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Introduction to XML


XML was designed to describe data.

HTML was designed to display data.


What You Should Already Know

Before you continue you should have a basic understanding of the following:

  • HTML
  • JavaScript

If you want to study these subjects first, find the tutorials on our Home page.


What is XML?

  • XML stands for EXtensible Markup Language
  • XML is a markup language much like HTML
  • XML was designed to describe data, not to display data
  • XML tags are not predefined. You must define your own tags
  • XML is designed to be self-descriptive
  • XML is a W3C Recommendation

The Difference Between XML and HTML

XML is not a replacement for HTML.

XML and HTML were designed with different goals:

  • XML was designed to describe data, with focus on what data is
  • HTML was designed to display data, with focus on how data looks

HTML is about displaying information, while XML is about carrying information.


XML Does Not DO Anything

Maybe it is a little hard to understand, but XML does not DO anything.

The following example is a note to Tove, from Jani, stored as XML:

<note>
<to>Tove</to>
<from>Jani</from>
<heading>Reminder</heading>
<body>Don't forget me this weekend!</body>
</note>

The note above is quite self descriptive. It has sender and receiver information, it also has a heading and a message body.

But still, this XML document does not DO anything. It is just information wrapped in tags. Someone must write a piece of software to send, receive or display it.


With XML You Invent Your Own Tags

The tags in the example above (like <to> and <from>) are not defined in any XML standard. These tags are "invented" by the author of the XML document.

That is because the XML language has no predefined tags.

The tags used in HTML are predefined. HTML documents can only use tags defined in the HTML standard (like <p>, <h1>, etc.).

XML allows the author to define his/her own tags and his/her own document structure.


XML is Not a Replacement for HTML

XML is a complement to HTML.

It is important to understand that XML is not a replacement for HTML. In most web applications, XML is used to describe data, while HTML is used to format and display the data.

My best description of XML is this:

XML is a software- and hardware-independent tool for carrying information.


XML is a W3C Recommendation

XML became a W3C Recommendation on February 10, 1998.



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