* THE PROBLEM - PRESENT INTERNET/EDI SITUATION
Many Internet information systems are not able to communicate with each other
at reasonable costs -- cost here means: dollars, time, systems integration, and
learning curves, i.e., training. That is, EDI is perceived by many to have a
high barrier of entry, not unlike SGML. It has been said that XML is to SGML
what ebXML will be to EDI: a lowering or removing of barriers so that these
standards [XML, and its Initiatives] are available to just about everyone.
Present EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) systems -- are expensive, built around
legacy systems architecture, have long learning curves, and do not easily interface
between heterogenous systems. Lots of expertise is needed to make these systems a
reality, and many small to mid-sized companies can not afford this type of data
Customers, for example, who come to many Web Sites are demanding the
ability to search catalogs, based on product attributes such as the size of
a hard drive in a given PC. Of course, the manufactures have all that
information and are perfectly capable of supplying it electronically, but
details tended to get filtered out of EDI versions of product data sheets that
are trickled down through the distributors. One reason for this is that EDI
traffic traditionally flowed over proprietary networks that charged
users based on the amount of data transmitted. EDI users learned all sorts of
tricks to strip out as much information as possible. This behavior ocurred
because they were trying to reduce the charges. However, the down side is that
the information becomes skewed, and/or incomplete, causing uninformed decision
XML-formatted data feeds tend to provide much richer content, both because of
the extensibility of the data structure and because transmissions aren't as
heavily tariffed. XML can also address business processes that EDI doesn't
address at all: such as returns and warranty claims.
* THE SOLUTION - XML
How is XML the solution -- what does it have over legacy EDI systems, or any
other approach? Because XML promises to improve the way companies exchange and
present information over the Internet, it is becoming popular with developers of
next-generation business-to-business e-commerce applications. XML can benefit
e-commerce by enabling back-end systems (databases) to communicate business
transaction information. For example, business partners can standardize on a
specific XML syntax that describes a purchase order, or a parts ordering system
supplied by a web database application, and automate the information's transfer
across the Internet. XML is ideal for building these systems because it allows
formatting data for easy-to-process, platform-neutral exchange between business
* SUPPORTING FEATURES AND TECHNOLOGIES 
Designers and developers are continually adding supporting features and
technologies to XML. However, others have stated that this has added confusion
to the XML debate. But if one studies the supporting technologies, one sees
the need for them. But this is what XML is all about, an extensible mark up language,
one that allows you to expand where needed and if it makes sense.
Table One: XML Technologies and Initiatives 
||Extensible Hypertext Markup Language is the result of
rewriting HTML (version 4.0) as an XML application. XHTML creates a
middle ground between HTML and XML. It will open up web access to more
devices and increase the capabilities of devices that already office such
access, such as cell phones, personal digital assistants, pocket PC's,
and other miniature devices, see
||Extensible Stylesheet Language lets you apply rules for
formatting, including presentation format for example, font size), to XML
documents. XSL can transform XML documents into different formats such as
HTML, PDF, or even audio. Once XSL converts an XML document into HTML, you can
view that document using any browser. XSL cna also transform one XML document
into another, see http://www.w3.org/Style/XSL
||An XML schema defines the elements that can appear in an
XML document along with attributes and their default values, if any. It also
defines the document's structure: the parent and child elements, the number
of child elements, the sequence in which the elements can appear, and whether
an element can be empty or include text. In addition, it can enforce data
typing. An XML schema provides a more powerful mechanism than DTDs for
describing an XML document's structure, see
||An XML namespace is a collection of element types and attribute
names identified by a universal resource indicator (URI). Any element type or
attribute name in an XML namespace can be uniquely identified by a two-part
name: The URI of its XML namespace and its local name. An XML name space
distinguishes between duplicate element types and attributes so that you can
mix two or more XML languages in one document without any conflict or ambiguity,
||The XML Pointer language supports making specific references
to an XML document's internal structure. XPointer provides a mechanism to
refer to elements, character stings selections, and other parts of the
document, see http://www.w3.org/TR/WD-xptr
||XML Linking Language specifies constructs that you can insert
into XMl documents to describe links between objects. XLink describes the
simple unidirectional hyperlinks of today's HTML, as well as more sophisticated
bi-directional, multidirectional, and typed links,
||Resource Description Framework (RDF) provides a uniform way to
add metadata to an XML document and is an aid to organizing, categorizing, and
cataloging online information. It is an approved recommendation of the W3C,
and it beginning to catch on. It will likely be an important building block
for the Semantic Web, which is only in the early stages of development,
||XML Query will deliver a means to query and extract reports
from documents. The mission of the XML Query working group is to provide
flexible query facilities to extract data from real and virtual documents
on the Web, therefore finally providing the needed interaction between the
web world and the database world. Ultimately, collections of XML files
will be accessed like databases,
||HTML forms , while essential to e-commerce, have become outdated.
The XForms initiative will update Web form technology so that, among other
improvements, data from forms will be delivered as XML. The current design of Web
forms doesn't separate the purpose from the presentation of a form. XForms, in
contrast, are comprised of separate sections that describe what the form does,
and how the form looks. This allows for flexible presentation options, including
classic XHTML forms, to be attached to an XML form definition,
||In HTML, the base element lets you specify the document's base
URI so that it can automatically resolve relative URIs. In XML, this will be
done through the xlm:base attribute. The value of xml:base must be a URI.
This used to be identified as XBase,
||XML Inclusions or XInclude is an inclusion mechanism for merging
XML documents. For example, you could include a separate XML document in
another XML document. Many programming languages provide an inclusion mechanism
to facilitate modularity. Markup languages also often have need of such a
mechanism. The XInclude proposal introduces a generic mechanism for merging XML
documents (as represented by their information sets) for use by applications
that need such a facility. The syntax leverages existing XML constructs -
elements, attributes, and URI references,
||This initiative will permit the creation of digital signatures -
a method for secure, online identification -- using XML. It is not yet fully
approved, but it soon will be. This will go a long way in helping with the
limitations and drawbacks mentioned about XML security. XML Signature is an XML
compliant syntax used for representing the signature of Web resources and portions
of protocol messages (anything reference-able by a URI) and procedures for
computing and verifying such signatures,
||The XML Information Set (Infoset) provides a level of abstraction
for XML document using a set of information items that make it easier for
XML-related standards and applications to interoperate. This specification
defines an abstract data set called the XML Information Set (Infoset). Its
purpose is to provide a consistent set of definitions for use in other
specifications that need to refer to the information in a well-formed XML document,
||Canonical XML provides a strict, streamlined way to represent
XML documents. XML documents, while physically different, may be logically
identical as long as they conform to the Canonical XML specification. The
XML 1.0 Recommendation [XML] specifies the syntax of a class of resources
called XML documents. The Namespaces in XML Recommendation [Names] specifies
additional syntax and semantics for XML documents. It is possible for XML
documents which are equivalent for the purposes of many applications to
differ in physical representation. For example, they may differ in their
entity structure, attribute ordering, and character encoding. It is the goal
of this specification to establish a method for determining whether two documents
are identical, or whether an application has not changed a document, except
for transformations permitted by XML 1.0 and Namespaces in XML,
* WHAT MAKES XML THE SOLUTION?
What will it take to make XML the solution for web inter-application
communication that will lead companies to want to do business with each
other via B2B, C2B, B2C, and A2A using XML?
It's been stated that the real pay-off is the ability to exchange a greater
variety of information that is made possible by the extensibility of XML
(supplemented at times with file attachments), and the ability to add
real-time collaboration to the mix. Finding an interchange format that can
be used for transfer of data between databases of different vendors and
different operating systems was always difficult. That interchange is one
of the major applications of XML.
Thus XML is very important in two classes of applications. Most applications
of XML will fall into one of the following categories: documents or data exchange
and database connectivity.
Thus, companies are increasingly turning to XML to address the issue of a common
data exchange and/or document standard. XML has been instrumental in jump-starting
a number of e-commerce and Web-based applications. XML, which lets companies
exchange data over existing Internet connections, can be learned quickly (as
described above), and is setup for easy display and programming. Because XML is
self-describing; the tags describe the data enclosed within them, it lets companies
enhance the efficiency of exchanged data, in any format they want to use. Users
can even apply a style sheet to an XML file and view it precisely as they wish.
The beauty of this concept is that you never need to change the actual XML data
whenever you want to create output for different devices. You only need to use
different pieces of software that know how to provide the output needed for a
particular output format or piece of hardware, i.e. DTD's or XML Schemas. See
the diagram below:
Because XML provides flexible document-definition and processing capabilities, it
lets you reformat data for multiple devices and platforms. Because XML separates
display instruction from content definition, Web designers can alter their Web
Site's look and feel by using the Extensible Stylesheet Language [XSL] documents to
apply different style sheets to the same XML document.
This then allows you to use the same content for devices such as Personal
digital assistants or PDAs and wireless devices that do not use HTML for display
processing. See figure four below.
XML allows online information search and retrieval to be fast and efficient. This
is because XML documents store meta-information, i.e. information about information.
If we look at each tag, determination of the data items is apparent. For example in
the XML document above, the customer's first name, last name, address are very
apparent. Search engines can use this meta-information feature to efficiently
search and retrieve documents. For example, we could process search queries such as
[find all documents where customer's last name is Smith]. This has a decided advantage
One of the hottest application areas for XML is massaging, i.e., the seamless and
efficient transfer of data between applications. That is inter-application
communication between say two heterogeneous databases. Because XML is text based,
all platforms can easily understand it. Thus XML, is a perfect medium for
exchanging information between an organization across conflicting platforms.
* HOWEVER, XML DOES HAVE LIMITATIONS AND DRAWBACKS [maybe]
Despite the hype surrounding XML, it is felt that it isn't a one-stop solution
for all application development issues. It is a poor choice for building
internal stand-alone systems. This is true if there is no collaboration with
other business when there should of been. However this really depends on the
business rules and business requirements for any application. An internal
system my be needed that does not collaborate with the rest of the business
network. XML also falls short when security and efficient low-level
communication are critical.
On the security side of things, the XML technologies and initiatives address the
problem of security with the advent of XML Signature and DSML [Directory Services
Markup Language] which is an XML vocabulary for defining, reading, and writing LDAP
content. DSML takes advantage of XML while also leaning on the strengths of LDAP,
in the areas of security and scalability.
It has been stated that XML is limited in terms of the data types it supports.
It is a text-based format and does not have facilities for directly supporting
binary data or other complex data types. However, the counter to this statement is
the use of XML Schema in place of the DTD. Where data types and complex data are
supported. The XML Schema is one of the XML Technologies and Initiatives listed
above. XML schema datatypes are int, float, date, boolean, and uriReference.
However, another counter to XML limitations and drawbacks is possibly the use of
Electronic Business XML -- ebXML, or instead of using DTD's, make use of the XML
Schema. Open interoperability and dynamic computing are key mechanisms in solving
business problems, which is well described in the SUPPORTING FEATURES AND
The ebXML architecture defines the Business Process Specification Schema or BP Schema.
This XML Schema supports the specification of business documents and transactions and
the required choreography of these transactions that comprise a complete business
collaboration. ebXML enables enterprises of any size, in any location to meet and
conduct business through the exchange of XML-Based messages.
The ebXML architecture defines a Collaboration Protocol Profile [CPP]. A CPP is an
XML document that allows a party to express both the business collaborations in
which the parties can engage and the quality and levels of service they can support
in delivering their service. A CPP therefore defines the comprehensive set of
capabilities of a single business context. A formal CPP description can be published
and then universally understood by interested parties. There is a lot more to ebXML,
but it is beyond the scope of this paper. At the time of this writing, ebXML is
not yet a well-established standard, nothing is chiseled in marble, and things tend
to change quickly.
XML is the future over present EDI system, and XML will facilitate the Webs B2B,
C2B, B2C, and A2A information exchange revolution. XML is a vehicle that will help
people communicate smarter. After all, communication is at the core of business,
and humanity, for that matter. If business is largely made of communication,
then B2B, likewise, is all about communication, often vital communication. Over
time, XML will become part of the Web's standard infrastructure.
ebXML will not toss EDI aside, but it will build on its foundation. A concern for
the ebXML group is to not leave behind those who have considerable investments
in EDI. But the promotion of ebXML for future system integration and collaboration
is very important. ebXML is considered the enabler of a global electronic market.
What will really pay off is the ability to exchange a greater variety of information
made possible by the extensibility of XML (supplemented at times with file attachments),
and the ability to add real-time collaboration to the mix. With B2B e-commerce
expected to reach $1.3 trillion by 2003 and $7.3 trillion by 2004, XML promises to
be a key enabling technology.
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