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> What I don't find obvious in the recs is why this "reverse order"
> property is lost when you assign the node set "preceding-sibling::*" to
> a variable, but all the XSLT processors seem to behave consistently in
> this respect.
beware it's different in Xpath2 (and works as you thought) but in XPath1
node sets are sets, and being sets they don't have an order.
so _all ordering_ is lost if you return a node set value.
copy-of for-each and friends order their supplied node set into document
order as part of their processing.
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