Standard: XML (Extensible Markup Language)

Sponsor: World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Description:  XML is a subset of SGML and a superset of HTML.  It has been described as "SGML that works" because it is less complex.  At the same time, it provides additional capabilities beyond HTML.  For example, it will facilitate the exchange of data between XML-formated records and relational databases, a feature that will be highly useful to Federal agencies seeking to comply with the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) as well as the Federal Records Act.  See also XFDL.

Relationship to Records Management:  To the degree that a standard format can be agreed upon and implemented in commercial-off-the-shelf software products that are widely used, the risk of obsolescence can be minimized and records managers will not need to worry as much about converting files for continuing accessibility in the future.  As opposed to relational databases, which are dynamic by design and thus inappropriate for record-keeping purposes, XML-based files can be preserved as records in inalterable form for as long as required by agency records schedules.

Problems/Issues/Weaknesses:  Vendors have incentives to create their own proprietary add-on features to appeal to potential customers and thereby differentiate their products in the marketplace.  It takes time to achieve consensus to incorporate such features into the standard.  Users may be unwilling to wait, and to the degree that vendors can sell proprietary solutions, they have little incentive to coalesce around a standard.  However, virtually all of the major software vendors are pursuing an XML strategy and most have committed to support the standard.  It will be up to customers to hold them to their commitments.

Closely Related Standards: WebDAV, DASL, SGML, XFDL, XFA, EAD

Links to More Information:

Frequently Asked Questions about the Extensible Markup Language, World Wide Web Consortium's XML Special Interest Group

Where can I find more about XML?

XML Schema Specification

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