What is XML?

To learn about XML (eXtensible Markup Language) we need to first know what markup languages are. Markup languages are designed for the processing, definition, and presentation of documents containing structured information. The language specifies code for formatting, both the layout and style, within a text file or document. HTML is an example of a widely known and much-used markup language.
The differences between XML and HTML are, noting that XML is not a replacement for HTML:
- XML has been designed to transport and store data, with a focus on what data is
- HTML has been designed to display data, with a focus on what data looks like

In other words, HTML is about displaying information, while XML is about carrying information.

Why XML?

In order to appreciate XML, it is important to understand why it was created. The foremost reason being so that data could be exchanged over the web.
The only viable markup language alternatives for this purpose, HTML and SGML, are not practical as HTML is bound with a set of semantics that do not allow for arbitrary structure, while SGML, although it does allow for arbitrary structure, is too complex to implement just for a web browser.

A well known example of the use of XML is RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) feeds, which is a format for delivering regularly changing web content. Many news-related sites, weblogs and other online publishers syndicate their content as an RSS Feed to whoever wants it on a regular, up-to-date basis. In reality, these so-called RSS-feeds are nothing less than XML files.

Another important reason for the development of XML is that it allows for the use of data from more sources and in more ways as it has become a widely accepted standard for exchanging data between any number of computer systems. Why use it? Businesses today thrive on data, and said data can come from a number of sources and in a variety of formats (such as databases, web pages, spreadsheet files, etc.). Data can be extracted from various original sources, stored at a location of your choosing, and accessed whenever required by you, therefore enabling you to get more from that data.

For example, if you are required to create a report on budget data for the past three years, however you have stored that data, if it's in XML, you can select what you need and import it into a document, worksheet, or database - whatever the situation requires.

XML and Excel

Microsoft Office 2003 Professional was the first Office version that took the XML standard seriously.

It is common knowledge that many businesses use Excel to edit and prepare data. It is easy to use and is widely available, and its tabular format is ideally suited to all kinds of information processing, such as inventory lists, customer records, financial data, statistical data, and much more.

XML is called "Extensible" for a good reason: you can extend it by adapting it to fit almost any requirement. In business, publishing, government, science, academic research - anywhere that information moves from one user to another. And it is built in to Microsoft Excel, and the other applications that make up MS Office.

Excel 2003 training will provide you with a greater understanding of the benefits to business and yourself of making use of XML for data handling and storage.