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September 12, 2001

XSLT--Transforming Data For the Web

Sebastopol, CA--XSLT, Extensible Stylesheet Language for Transformations, was born from a need to separate content from presentation on the Web. The problem with HMTL--which is unquestionably the most widely used markup language--is that most HTML pages have one goal in mind: the appearance of a document. "Veterans of the markup industry know that this is definitely not the way to create content," explains Doug Tidwell, author of XSLT (O'Reilly, US $39.95). "Separation of content and presentation is a long-established tenet of the publishing industry; unfortunately, most HTML pages aren't even close to approaching this ideal." XML (Extensible Markup Language), on the other hand, represents structured content independent of its presentation. Because of its flexibility, XML is becoming the language of choice for sending structured data across the Web, and more and more, its successful implementation depends on XSLT.

XSLT is a powerful language for transforming XML documents into something else. "That something else can be an HTML document, another XML document, a Portable Document Format (PDF) file, a Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file, a Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) file, Java code, a flat text file, a JPEG file, or most anything you want," explains Tidwell. "You write an XSLT stylesheet to define the rules for transforming an XML document, and the XSLT processor does the work."

As useful as XSLT is, its peculiar characteristics make it difficult to get started in, and the ability to use advanced techniques depends on a clear and exact understanding of how XSLT templates work and interact. In XSLT, Tidwell gives developers a thorough tutorial and reference guide to the language. A developer with years of XSLT experience, Tidwell explains XSLT by building from the basics to the more complex but powerful possibilities of XSLT.

"XSLT contains more examples than any other source available," says Tidwell. "I filled it full of examples for people who have work to do. My assumption is not that you're learning XSLT because you want to be an expert, but learning it because you have a job to do."

"This book is for anyone who has structured data they need to share," Tidwell adds. "With the growth of pervasive devices like cell phones, computers, handhelds, etc., people are going to have to take more and more information and serve it up in different ways. That's what XSLT was meant to do. It gives you the power to convert your data into a lot of formats that weren't previously possible."

XSLT includes practical, real-world examples that show how to apply XSLT stylesheets to XML data. The resulting transformations run the gamut of XML applications including sound files, HTML, WML, graphics (SVG), and Braille. Readers of XSLT will get a thorough understanding of XSLT and XPath and their relationship to other web standards, along with recommendations for a honed toolkit in an open, platform-neutral, standards-based environment.

Online Resources:

XSLT
By Doug Tidwell
ISBN 0-596-00053-7, 460 pages, $39.95 (US)
order@oreilly.com
1-800-998-9938

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