processing system. The two are combined at output time to apply the required formatting to the text or data identified by its structure (location, position, rank, order, or whatever).
Can you walk us through the steps necessary to parse XML documents?
Superficially, this is a fairly basic question. However, the point is not to determine whether candidates understand the concept of a parser but rather have them walk through the process of parsing XML documents step-by-step. Determining whether a non-validating or validating parser is needed, choosing the appropriate parser, and handling errors are all important aspects to this process that should be included in the candidate’s response.

Give some examples of XML DTDs or schemas that you have worked with.
Although XML does not require data to be validated against a DTD, many of the benefits of using the technology are derived from being able to validate XML documents against business or technical architecture rules. Polling for the list of DTDs that developers have worked with provides insight to their general exposure to the technology. The ideal candidate will have knowledge of several of the commonly used DTDs such as FpML, DocBook, HRML, and RDF, as well as experience designing a custom DTD for a particular project where no standard existed.

13. Using XSLT, how would you extract a specific attribute from an element in an XML document?
A: Successful candidates should recognize this as one of the most basic applications of XSLT. If they are not able to construct a reply similar to the example below, they should at least be able to identify the components necessary for this operation: xsl:template to match the appropriate XML element, xsl:value-of to select the attribute value, and the optional xsl:apply-templates to continue processing the document.
Extract Attributes from XML Data
Example 1.
<xsl:template match=”element-name”>
Attribute Value:
<xsl:value-of select=”@attribute”/>
<xsl:apply-templates/>
</xsl:template>

14. When constructing an XML DTD, how do you create an external entity reference in an attribute value?
A: Every interview session should have at least one trick question. Although possible when using SGML, XML DTDs don’t support defining external entity references in attribute values. It’s more important for the candidate to respond to this question in a logical way than than the candidate know the somewhat obscure answer.

15. How would you build a search engine for large volumes of XML data?
The way candidates answer this question may provide insight into their view of XML data. For those who view XML primarily as a way to denote structure for text files, a common answer is to build a full-text search and handle the data similarly to the way Internet portals handle HTML pages. Others consider XML as a standard way of transferring structured data between disparate systems. These candidates often describe some scheme of importing XML into a relational or objectdatabase and relying on the database’s engine for searching. Lastly, candidates that have worked with vendors specializing in this area often say that the best way the handle this situation is to use a third party software package optimized for XML data.

16. What is the difference between XML and C or C++ or Java ?
A: C and C++ (and other languages like FORTRAN, or Pascal, or Visual Basic, or Java or hundreds more) are programming languages with which you specify calculations, actions, and decisions to be carried out in order:
mod curconfig[if left(date,6) = “01-Apr”,
t.put “April googlel!”,
f.put days(‘31102005′,’DDMMYYYY’) –
days(sdate,’DDMMYYYY’)
” more shopping days to Samhain”];
XML is a markup specification language with which you can design ways of describing information (text or data), usually for storage, transmission, or processing by a program. It says nothing about what you should do with the data (although your choice of element names may hint at what they are for):
<part num=”DA42″ models=”LS AR DF HG KJ”
update=”2001-11-22″>
<name>Camshaft end bearing retention circlip</name>
<image drawing=”RR98-dh37″ type=”SVG” x=”476″
y=”226″/> <maker id=”RQ778″>Ringtown Fasteners Ltd</maker>
<notes>Angle-nosed insertion tool <tool
id=”GH25″/> is required for the removal
and replacement of this part.</notes>
</part>
On its own, an SGML or XML file (including HTML) doesn’t do anything. It’s a data format which just sits there until you run a program which does something with it.

17. Does XML replace HTML?
No. XML itself does not replace HTML. Instead, it provides an alternative which allows you to define your own set of markup elements. HTML is expected to remain in common use for some time to come, and the current version of HTML is in XML syntax. XML is designed to make the writing of DTDs much simpler than with full SGML. (See the question on DTDs for what one is and why you might want one.)

18. Do I have to know HTML or SGML before I learn XML?
No, although it’s useful because a lot of XML terminology and practice derives from two decades’ experience of SGML.
Be aware that ‘knowing HTML’ is not the same as ‘understanding SGML’. Although HTML was written as an SGML application, browsers ignore most of it (which is why so many useful things don’t work), so just because something is done a certain way in HTML browsers does not mean it’s correct, least of all in XML.

19. What does an XML document actually look like (inside)?
The basic structure of XML is similar to other applications of SGML, including HTML. The basic components can be seen in the following examples. An XML document starts with a Prolog:
1. The XML Declaration which specifies that this is an XML document;
2. Optionally a Document Type Declaration
which identifies the type of document and says where the Document Type Description (DTD) is stored;
The Prolog is followed by the document instance:
1. A root element, which is the outermost (top level) element (start-tag plus end-tag) which encloses everything else: in the examples below the root elements are conversation and titlepage;
2. A structured mix of descriptive or prescriptive elements enclosing the character data content (text), and optionally any attributes (‘name=value’ pairs) inside some start-tags.
XML documents can be very simple, with straightforward nested markup of your own design:
<?xml version=”1.0″ standalone=”yes”?>
<conversation><br>
<greeting>Hello, world!</greeting>
<response>Stop the planet, I want to get
off!</response>
</conversation>
Or they can be more complicated, with a Schema or question C.11, Document Type Description (DTD) or internal subset (local DTD changes in [square brackets]), and an arbitrarily complex nested structure:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”iso-8859-1″?>
<!DOCTYPE titlepage
SYSTEM “http://www.google.bar/dtds/typo.dtd”
[<!ENTITY % active.links “INCLUDE”>]>
<titlepage id=”BG12273624″>
<white-space type=”vertical” amount=”36″/>
<title font=”Baskerville” alignment=”centered”
size=”24/30″>Hello, world!</title>
<white-space type=”vertical” amount=”12″/>
<!– In some copies the following
decoration is hand-colored, presumably
by the author –>
<image location=”http://www.google.bar/fleuron.eps”
type=”URI” alignment=”centered”/>
<white-space type=”vertical” amount=”24″/>
<author font=”Baskerville” size=”18/22″
style=”italic”>Vitam capias</author>
<white-space type=”vertical” role=”filler”/>
</titlepage>
Or they can be anywhere between: a lot will depend on how you want to define your document type (or whose you use) and what it will be used for. Database-generated or program-generated XML documents used in e-commerce is usually unformatted (not for human reading) and may use very long names or values, with multiple redundancy and sometimes no character data content at all, just values in attributes:
<?xml version=”1.0″?> <ORDER-UPDATE AUTHMD5=”4baf7d7cff5faa3ce67acf66ccda8248″
ORDER-UPDATE-ISSUE=”193E22C2-EAF3-11D9-9736-CAFC705A30B3″
ORDER-UPDATE-DATE=”2005-07-01T15:34:22.46″ ORDER-UPDATE-DESTINATION=”6B197E02-EAF3-11D9-85D5-997710D9978F”
ORDER-UPDATE-ORDERNO=”8316ADEA-EAF3-11D9-9955-D289ECBC99F3″>
<ORDER-UPDATE-DELTA-MODIFICATION-DETAIL ORDER-UPDATE-ID=”BAC352437484″>
<ORDER-UPDATE-DELTA-MODIFICATION-VALUE ORDER-UPDATE-ITEM=”56″
ORDER-UPDATE-QUANTITY=”2000″/>
</ORDER-UPDATE-DELTA-MODIFICATION-DETAIL>
</ORDER-UPDATE>

20. How does XML handle white-space in my documents?
All white-space, including linebreaks, TAB characters, and normal spaces, even between ‘structural’ elements where no text can ever appear, is passed by the parser unchanged to the application (browser, formatter, viewer, converter, etc), identifying the context in which the white-space was found (element content, data content, or mixed content, if this information is available to the parser, eg from a DTD or Schema). This means it is the application’s responsibility to decide what to do with such space, not the parser’s:
* insignificant white-space between structural elements (space which occurs where only element content is allowed, ie between other elements, where text data never occurs) will get passed to the application (in SGML this white-space gets suppressed, which is why you can put all that extra space in HTML documents and not worry about it)
* significant white-space (space which occurs within elements which can contain text and markup mixed together, usually mixed content or PCDATA) will still get passed to the application exactly as under SGML. It is the application’s responsibility to handle it correctly.
The parser must inform the application that white-space has occurred in element content, if it can detect it. (Users of SGML will recognize that this information is not in the ESIS, but it is in the Grove.)
<chapter>
<title>
My title for
Chapter 1.
</title>
<para>
text
</para>
</chapter>
In the example above, the application will receive all the pretty-printing linebreaks, TABs, and spaces between the elements as well as those embedded in the chapter title. It is the function of the application, not the parser, to decide which type of white-space to discard and which to retain. Many XML applications have configurable options to allow programmers or users to control how such white-space is handled.

21. Which parts of an XML document are case-sensitive?
All of it, both markup and text. This is significantly different from HTML and most other SGML applications. It was done to allow markup in non-Latin-alphabet languages, and to obviate problems with case-folding in writing systems which are caseless.
* Element type names are case-sensitive: you must follow whatever combination of upper- or lower-case you use to define them (either by first usage or in a DTD or Schema). So you can’t say <BODY>…</body>: upper- and lower-case must match; thus <Img/>, <IMG/>, and <img/> are three different element types;
* For well-formed XML documents with no DTD, the first occurrence of an element type name defines the casing;
* Attribute names are also case-sensitive, for example the two width attributes in <PIC width=”7in”/> and <PIC WIDTH=”6in”/> (if they occurred in the same file) are separate attributes, because of the different case of width and WIDTH;
* Attribute values are also case-sensitive. CDATA values (eg Url=”MyFile.SGML”) always have been, but NAME types (ID and IDREF attributes, and token list attributes) are now case-sensitive as well;
* All general and parameter entity names (eg ?), and your data content (text), are case-sensitive as always.

22. How can I make my existing HTML files work in XML?
Either convert them to conform to some new document type (with or without a DTD or Schema) and write a stylesheet to go with them; or edit them to conform to XHTML. It is necessary to convert existing HTML files because XML does not permit end-tag minimisation (missing, etc), unquoted attribute values, and a number of other SGML shortcuts which have been normal in most HTML DTDs. However, many HTML authoring tools already produce almost (but not quite) well-formed XML. You may be able to convert HTML to XHTML using the Dave Raggett’s HTML Tidy program, which can clean up some of the formatting mess left behind by inadequate HTML editors, and even separate out some of the formatting to a stylesheet, but there is usually still some hand-editing to do.

23. Is there an XML version of HTML?
Yes, the W3C recommends using XHTML which is ‘a reformulation of HTML 4 in XML 1.0’. This specification defines HTML as an XML application, and provides three DTDs corresponding to the ones defined by HTML 4.* (Strict, Transitional, and Frameset).
The semantics of the elements and their attributes are as defined in the W3C Recommendation for HTML 4. These semantics provide the foundation for future extensibility of XHTML. Compatibility with existing HTML browsers is possible by following a small set of guidelines (see the W3C site).

24. If XML is just a subset of SGML, can I use XML files directly with existing SGML tools?
Yes, provided you use up-to-date SGML software which knows about the WebSGML Adaptations TC to ISO 8879 (the features needed to support XML, such as the variant form for EMPTY elements; some aspects of the SGML Declaration such as NAMECASE GENERAL NO; multiple attribute token list declarations, etc). An alternative is to use an SGML DTD to let you create a fully-normalised SGML file, but one which does not use empty elements; and then remove the DocType Declaration so it becomes a well-formed DTDless XML file. Most SGML tools now handle XML files well, and provide an option switch between the two standards.

25. Can XML use non-Latin characters?
Yes, the XML Specification explicitly says XML uses ISO 10646, the international standard character repertoire which covers most known languages. Unicode is an identical repertoire, and the two standards track each other. The spec says (2.2): ‘All XML processors must accept the UTF-8 and UTF-16 encodings of ISO 10646…’. There is a Unicode FAQ at http://www.unicode.org/faq/FAQ.
UTF-8 is an encoding of Unicode into 8-bit characters: the first 128 are the same as ASCII, and higher-order characters are used to encode anything else from Unicode into sequences of between 2 and 6 bytes. UTF-8 in its single-octet form is therefore the same as ISO 646 IRV (ASCII), so you can continue to use ASCII for English or other languages using the Latin alphabet without diacritics. Note that UTF-8 is incompatible with ISO 8859-1 (ISO Latin-1) after code point 127 decimal (the end of ASCII).
UTF-16 is an encoding of Unicode into 16-bit characters, which lets it represent 16 planes. UTF-16 is incompatible with ASCII because it uses two 8-bit bytes per character (four bytes above U+FFFF).

26. What’s a Document Type Definition (DTD) and where do I get one?
A DTD is a description in XML Declaration Syntax of a particular type or class of document. It sets out what names are to be used for the different types of element, where they may occur, and how they all fit together. (A question C.16, Schema does the same thing in XML Document Syntax, and allows more extensive data-checking.) For example, if you want a document type to be able to describe Lists which contain Items, the relevant part of your DTD might contain something like this:
<!ELEMENT List (Item)+>
<!ELEMENT Item (#PCDATA)>
This defines a list as an element type containing one or more items (that’s the plus sign); and it defines items as element types containing just plain text (Parsed Character Data or PCDATA). Validators read the DTD before they read your document so that they can identify where every element type ought to come and how each relates to the other, so that applications which need to know this in advance (most editors, search engines, navigators, and databases) can set themselves up correctly.

The example above lets you create lists like:
<List>
<Item>Chocolate</Item>
<Item>Music</Item>
<Item>Surfingv</Item>
</List>
(The indentation in the example is just for legibility while editing: it is not required by XML.)
A DTD provides applications with advance notice of what names and structures can be used in a particular document type. Using a DTD and a validating editor means you can be certain that all documents of that particular type will be constructed and named in a consistent and conformant manner.

DTDs are not required for processing the tip in question Bwell-formed documents, but they are needed if you want to take advantage of XML’s special attribute types like the built-in ID/IDREF cross-reference mechanism; or the use of default attribute values; or references to external non-XML files (‘Notations’); or if you simply want a check on document validity before processing.
There are thousands of DTDs already in existence in all kinds of areas (see the SGML/XML Web pages for pointers). Many of them can be downloaded and used freely; or you can write your own (see the question on creating your own DTD. Old SGML DTDs need to be converted to XML for use with XML systems: read the question on converting SGML DTDs to XML, but most popular SGML DTDs are already available in XML form. The alternatives to a DTD are various forms of question C.16, Schema. These provide more extensive validation features than DTDs, including character data content validation.

27. Does XML let me make up my own tags?
No, it lets you make up names for your own element types. If you think tags and elements are the same thing you are already in considerable trouble: read the rest of this question carefully.

28. How do I create my own document type?
Document types usually need a formal description, either a DTD or a Schema. Whilst it is possible to process well-formed XML documents without any such description, trying to create them without one is asking for trouble. A DTD or Schema is used with an XML editor or API interface to guide and control the construction of the document, making sure the right elements go in the right places.
Creating your own document type therefore begins with an analysis of the class of documents you want to describe: reports, invoices, letters, configuration files, credit-card verification requests, or whatever. Once you have the structure correct, you write code to express this formally, using DTD or Schema syntax.

29. How do I write my own DTD?
You need to use the XML Declaration Syntax (very simple: declaration keywords begin with
<!ELEMENT Shopping-List (Item)+>
<!ELEMENT Item (#PCDATA)>
It says that there shall be an element called Shopping-List and that it shall contain elements called Item: there must be at least one Item (that’s the plus sign) but there may be more than one. It also says that the Item element may contain only parsed character data (PCDATA, ie text: no further markup). Because there is no other element which contains Shopping-List, that element is assumed to be the ‘root’ element, which encloses everything else in the document. You can now use it to create an XML file: give your editor the declarations:
<?xml version=”1.0″?>
<!DOCTYPE Shopping-List SYSTEM “shoplist.dtd”> (assuming you put the DTD in that file). Now your editor will let you create files according to the pattern:
<Shopping-List>
<Item>Chocolate</Item>
<Item>Sugar</Item>
<Item>Butter</Item>
</Shopping-List>
It is possible to develop complex and powerful DTDs of great subtlety, but for any significant use you should learn more about document systems analysis and document type design. See for example Developing SGML DTDs: From Text to Model to Markup (Maler and el Andaloussi, 1995): this was written for SGML but perhaps 95% of it applies to XML as well, as XML is much simpler than full SGML—see the list of restrictions which shows what has been cut out.
Warning
Incidentally, a DTD file never has a DOCTYPE Declaration in it: that only occurs in an XML document instance (it’s what references the DTD). And a DTD file also never has an XML Declaration at the top either. Unfortunately there is still software around which inserts one or both of these.

30. Can a root element type be explicitly declared in the DTD?
No. This is done in the document’s Document Type Declaration, not in the DTD.

31. How does an application know which Address element type it is processing?
One solution is to simply rename one of the Address element types — for example, we could rename the second element type IPAddress. However, this is not a useful long term solution. One of the hopes of XML is that people will standardize XML languages for various subject areas and write modular code to process those languages. By reusing existing languages and code, people can quickly define new languages and write applications that process them. If we rename the second Address element type to IPAddress, we will break any code that expects the old name. A better answer is to assign each language (including its Address element type) to a different namespace. This allows us to continue using the Address name in each language, but to distinguish between the two different element types. The mechanism by which we do this is XML namespaces. Note that by assigning each Address name to an XML namespace, we actually change the name to a two-part name consisting of the name of the XML namespace plus the name Address. This means that any code that recognizes just the name Address will need to be changed to recognize the new two-part name. However, this only needs to be done once, as the two-part name is universally unique.

32. How do I get XML into or out of a database?
Ask your database manufacturer: they all provide XML import and export modules to connect XML applications with databases. In some trivial cases there will be a 1:1 match between field names in the database table and element type names in the XML Schema or DTD, but in most cases some programming will be required to establish the desired match. This can usually be stored as a procedure so that subsequent uses are simply commands or calls with the relevant parameters. In less trivial, but still simple, cases, you could export by writing a report routine that formats the output as an XML document, and you could import by writing an XSLT transformation that formatted the XML data as a load file.

33. Can I encode mathematics using XML ?
A: Yes, if the document type you use provides for math, and your users’ browsers are capable of rendering it. The mathematics-using community has developed the MathML Recommendation at the W3C, which is a native XML application suitable for embedding in other DTDs and Schemas. It is also possible to make XML fragments from other DTDs, such as ISO 12083 Math, or OpenMath, or one of your own making. Browsers which display math embedded in SGML existed for many years (eg DynaText, Panorama, Multidoc Pro), and mainstream browsers are now rendering MathML. David Carlisle has produced a set of stylesheets for rendering MathML in browsers. It is also possible to use XSLT to convert XML math markup to LATEX for print (PDF) rendering, or to use XSL:FO.
Please note that XML is not itself a programming language, so concepts such as arithmetic and if-statements (if-then-else logic) are not meaningful in XML documents.

34. How will XML affect my document links?
A: The linking abilities of XML systems are potentially much more powerful than those of HTML, so you’ll be able to do much more with them. Existing href-style links will remain usable, but the new linkingtechnology is based on the lessons learned in the development of other standards involving hypertext, such as TEI and HyTime, which let you manage bidirectional and multi-way links, as well as links to a whole element or span of text (within your own or other documents) rather than to a single point. These features have been available to SGML users for many years, so there is considerable experience and expertise available in using them. Currently only Mozilla Firefox implements XLink. The XML Linking Specification (XLink) and the XML Extended Pointer Specification (XPointer) documents contain the details. An XLink can be either a URI or a TEI-style Extended Pointer (XPointer), or both. A URI on its own is assumed to be a resource; if an XPointer follows it, it is assumed to be a sub-resource of that URI; an XPointer on its own is assumed to apply to the current document (all exactly as with HTML). The TEI Extended Pointer Notation (EPN) is much more powerful than the fragment address on the end of some URIs, as it allows you to specify the location of a link end using the structure of the document as well as (or in addition to) known, fixed points like IDs. For example, the linked second occurrence of the word ‘XPointer’ two paragraphs back could be referred to with the URI (shown here with linebreaks and spaces for clarity: in practice it would of course be all one long string):
http://xml.silmaril.ie/faq.xml#ID(hypertext)
.child(1,#element,’answer’)
.child(2,#element,’para’)
.child(1,#element,’link’)
This means the first link element within the second paragraph within the answer in the element whose ID is hypertext (this question). Count the objects from the start of this question (which has the ID hypertext) in the XML source:
1. the first child object is the element containing the question ();
2. the second child object is the answer (the element);
3. within this element go to the second paragraph;
4. find the first link element.

Eve Maler explained the relationship of XLink and XPointer as follows:
XLink governs how you insert links into your XML document, where the link might point to anything (eg a GIF file); XPointer governs the fragment identifier that can go on a URL when you’re linking to an XML document, from anywhere (eg from an HTML file).
[Or indeed from an XML file, a URI in a mail message, etc…Ed.] David Megginson has produced an xpointer function for Emacs/psgml which will deduce an XPointer for any location in an XML document. XML Spy has a similar function.

35. How does XML handle metadata?
A: Because XML lets you define your own markup languages, you can make full use of the extended hypertext features of XML (see the question on Links) to store or link to metadata in any format (eg using ISO 11179, as a Topic Maps Published Subject, with Dublin Core, Warwick Framework, or with Resource Description Framework (RDF), or even Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS)).
There are no predefined elements in XML, because it is an architecture, not an application, so it is not part of XML’s job to specify how or if authors should or should not implement metadata. You are therefore free to use any suitable method. Browser makers may also have their own architectural recommendations or methods to propose.

36. Can I use JavaScript, ActiveX, etc in XML files?
This will depend on what facilities your users’ browsers implement. XML is about describing information; scripting languages and languages for embedded functionality are software which enables the information to be manipulated at the user’s end, so these languages do not normally have any place in an XML file itself, but in stylesheets like XSL and CSS where they can be added to generated HTML. XML itself provides a way to define the markup needed to implement scripting languages: as a neutral standard it neither encourages not discourages their use, and does not favour one language over another, so it is possible to use XML markup to store the program code, from where it can be retrieved by (for example) XSLT and re-expressed in a HTML script element. Server-side script embedding, like PHP or ASP, can be used with the relevant server to modify the XML code on the fly, as the document is served, just as they can with HTML. Authors should be aware, however, that embedding server-side scripting may mean the file as stored is not valid XML: it only becomes valid when processed and served, so care must be taken when using validating editors or other software to handle or manage such files. A better solution may be to use an XML serving solution like Cocoon, AxKit, or PropelX. Can I use Java to create or manage XML files? Yes, any programming language can be used to output data from any source in XML format. There is a growing number of front-ends and back-ends for programming environments and data management environments to automate this. Java is just the most popular one at the moment. There is a large body of middleware (APIs) written in Java and other languages for managing data either in XML or with XML input or output.

37. How do I execute or run an XML file?
A: XML itself is not a programming language, so XML files don’t ‘run’ or ‘execute’. XML is a markup specification language and XML files are just data: they sit there until you run a program which displays them (like a browser) or does some work with them (like a converter which writes the data in another format, or a database which reads the data), or modifies them (like an editor). If you want to view or display an XML file, open it with an XML editor or an question B.3, XML browser. The water is muddied by XSL (both XSLT and XSL:FO) which use XML syntax to implement a declarative programming language. In these cases it is arguable that you can ‘execute’ XML code, by running a processing application like Saxon, which compiles the directives specified in XSLT files into Java bytecode to process XML.

38. How do I control formatting and appearance?
In HTML, default styling was built into the browsers because the tagset of HTML was predefined and hardwired into browsers. In XML, where you can define your own tagset, browsers cannot possibly be expected to guess or know in advance what names you are going to use and what they will mean, so you need a stylesheet if you want to display formatted text. Browsers which read XML will accept and use a CSS stylesheet at a minimum, but you can also use the more powerful XSLT stylesheet language to transform your XML into HTML—which browsers, of course, already know how to display (and that HTML can still use a CSS stylesheet). This way you get all the document management benefits of using XML, but you don’t have to worry about your readers needing XML smarts in their browsers.

39. How do I use graphics in XML?
Graphics have traditionally just been links which happen to have a picture file at the end rather than another piece of text. They can therefore be implemented in any way supported by the XLink and XPointer specifications including using similar syntax to existing HTML images. They can also be referenced using XML’s built-in NOTATION and ENTITY mechanism in a similar way to standard SGML, as external unparsed entities. However, the SVG specification lets you use XML markup to draw vector graphics objects directly in your XML file. This provides enormous power for the inclusion of portable graphics, especially interactive or animated sequences, and it is now slowly becoming supported in browsers. The XML linking specifications for external images give you much better control over the traversal and activation of links, so an author can specify, for example, whether or not to have an image appear when the page is loaded, or on a click from the user, or in a separate window, without having to resort to scripting. XML itself doesn’t predicate or restrict graphic file formats: GIF, JPG, TIFF, PNG, CGM, EPS, and SVG at a minimum would seem to make sense; however, vector formats (EPS, SVG) are normally essential for non-photographic images (diagrams). You cannot embed a raw binary graphics file (or any other binary [non-text] data) directly into an XML file because any bytes happening to resemble markup would get misinterpreted: you must refer to it by linking (see below). It is, however, possible to include a text-encoded transformation of a binary file as a CDATA Marked Section, using something like UUencode with the markup characters ], & and > removed from the map so that they could not occur as an erroneous CDATA termination sequence and be misinterpreted. You could even use simple hexadecimal encoding as used in PostScript. For vector graphics, however, the solution is to use SVG . Sound files are binary objects in the same way that external graphics are, so they can only be referenced externally. Music files written in MusiXML or an XML variant of SMDL could however be embedded in the same way as for SVG. The point about using entities to manage your graphics is that you can keep the list of entity declarations separate from the rest of the document, so you can re-use the names if an image is needed more than once, but only store the physical file specification in a single place. This is available only when using a DTD, not a Schema.

40. How do I include one XML file in another?
This works exactly the same as for SGML. First you declare the entity you want to include, and then you reference it by name:
<?xml version=”1.0″?>
<!DOCTYPE novel SYSTEM “/dtd/novel.dtd” [
<!ENTITY chap1 SYSTEM “mydocs/chapter1.xml”>
<!ENTITY chap2 SYSTEM “mydocs/chapter2.xml”>
<!ENTITY chap3 SYSTEM “mydocs/chapter3.xml”>
<!ENTITY chap4 SYSTEM “mydocs/chapter4.xml”>
<!ENTITY chap5 SYSTEM “mydocs/chapter5.xml”>
]>
<novel>
<header>
…blah blah…
</header>
&chap1;
&chap2;
&chap3;
&chap4;
&chap5;
</novel>
The difference between this method and the one used for including a DTD fragment is that this uses an external general (file) entity which is referenced in the same way as for a character entity (with an ampersand).
The one thing to make sure of is that the included file must not have an XML or DOCTYPE Declaration on it. If you’ve been using one for editing the fragment, remove it before using the file in this way. Yes, this is a pain in the butt, but if you have lots of inclusions like this, write a script to strip off the declaration (and paste it back on again for editing).

41. Do XML namespaces apply to entity names, notation names, or processing instruction targets?
No.
XML namespaces apply only to element type and attribute names. Furthermore, in an XML documentthat conforms to the XML namespaces recommendation, entity names, notation names, and processing instruction targets must not contain colons.

42. Who can create an XML namespace?
Anybody can create an XML namespace — all you need to do is assign a URI as its name and decide what element type and attribute names are in it. The URI must be under your control and should not be being used to identify a different XML namespace, such as by a coworker.

Frequently Asked XML Questions and Answers