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XML Basics (part 1)
Get up to speed with the basics of XML theory with this discussion of elements, attributes and markup rules.

| Deconstructing The Silver Bullet |

Unless you've spent the past few years down a rabbit hole, you've already heard about XML, the W3C's effort to create an extensible toolkit to store and manage different types of data. By defining a set of rules to organize collections of data, and then developing a set of technologies that can work with these organized collections, XML is a serious attempt to simplify the task of data management.

From the release of the first working draft of the XML specification in 1998, all the way through to its current incarnation, XML has been the subject of mass media hysteria, with technology pundits and business leaders alike proclaiming its virtues. XML, they say, is the silver bullet, the magic elixir that will cure all of humanity's woes...and help you make a profit in the bargain. Don't wait, they say; get on the XML bandwagon now and your customers will thank you for it.

Don't believe them.

XML is no silver bullet; it's a tool. A tool whose benefits lie primarily in the manner of its usage. Used correctly, XML and its related technologies can, indeed, make your life simpler, your processes more efficient, and perhaps even fatten your bottom line. Used incorrectly, it's simply a toy, a beautiful thing that you admire for a while and then go back to work. If you don't understand the basic concepts and principles of XML, and how to apply them to your requirements, your ability to exploit it will be, at best, limited.

Over the course of this series of articles, I will be focusing on core XML concepts - elements, attributes, namespaces, entities and the like - in the hope of offering a starting point to XML novices. In case you already know most of this stuff, fear not - at a later date, I will also be discussing the applications of XML and its related technologies - data exchange, transformations, linkages and more - together with more focused discussions of new and upcoming XML technologies. 

This introductory article will discuss the origins and design goals of XML, the basic rules of XML markup, and how to use elements and attributes in an XML document. And class is now in session.

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