- By Eric Wagoner
XML has become a widely used method to make data more accessible, used by hard-core
web designers and now home hobbyists alike. As XML is being used in more and
more creative ways, developers have begun releasing tools to make the job easier.
XMLSpy 5 from Altova is more like a suite of tools that handles all aspects
of XML, from defining the schema (that specify the layout of the XML files)
to collecting the data (that will be stored in the XML file) to designing stylesheets
(that will transform the XML file to something more human-friendly).
The suite installed easily. One surprising feature of the installer was the
option to include a number of third party plug-ins. This opened doors I didn't
even know existed, such as a Microsoft tool that enables you to apply stylesheets
directly to a SQL Server database, bypassing the XML step altogether. Other
companies have similar niche solutions that may make your life much simpler.
Until now, my approach to XML was crude at best. I had been hand-writing my
XML and XSL stylesheet files in a text editor, not even bothering with schema.
I then combined the two using fop (a tool released by the Apache group) to produce
PDF documents. At first I was intimidated by the power of XMLSpy, but I quickly
saw (after installing the provided fop plug-in) that I could keep working just
as before within XMLSpy. When I wanted to utilize more of the potential XML
has to offer, XMLSpy's in-depth tutorials made learning the tools easy. The
suite comes with fully populated examples and step-by-step instructions on how
to reproduce them from the ground up. I found these to be almost as useful as
O'Reilly's XML book for grasping what could be done with XML.
No matter what you're using XML for, as a dabbler or a SOAP developer, you'd
benefit from Altova's top-notch toolset. Even if you create your XML by hand,
XMLSpy's ability to create HTML or Word documentation, complete with easily
understood diagrams, from your files may alone be worth the purchase price.
This is Eric's first review for Developer Central.