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   Meta data for XML editors

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  • From: Trevor Turton <trevort@za.ibm.com>
  • To: <xml-dev@ic.ac.uk>
  • Date: Fri, 6 Feb 1998 15:13:44 +0000

Development of XML editors is underway.  Since XML is flexible/extensible,
XML editors will have to be so too.  The XML user will need to specify a
list of the DTD schemas that will be used in composing a particular
document.  The editor will need to fetch and parse these schemas so it can
validate the user's input.

More usefully, the editor could present the DTDs to the user as a series of
stacked palettes, each containing a list of the elements defined within
each DTD.  When the user selects an element from a palette for inclusion in
the target document, the editor could present the tags and attributes
associated with the element, and hence guide the user in constructing a
syntactically correct document that conforms to the DTDs.

Let's up the ante a little.  A palette of entities would be more useful if:

* Each entity were represented by an icon that suggests its function
* Each entity popped up a one-liner outlining its function whenever the
  mouse hovered over it for a while
* Each entity was backed by complete help documentation (in XML, of course)

To do this stuff well, the editor would need access to more than just the
plain unvarnished DTD.  It would need extra meta data to be associated
with the DTD, but only used at document composition time.  Browsers and
other rendering programs would not need to access this extra information
when they render the final document, and indeed it would slow them down
unnecessarily to do so.  It may make sense to exploit XML's (proposed)
powerful hyperlink facilities to associate compose-time meta data with
DTDs.  All of the design-time meta data required to help the user understand
and exploit the DTD could be made available in this way.

If this meta data is made available through hyperlinks then it may be a good
idea to establish a convention now, while it's still early enough, as to how
such compose time meta data will be classified, and to encourage the
builders of browsers and other rendering engines to omit these designated
hyperlinks from the popup menus they present to their users should the user
click on the associated hot-spot; or at least to make this omission the
default action, overrideable in the browser's option settings.

It seems likely to me that a number of different software developers will
build XML editors that make use of associated compose-time meta data
such as I have described above, and that each will choose to format this
information in a different way, and that DTD builders will be faced with
the dilemma of which meta data format they should use, and that the value
of all DTDs will be diminished by the fact that different XML editors will
work best with different formats of meta data.

Can we try to pre-empt this problem before it hits us by debating and
proposing a standard format for compose-time meta data?

Trevor Turton

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