WebRef Update: Featured Article: XML: To Be, or not B2B? | WebReference

WebRef Update: Featured Article: XML: To Be, or not B2B?

XML: To Be, or not B2B?

XML has been touted as the next big thing, the best way for businesses to communicate effectively; the answer to all the different legacy systems, software and hardware that exists in business today. But is XML the answer? Like most answers related to the web: Yes and No.

As most of you know, XML stands for Extensible Markup Language, which is a subset of SGML. To those of you that hand code HTML, XML is easily recognizable. A very simplified example is shown below:


<title> Hello World </title>
<p> XYZ Business </p>
<p> 123 Main St </p>


<title> Hello World </title>
<cname> XYZ Business </cname>
<caddress> 123 Main St </caddress>

Wow, that's easy! If it's that easy, why haven't we been using XML all along? I did say it was a very simplified example. But the reality is - anyone who codes HTML is fully capable of coding XML. So what is the hold up? Let's take a look at a real life example.

One of the most common uses for XML will be Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Using an ATM card to purchase gasoline is an immediately recognizable form of EDI. EDI is simply moving an electronic document from one computer to another. This can be done by modem, Internet, floppy, etc. One of the reasons XML looks so attractive is that it can be used to easily move these documents across the Internet.

As you can imagine, retail EDI is huge business. The ability to move invoices, purchase orders, and inventory information is extremely valuable to retailers and their suppliers. Some larger companies are paying over $10,000.00 per month to move EDI documents - and it is still saving them money! XML has the potential to reduce the cost of EDI, making it more affordable for the entire retail industry.

So, let's follow an invoice along as it makes its journey across the Internet. First, some brilliant young coder will produce an EDI document. Then, the MIS department will fire up their Internet connection and send the invoice to the retailer, who will... wait a minute: How does the invoice get made into an EDI document? Once the retailer receives the invoice, what does he do with it? Is everyone going to have to learn to read between all those tags just to pay their invoices?

How the information becomes an EDI document is a matter of schema, or standards. In the example earlier in this article, I used the tag <cname> to represent the name of the company. This is what the schema developers are trying to standardize. The tag for company name needs to be the same across all applications or the information will become useless. If one schema uses <cname> and another uses <coname> to identify the name of a company, XML will not be able to identify the data correctly.

Next: More on XML

This article originally appeared in the March 30, 2000 edition of the WebReference Update Newsletter.


Comments are welcome
Written by Mark Henry and

Revised: May 9, 2000

URL: http://webreference.com/new/xmlb2b.html