Product Review: Altova’s XML IDE gets richer
Rating: 5 out of 5
Altova’s xmlspy 2004 features an impressive array of editing views, debugging capabilities, and productivity tools for developers working with XML and XML-related technologies. Although not a revolution in terms of functionality, this latest release broadens the already rich feature set of this award-winning XML integrated development environment.
The 2004 version introduces Visual Studio .NET integration, which is available in the Enterprise and Professional editions. With both Microsoft’s Visual Studio .NET and xmlspy 2004 installed, developers can download a plug-in from Altova that allows them to access the entire xmlspy development environment from within VS .NET, completely replacing the latter’s default XML/XSL/XSLT/DTD editing functionality. The new integration feature works with both the 2002 and 2003 versions of Visual Studio .NET.
Such integration is a real boon for .NET developers, and should be a chief consideration if you are looking to expand the XML editing capabilities of VS .NET.
Also debuting in this version is a powerful XML differencing tool that allows developers to compare structure, content and parent-child relationships between two separate XML documents. The differencing tool walks a developer through the files sequentially. During the process, it employs special syntax to highlight incongruent aspects of the files. The differencing process can also be employed against entire directories of XML files, making short work of large-scale comparison/merging tasks. Customization options let developers specify portions of the files to skip.
Earlier versions of xmlspy supported the W3C’s XPath 1.0 standard. The 2004 version includes support for the beta implementation of XPath 2.0, giving developers working with XML a tool for honing their XPath querying skills.
Stylesheet Designer is a separate workspace environment for visual drag-and-drop editing of XML style sheets. In addition to autogenerating XSLT documents for the transformation of HTML-to-XML (and vice versa), Stylesheet Designer now supports XSL:FO, which lets developers transform XML documents into PDF and Postscript format. Stylesheet Designer also supports visual drag-and-drop creation of XSLT documents based on an existing DTD or Schema file.
A new Code Generation feature automatically generates OO data binding code in Java, C++ or C#, based on an XML Schema. The process is very straightforward, and frees developers from creating customized data bindings for support of XML-based Web services.
Perhaps one of the most striking features of xmlspy 2004 is its ability to provide several distinct editing views for managing XML documents. This is likely to be especially useful to organizations in which people of varying levels of technical skill work with XML documents.
The Text View is a syntax-highlighted, textual view of the XML document that supports auto-completion of custom tags. Whenever a parent tag is inserted, all related child tags are automatically inserted, ensuring the well-formedness of documents.
The Enhanced Grid View provides a crucial vantage point from which to review and edit XML documents. It provides a tree-like presentation of the XML document, allowing developers to edit as though they were working with a standard spreadsheet application. Nested child information can be easily collapsed or expanded within this view.
For editing WSDL files, the Schema/ WSDL View presents an impressive visual representation of each of the constituent parts of the Web service defined by the WSDL document. Operations, Port Types and Bindings are easily viewed and modified using this interface. XML Schema files (such as XSD or DTD) can be rendered graphically in an organization diagram and edited visually in this view mode. xmlspy can create a sample XML document automatically, complete with placeholder data, based solely on a Schema file. It can also generate Schema files from existing XML documents, which can then be modified within the Schema/WSDL editing view.
The Authentic View enables the XML-illiterate to manage XML document contents and structure in a word processor-like environment. It is essentially an integrated version of Altova’s Authentic 2004 freeware XML editor.
In addition, XML files with a defined XSL or DTD can be previewed in Browser View. This view provides details of the XHTML or HTML output from an XSLT transformation.
The 2004 version of xmlspy has a novel way of handling SOAP development: It includes a built-in SOAP client that could prove to be invaluable for testing the code’s responses to requests. SOAP development, testing and debugging can be accomplished without ever leaving the xmlspy environment.
No modern IDE would be complete without debugging tools, and xmlspy 2004 delivers the goods in this department. Altova’s detailed attention to the debugging capabilities of the product is truly impressive and likely to translate into considerable time savings for developers working with XML.
A robust troubleshooting system is provided for each of the primary XML-related document types the product supports. It features both well-formedness checking and validation, which validates the XML file against a DTD or other Schema document. Each method of debugging provides syntax highlighting of problem areas in an XML file, and alert messages describing the issue.
The XSL/XSLT debugging environment lets developers employ conditional breakpoints, and variable and XPath watches, and provides a step-by-step XSLT transformation review process.
xmlspy 2004 can connect to any RDBMS via ODBC or ADO, allowing developers to work with databases directly from within the IDE. XML documents can be automatically generated with data culled from a database. The product includes built-in support for Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle 9i XML Schema extensions, and it supports integration with Software AG’s Tamino XML database server. However, it still lacks support for Schema extensions from Sybase and IBM DB2, an oft-cited complaint from earlier product versions.
A host of additional goodies are included, such as project management features, code repository integration capabilities, robust file conversion features and thorough customization capabilities.
With its exhaustively comprehensive feature set, Altova’s xmlspy 2004 elegantly handles the acronym-soup of XML and XML-related document formats and technologies. It’s a great tool that I recommend highly.
Billed by the vendor as the first true XML development environment, Altova’s xmlspy 2004 is an industry-standard dev tool designed specifically for building software applications based on XML technologies. With its exhaustively comprehensive feature set, the 2004 version of this tool elegantly handles the acronym-soup of XML and XML-related document formats and technologies. Highly recommended, especially for organizations in which users of varying levels of technical skill are working with XML documents.
Pricing and Availability:
Three editions of xmlspy 2004 are available (Windows only):
• Enterprise edition priced at $990.
• Professional edition available for $399.
• Home version priced at $49.
• Wide selection of editing views.
• Robust debugging capabilities for all manner of XML and XML-related document types.
• RDBMS and Tamino integration; support for several SQL vendor XML Schema extensions.
• Visual Studio .NET integration.
• Only available for Microsoft Windows.
• Lacks support for Schema extensions from Sybase and IBM DB2.
Jason Halla is an enterprise J2EE architect with a Fortune 500 company in Indianapolis, and moderator of Devshed's popular Java, PHP and XML forums. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.