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Subject: Re: tables and meta-languages
From: Ronald Bourret <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:General discussion of Extensible Markup Language <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 27 Mar 1999 11:19:39 +0100
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Richard Lander wrote:

> 1. Do we need tables anymore? I have stopped using tables for information
> capturing but describe content as I best see fit, in groups. These
groups,
> which could be thought of as rows, always have the same content, so why
> generalize them to rows? I provide each member with a descriptive name
and
> avoid the complexity of tables for authoring. I use XSL and DSSSL,
depending
> on output format, to convert these groups of well-named elements into
> tabular form, using either HTML or DSSSL tables. I've come to the
conclusion
> that tables are a bad choice for predictable information but good for
> unpredicatable sorts, allowing users to pick the number of rows and
columns
> they wish to use. The information that I am using always has the same
number
> of columns, so I can hardcode the table dimensions in my stylesheet. Does
> this idea make sense?

Yes.  And I think it is a good response to the perennial question, "How do
I represent tables in XML?"

> 2. Is the term 'meta-language' helpful? I've heard this term bandied
about
> quite a lot over the past few years but don't find it very helpful for
> helping beginners understand markup. For clarification, a meta-language,
in
> my understanding, is a language used to write other languages (HTML as an
> application of SGML rules) through general rule sets. That sort of
> definition shrinks SGML and XML down to DTD languages. We all know that
SGML
> and XML are both the expression of structure and its resolution as
document
> instances. I look at DTD syntax as being a markup language of its own, to
> markup or express structure. These definitions are then resolved to
markup
> or describe content. The DTD language might be considered a metalanguage
but
> not SGML or XML as a whole. Does this idea make sense?

The problem I have when explaining XML to beginners is that the only markup
people are familiar with is HTML and they're pretty sure that's been handed
down by God -- they've never heard of SGML.  So while comparing XML to HTML
is a nice way to get started (hey, guys 'n' gals, we're talking about tags)
it is fundamentally misleading, since HTML is a markup language and XML is,
at least in part, a meta-language (if you'll excuse the term).

Whether the term meta-language is useful really depends on the audience
you're talking to.  If you're dealing with people who are familiar with
metadata, then they might make the leap.  If not, don't bother with the
term.

In any case, you are correct that XML and SGML both contain a meta-language
(the DTD language) plus rules for instance documents.

-- Ron Bourret

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