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   Structured attributes

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  • From: ht@cogsci.ed.ac.uk (Henry S. Thompson)
  • To: "XML Developers' list" <xml-dev@xml.org>
  • Date: 02 Mar 2000 22:40:58 +0000

[A moment's thought will lead to realisation that this is displacement 
activity on the part of the XML Schema: Structures editor, who
certainly has better things to do, but I need to get this off my

Why not structured attributes in XML?  _Why_ structured attributes?
Well, we all know the comparison between elements and attributes as
they stand:

Elements      Attributes
ordered       unordered
non-unique    unique
structured    unstructured

There are a lot of contexts in which the first two properties of
attributes are desireable, but the third is a serious constraint.

Here's a design sketch for adding structured attributes:

  1) Reserve a family of hitherto unusable names as the names of
  structured attributes: On balnace I favour names with an initial
  full-stop (.), but there are arguments in favour of using an initial
  colon (:) instead;

  2) Use element syntax, at the beginning of all element content, with 
     the following restrictions:
     2a) No attributes on structured attributes;
     2b) Contents is either all structured attributes or all text;
     2c) Order doesn't matter;
     2d) Uniqueness of names among sibling structured _and_, for children of
         elements, vanilla old-style attributes.


  <person age='49'>
  <children otherParent='p33'>
   . . .

The constraints above are equivalent to allowing 'attribute' children
to the 'attribute' element in XML Schema, along with making the
attribute name uniqueness constraint cumulative:

 <element name='person'>
   <attribute name='age' type='integer'/>
   <attribute name='name'>
     <attribute name='first'/>
     <attribute name='middle/>
     <attribute name='last/>
   <element name='children'>...</children>

Back to my day job :-)

  Henry S. Thompson, HCRC Language Technology Group, University of Edinburgh
          W3C Fellow 1999--2001, part-time member of W3C Team
     2 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LW, SCOTLAND -- (44) 131 650-4440
	    Fax: (44) 131 650-4587, e-mail: ht@cogsci.ed.ac.uk
		     URL: http://www.ltg.ed.ac.uk/~ht/

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