XML reaches five-year mark with some surprises

The W3C published XML 1.0 as a Recommendation standard on February 10, 1998, making this week the fifth birthday of the now ubiquitous technology that has somewhat surprisingly moved far beyond its original expectations.

To celebrate, the W3C Web site ( features a virtual birthday cake as well as an article by Contivo CTO Dave Hollander and Michael Sperberg-McQueen, architecture domain lead of the W3C; the two were members of the working group that developed the XML 1.0 specification.

In the article, the authors reflect on the remarkable rise of XML, which began as a simple 25-page document.

XML Report asked Sperberg-McQueen what has surprised him most in the five-year history of the standard he helped to develop.

''I think what has most surprised me -- [and it] is a very pleasant surprise -- is the interest of database people, program communication people, transaction people, all of the non-documentary applications,'' he said.

The original working group had focused mostly on XML as a document standard, Sperberg-McQueen said. But he recalled that those who had worked on its predecessor, SGML, saw the larger data application possibilities.

''There were people in the SGML community who made the case very consistently and very regularly that you could use structured markup to exhibit the internal structure of any kind of information, not limited to markup,'' he said.

Once XML 1.0 made its appearance in the computing world, that potential began to be realized as a pleasant surprise to the standard's authors.

As Sperberg-McQueen recalled: ''People said you could use it for program-to-program communication. But nobody took that stuff seriously really. But when XML came out, database people started saying, 'We want to use this for exchanging data between databases.'''

He said the energy the database community has brought to XML has contributed to its five-year success story.

''It's been great because in many ways the database community has become one of the drivers of XML adoption,'' he said. ''The fact that all the major SQL vendors now support XML extensions; that the SQL community is working on ways of standardizing that; the active participation of programming language design people and SQL people in the development of XML Query within W3C ... all that has been a tremendous boom.''

To read the article by Sperberg-McQueen and Hollander go to

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.


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