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Using Perl With XML (part 1)
Find out how to use Perl's SAX parser to parse and convert your XML into Web-friendly HTML

| Getting Down To Business  |

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of XML parsing with Perl, I'd like to take some time to explain how all the pieces fit together.

In case you don't already know, XML is a markup language created to help document authors describe the data contained within a document. This description is accomplished by means of tags, very similar in appearance to regular HTML markup. However, where HTML depends on pre-defined tags, XML allows document authors to create their own tags, immediately making it more powerful and flexible. There are some basic rules to be followed when creating an XML file, and a file can only be processed if these rules are followed to the letter.

Once a file has been created, it needs to be converted, or "transformed", from pure data into something a little more readable. XSL, the Extensible Style Language, is typically used for such transformations; it's a powerful language that allows you to generate different output from the same XML data source. For example, you could use different XSL transformations to create an HTML Web page, a WML deck, and an ASCII text file...all from the same source XML.

There's only one problem here: most browsers don't come with an XML parser or an XSL processor. The latest versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape Gecko do support XML, but older versions don't. And this brings up an obvious problem: how do you use an XML data source to generate HTML for these older browsers?

The solution is to insert an additional layer between the client and the server, which takes care of parsing the XML and returning the rendered output to the browser. And that's where Perl comes in - it supports XML parsing, through add-on DOM and XML packages, and even has a package to handle XSL transformations through the Sablotron processor.

As I've said earlier, there are two methods to parse XML data with Perl, and each one has advantages and disadvantages. I'll explain both approaches, together with simple examples to demonstrate how to use them in your own applications.

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