Complex Data

XML really shines when data is complex. It turns the most abstract concepts into concrete databases ready for processing by software. Multimedia formats like Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) map pictures and movies into XML markup. Complex ideas in the scientific realm are just as readily coded as XML, as proven by MathML (equations), the Chemical Markup Language (chemical formulae), and the Molecular Dynamics Language (molecule interactions).

Elements as Objects

The reason XML is so good at modelling complex data is that the same building blocks for narrative documents—elements and attributes—can apply to any composition of objects and properties. Just as a book breaks down into chapters, sections, blocks, and inlines, many abstract ideas can be deconstructed into discrete and hierarchical components. Vector graphics, for example, are composed of a finite set of shapes with associated properties. You can represent each shape as an element and use attributes to hammer down the details.

SVG is a good example of how to represent objects as elements. Take a gander at the simple SVG document in Example 3-7. Here we have three different shapes represented by as many elements: a common rectangle, an ordinary circle, and an exciting polygon. Attributes in each element customize the shape, setting color and spatial dimensions.

Example 3-7. An SVG document
<?xml version="1.0"?> <svg> <desc>Three shapes</desc> <rect fill="green" ...

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