XML Within the Enterprise

The last four decades of the twentieth century witnessed the birth of the Computer Age. Computers have become an essential tool for nearly every corporate worker. Personal computers are now found in over 50 percent of U.S. households, and with this proliferation has come the explosion of the Internet. The Internet has not only changed the way consumers gather information and make their purchases, but it has also completely changed the way corporations must do business.

Today corporations must be able to respond quickly to market pressures and must be able to analyze large quantities of data to make appropriate decisions. To be of any use to the corporation, this data must be accurate, relevant, and available immediately. As we will see in this tutorial, a Digital Nervous System (DNS) will provide the corporation with a computer and software infrastructure that will provide accurate, relevant data in a timely manner. One of the most important elements of the DNS is the movement of data. In many circumstances, the ideal way to move this data will be in Extensible Markup Language (XML) format.

XML can be used to create text documents that contain data in a structured format. In addition to the data, you can include a detailed set of rules that define the structure of the data. The author of the XML document defines these rules. For example, you could create a set of rules that can be used for validating Microsoft Exchange email documents, Microsoft SQL Server databases, Microsoft Word documents, or any type of data that exists within the corporation.

An industry initiative called BizTalk, which was started by Microsoft and supported by many other organizations such as CommerceOne and Boeing, provides a standard set of rules that are agreed upon by different corporate communities and individual corporations. These rules are stored in a central repository and can be used to build standardized XML messages that can be sent between applications within the corporation and to applications belonging to the corporation's partners. Both large and small corporations can benefit from using these XML messages because it allows them to do business with a wider range of partners.

XML can do a great deal more than just move data. Data can be included in an XML document and then an Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) page can be used with the XML document to present the data in Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 (and hopefully other Web browsers in the near future). Using an XML document and an XSL page allows Web developers to separate data and presentation. tutorial 2 will examine why this technique is essential for corporate Web development.

Another initiative, the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), enables you to use XML to call methods on a remote computer on the Internet, even through a firewall. The SOAP initiative is being developed by Development or, Microsoft, and others. For more information on SOAP, visit http://www.develop.com/soap/.

BizTalk, Internet Explorer 5, and SOAP address three of the most important issues facing corporations today:

  • Creating standardized messages that can be moved inside and outside the corporation (BizTalk)
  • Separating data and presentation when building Web pages (Internet Explorer 5)
  • Calling methods through firewalls and between different platforms (SOAP)

The focus of this tutorial will be on the features of XML and how it can be used to address these three issues.