Saturday, May 25, 2002

XML Resources. Because XML is so versatile, especially for enterprise applications integration, and as a core component of web services and e-commerce systems, I want to share some of the better XML books that are available.

Although you can download XML specifications from the W3C working groups, a single book that summarizes these specifications is worth the investment. XML Family of Specifications: A Practical Guide is such a book. It's a comprehensive and up-to-date (as of this review) reference on XML as defined by the W3C. Part I is more of a desk reference (with a lot of example code), which covers XML syntax, modeling and parsing, DTDs and schemas. Part II, also with many examples, is a complete treatment of parsing with APIs, with separate chapters on SAX, DOM, JDOM and JAXP. Transformation and display protocols are covered in Part III, including CSS2, XSLT and XPath. XSLFO for formatting is also covered in this part. Xlink and Xpointer to facilitate referencing operations are the subjects of Part IV, and the book wraps up the formal descriptions of the family of specifications in Part V, which covers XHTML and RDF. I have a personal interest in RDF, and found the chapter devoted to it complete, but terse. This characterizes all of the chapters in this book. What makes this book valuable is the way the information is displayed. Each chapter starts with either an overview or concepts, and each clearly explains each specification and gives clear examples to demonstrate how they work in practice.

Appendices at the back of the book are especially valuable because they summarize much of the information in the body of the book. For example, Appendix A depicts the family of specifications in a format that clearly shows the relationships among them. In addition, the web site that supports the book provides a lot of supplementary material, including over 900 links to related resources and an image map of the family of specifications that is one of the most visually appealing and informative resources one can have at their disposal. Note that the web site is not up-to-date - some information that was cited as coming in April and May were still not online as of late June.

This is not a book for learning XML as much as it's a reference. The main value over W3C material that is available over the web is the clear writing and many examples. It reads much better than dry specs and is complete in its coverage.

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