Friday, December 10, 2010

Long Live XML

Reading Norman Walsh's Deprecating XML article (and others, like James Clark's XML vs the Web), on the topic of web apps removing XML from their APIs, made me reflect a little about what's happened to XML over the past decade. I began the decade working for a dot-bomb that was way into XML, envisioning a world-wide "XML backbone" of deep data-integration.

While that has not come to pass, I still see XML as having changed the world. Before XML, data exchange was almost always done either via bare-bones CSV (comma-separated values) or inscrutable binary formats. Even though CSV is at least human-readable, and binary formats can be carefully structured, there was just nothing (popular) in the 90's with more than a couple of these attributes:

  • human-readable
  • unicode built-in
  • platform/vendor-agnostic
  • structured
  • extensible

XML was never great for raw data — its real strength is structuring and annotating text — but each of the above was a big win for developers trying to share data. Having a default data-format that just worked everywhere for everything freed the developers of the 00's to think about what to do with the data, not how to send it on the wire.

In the 10's JSON will be used for data, and XML can go back to what it does best: text. So, okay, XML is dead; long live XML!

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