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Support of XML and related technologies

 
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Since Scott is now hanging out, perhaps he, along with the rest of you, can field a question I just haven't been able to get a straight answer to.
How well is XML and it's related technologies supported?
A year or more ago, I did some research on XML and prepared a presentation and, with that presentation I had trouble finding browsers that would support the XML and CSS and whatever that I was trying to show. At that time, I used "top of the line" software (that being IE 5.0 and the latest release of Mozilla), but that software is now out of date.
In broad terms, how well is XML and related technologies supported? I believe that I've heard that IE6 now fully supports XSL, but I'm not sure. Are there any technologies that should be avoided due to lack of support? Is the level of support increasing? If so, how quickly?
Thanks,
Corey
 
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This is a good question, Corey.
In the broader sense, XML support is gaining ground rapidly: there are parsers available in a wide variety of languages, data binding frameworks are maturing, XML-Schema is coming into its own, there are good SOAP and XML-RPC implementations for just about all environments, etc...
However, your question might be construed a bit more narrowly -- how is XML fairing in the client side browser. There the issue is a bit more spotty.
In IE, in-client transforms (XSLT) have been working pretty reliably for quite a while now. Also, binding XML data in the browser (via a data island) works just fine:
<html>
<xml src="someXMLfile.xml" id="xmldata" async="false"/>
<table datasrc="#xmldata">
<thead>
<th>Field1</th>
<th>Field2</th>
<th>Field3</th>
</thead>
<tr align="left">
<td><span datafld="Field1"></span></td>
<td><span datafld="Field2"></span></td>
<td><span datafld="Field3"></span></td>
</tr>
</table>
</html>
The bad news is that none of these approaches (so far as I've been able to determine) work well in Netscape 6.0, and so one cannot rely upon them when designing for public consumption.
-S-
 
Corey McGlone
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The bad news is that none of these approaches (so far as I've been able to determine) work well in Netscape 6.0, and so one cannot rely upon them when designing for public consumption.


It's been a while since I've worked in client side web development (I usually work with server-side technologies). One of the biggest frustrations I had with trying to utilize XML (you can look at my tutorial to get a testament) was different levels of support in different browsers.
Some time ago, I thought I had heard that Netscape was going to cease making new versions of Netscape Navigator, leaving MSIE the sole major browser on the market. Is that true, or was that just a nasty rumor? If Navigator really does go away, do you think that will make using XML over the web easier (I imagine it will get rid of all of the cross-browser headaches I always used to face)?
Also, if you're familiar with less well known browsers, such as Opera, are those browsers XML compliant at all? When I did client-side development, I rarely took those browsers into account, I'm just curious.
Thanks again,
Corey
 
Scott Bain
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The whole issue of browser consistence is a major thorn in the side of everyone who does web design... we cannot make use of all the features of a browser without introducing incompatilibies with other browsers.
I don't expect this to resolve itself any time soon. Even if Netscape went away today, or came out with a totally IE compatible version (or vice-versa), so many people are running older versions of these browsers (some who are not allowed to upgrade... within a corporation, for instance), that it will be a long, long time before this issue goes away.
Bottom line? We have to stick to pretty vanilla HTML on the client side, or use some kind of plugin technology (like SVG or Flash) to create more robuest content.
XML is not really a solution here, on the client side. It is a big help on the server side, however. When you use a web publishing framework (like apache's free Cocoon framework), you can store all your content in XML, then have seperate (automatic) transforms for display in IE, Netscape, WML (wireless devices), Opera, whatever.
-S-
 
Corey McGlone
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...we cannot make use of all the features of a browser without introducing incompatilibies with other browsers...
I don't expect this to resolve itself any time soon. Even if Netscape went away today, or came out with a totally IE compatible version (or vice-versa), so many people are running older versions of these browsers (some who are not allowed to upgrade... within a corporation, for instance), that it will be a long, long time before this issue goes away.


I absolutely agree. I used to work in web development at a university. Because it was a government funded organization, accessibility was a high priority, which means that we had to cater to those running IE 2 on a 640 x 480 resolution screen. When you have to develop for stuff like that, it gets awfully difficult just to make a decent web page, much less utilize the full functionality of newer browsers.


Bottom line? We have to stick to pretty vanilla HTML on the client side, or use some kind of plugin technology (like SVG or Flash) to create more robuest content.


Just out of curiosity, I was wondering if you had done any work with integrating XML and Flash. I've done quite a bit of work with Flash and I've seen that this can be done, but I hadn't looked into it in much detail. Even if you can get XML into Flash, can use use things like XSL, DOM, or SAX? Flash can be a nice solution for cross-browser issues simply because both MSIE and Netscape can display a flash movie, but then you open of the whole situation about browsers not having the right plug-ins and you don't even want to start with Flash and blind-browsers...


XML is not really a solution here, on the client side. It is a big help on the server side, however. When you use a web publishing framework (like apache's free Cocoon framework), you can store all your content in XML, then have seperate (automatic) transforms for display in IE, Netscape, WML (wireless devices), Opera, whatever.


Letting by inexperience show, what does Cocoon do for you? If you're using server side technologies already, why not use something like JSP/Servlets to do the XML parsing and transformation for you? Is this similar to what Cocoon does?
Thanks again for all of your help,
Corey
 
Scott Bain
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Sorry, I can't help you with Flash (I'm married to a Flash animator, but the expertise has not trickled down to me ), though I know it includes XML support on some level.
Cocoon is a quite different approach than, say, JSP and servlets. The content pages themselves would be un-transformed XML, with references to the stylesheets (in XSLT) that should be used under various circumstances (per browser, for instance). The Cocoon engine, using a "reactor pattern" then transforms the XML into the resultant form...which may itself be XML with a stylesheet reference, etc... thus, the transformation can be multi-layered, until there are no more stylesheets to apply, and the resulting HTML is sent to the client.
Cocoon also caches the results of these transformations rather intelligently, so the performance is suprisingly good.
It's available for free from www.apache.org, and runs in Tomcat, so the best way to go here is just grab it and give it a try.
HTH
-S-
 
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