XML has become the lingua franca of e-business

During the past year, new XML-capable development tools, typified by IBM Corp.’s WebSphere Studio and Microsoft Corp.’s Visual Studio .Net, have lightened developers’ workloads considerably. New tools and APIs have reduced the tasks of editing XML files, creating new XML schema definitions, and parsing XML data to elementary routine. Instead of seeing XML strictly as an intermediary, developers in all languages, from Java and C++ to Perl and PHP, are using powerful XML APIs as their application’s primary data storage engine.

The past year has also seen important XML-related developments. XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation) has grown beyond its original purpose – formatting XML documents for display, usually by conversion to HTML – to become the most common means of translating XML documents from one vocabulary to another. Web services, encompassing XML-based standards including SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), WSDL (Web Services Description Language), and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration), are rapidly gaining ground as a means of providing remote access to applications’ data and functions. Some see Web services as a death knell for the bulky, expensive middleware that currently ties enterprise applications together.

The coming year will be a crucial one for XML. Emerging World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards cover canonicalization, signatures, queries, and security. Canonicalization will solve the challenge of comparing documents that are identical except for minor syntactical differences. The XML Signatures standard will enable the embedding of a digital signature that verifies the origin and authenticity of a document. XML Signatures relies on canonicalization to ensure that a received signed document, despite intermediate processing, is the same as the original. XQuery (XML Query) opens up the exciting possibility of performing complex queries against a large XML document as you would a managed database. It will also enable queries across data sources that can expose their data as XML.

W3C work on security standards is not as far along as those mentioned. There is a W3C XML encryption working group, and Microsoft has published its WS-License and WS-Security extensions. XML document and Web services security are important pieces of the puzzle, but software vendors and developers are forging ahead without it, confident that standards will eventually provide a solution.

Award winner: Software AG Tamino

Many rounds remain in the native XML database title bout, and no clear leader has yet emerged. But Software AG scored points last year with the release of Tamino 3.1, an easy-to-use database that boasts slick schema editing, support for Enterprise JavaBeans and Java ServerPages, and an under-one-roof management console. See Maggie Biggs’ review at www.infoworld.com/printlinks.