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Section 3: Introducing the eXtensible Markup Language and Related Technologies

3.8 Overview

XML is the core of a suite of Web technologies developed in 1998 by the W3C for the publication of webpages and exchange of information. It is widely used throughout the private and public sector and has a number of advantages over HTML and other electronic file formats. It is a flexible, platform-independent open standard, intelligible to the human reader. XML documents can be transformed into other formats and tailored for different media, used in conjunction with CSS, XSL, XPath XLink and SVG, among other technologies. XML has advantages for digital archiving and preservation, and is beneficial in terms of interoperability as it is a self-describing language.

XML is widely used in the humanities for document markup; one of the most commonly used and accessible standards for doing so is the XML version of the TEI Guidelines, first launched in 1987. This provides a means of representing features of a text that need to be identified explicitly in order to facilitate the processing of the text by computer. This offers great potential for enhancing the electronic accessibility of archaeological grey literature and for the repurposing of document content for export into heritage datasets. Although XML is not widely used within archaeology at present, the development of the FISH Interoperability Toolkit is promoting awareness of XML within the discipline and aims to provide a means for efficient exchange of data.

One of the major factors restricting the adoption of XML technologies has been the lack of support in Web browsers in all but the most recent releases. This presents limitations for client-side processing, but can be overcome with the use of server-side processing and independent XML/XSL parsers and processors, such as Aelfred and Saxon from SourceForge.net.

The author has reviewed a number of projects using XML markup for the provision of online content (see 3.7), and has compared these to the websites reviewed in Section 2.1. The author's conclusion has been that XML technologies offer the greatest potential for document description, manipulation and preservation. Accordingly, a practical case-study has been developed to demonstrate this potential and this is presented in the following section.

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Last updated: Wed Apr 6 2005