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1 4 Approaches to Structuring Lists February 22, 2009.

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1 1 4 Approaches to Structuring Lists February 22, 2009

2 2 Lists are everywhere A list of countries A list of religions A list of weights A list of students A list of days of the week A list of planets

3 3 The purpose of this document is to answer these questions What are the different approaches to structure lists? What are the pros and cons of each approach? Is there a way to structure lists to maximize their utility and minimize their overhead?

4 4 Lists should be usable for multiple purposes

5 5 Example We will use a country list to illustrate the four approaches.

6 6 Some ways we might use a country list Use it as values in an XForms pick list Merge it with other data to create a document that contains, for each country, sales figures (or death rates, births, political leadership, religions, etc) Use it to validate an element's content country list _______ validate

7 7 Approach #1 Express lists using the XML Schema vocabulary

8 8 ...

9 9 Approach #2 Express lists using the RELAX NG vocabulary

10 10 Afghanistan Albania Algeria...

11 11 Approach #3 Express lists using domain-specific vocabularies. The markup comes from terminology used by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

12 12 Afghanistan Albania Algeria...

13 13 Approach #4 Express lists using a generic list vocabulary

14 14 http://www.countries.org Afghanistan Albania Algeria...

15 15 Analysis of Each Approach

16 16 Approach #1 & Approach #2 Approach #1 and approach #2 make it easy to use a list for validation purposes. A schema simply imports the list schema and then the lists' values are immediately available for validating element content. Here is an XML Schema that imports the country list XML Schema and uses its simpleType as the datatype for the element:

17 17 Approach #1 & Approach #2 Here is a RELAX NG schema that includes the country list RELAX NG schema and uses its define element as the datatype for the element:

18 18 Approach #1 & Approach #2 If the schema doing the importing is an XML Schema then it can't use the list if it's expressed using RELAX NG. And vice versa. country list (xsd) country list (rng) Schema (xsd) Schema (rng)

19 19 Approach #1 & Approach #2 Although these two approaches enable the efficient usage of lists for validation, they are not the most efficient format for the myriad other ways that a list may be used (rendering in a pick list, merging with other lists, searching, and so forth). This is discussed further in the below analysis of approach #3.

20 20 Approach #3 Recall that approach #3 uses domain-specific terminology. This can be helpful to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) as they maintain the lists. Validation can be accomplished using a Schematron schema. Here is a Schematron schema which validates that the content of the element matches one of the values in the country list: The value of country-visited must be one of the countries in the countries' list.

21 21 Approach #3 With approach #3 the markup used to construct the list has semantics specific to the list: {http://www.countries.org}countries {http://www.countries.org}country This makes possible the creation of programs that are readily understood, as they use terminology consistent with the domain. For example, the XSLT program on the following slide uses the country list to generate an HTML list of all countries

22 22 Countries of the World Note the template match values. They match on: {http://www.countries.org}countries {http://www.countries.org}country

23 23 Contrast with Approach #1 and Approach #2 Conversely, with approach #1 and approach #2 the markup used to construct the list has semantics that are specific to the schema language: {http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema}element {http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema}simpleType {http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema}enumeration {http://relaxng.org/ns/structure/1.0}define {http://relaxng.org/ns/structure/1.0}choice {http://relaxng.org/ns/structure/1.0}value Consequently programs must operate using schema terminology rather than domain terminology. For example, the XSLT program on the following slide generates an HTML list of all countries from the countries list specified by the XML Schema document

24 24 Countries of the World Note the template match values. Rather than the XSLT program operating on and elements, it operates on,,, and elements. This makes programming challenging and error-prone.

25 25 Approach #3 With approach #3 a list can be used as a building block (data component) which can be immediately dropped into other documents to create compound documents. For example, consider a list of religions, also structured using approach #3: Baha'i Buddhism Catholicism...

26 26 Approach #3 It's easy to construct a compound document comprised of the country and religion lists: Afghanistan Albania Algeria... Baha'i Buddhism Catholicism...

27 27 Approach #3 Due to the modularity provided by approach #3, it is possible to perform list-specific processing on this compound document. That is, a country-list- aware application would be able to extract the country list from this compound document and process it. Ditto for a religion-list-aware application. Afghanistan Albania Algeria... Baha'i Buddhism Catholicism... country-list-aware application religion-list-aware application

28 28 Constrast with Approach #1 and Approach #2 With approach #1 and approach #2 the XML vocabulary used to construct the list is the same regardless of the list. Here is the compound document using lists that are defined using the XML Schemas vocabulary: ... ... Applications can't distinguish the country list from the religion list. The namespace used by the country list cannot be distinguished from the namespace used by the religion list. Thus, the benefits namespaces provide in terms of modularity are negated. It is not easy to create country-list-aware applications or religion-list-aware applications.

29 29 Approach #3 Approach #3 has minimal markup overhead.

30 30 Approach #4 In this approach the vocabulary is not customized for a specific list as with approach #3; rather, it is a vocabulary for any list. An element in an XML instance document can be validated against the list using Schematron in the same manner described in Approach #3. With the other approaches, the vocabulary is identified via a namespace. Approach #4 doesn't use namespaces; instead, it uses data to identify the list: http://www.countries.org This data indicates that this is a list of countries

31 31 Identifying a Vocabulary via a Namespace versus Identifying a Vocabulary via a data

32 32 Identifying a Vocabulary via a Namespace One way of identifying an XML building block (data component) is by namespace. For example, this list component is identified by the namespace http://week.days.orghttp://week.days.org http://week.days.org Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday This list is identified by the namespace http://meetings.orghttp://meetings.org http://meetings.org Dentist Doctor Boss Applications can be built that are namespace-aware. Different data components can be mashed together into a single document and still be extracted and processed individually because each is in a namespace.

33 33 Identifying a Vocabulary via Data There is an alternate way of identifying an XML building block (data component): by embedding an identifier within the document, as data. The weekday list could be expressed like this: http://week.days.org Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday And the meetings list could be expressed like this: http://meetings.org Dentist Doctor Boss

34 34 Cont. Things to note on the previous slide: 1. Namespaces are not being used. 2. The list is identified by the content of 3. The same XML vocabulary is used for both lists. (In fact, the same XML vocabulary is used for all lists) The two lists can be brought together into a single document and still be processed individually. Applications partition the document based on the value in

35 35 Analysis The namespace approach has the benefit of being widely adopted. Most XML tools, parsers, and technologies are based on namespaces. For example, NVDL is entirely based on using namespaces to partition a compound document; an XSLT processor processes a document based on the XSLT namespace.

36 36 Cont. By using data to identify a list (rather than namespaces) the same XML vocabulary can be used for all lists which makes all list-processing algorithms and code independent of the content, allowing one to leverage a single investment in software and access all code lists. However, that raises an interesting question: is content-specific processing easier when lists are expressed using a domain-specific vocabulary or when lists are expressed using a generic vocabulary?

37 37 Analysis of all Approaches Regardless of which approach is used, the meaning of the list and its values must be clearly documented. It may be challenging to achieve consensus on meaning: –The same terminology may be used by different people to mean the same thing. For example, one person expects to see Puerto Rico in a country list, whereas another person does not. This is because one person defines "country" only as principal sovereignties whereas another person defines "country" to include territories and protectorates. –Further, some people use different terminology to mean the same thing. For example, one person calls it "country" another calls it "principality." With all approaches the issue arises of which terminology and definitions to adopt.

38 38 Recommendation Each of the four approaches has pros and cons so, as always, be sure to understand the alternatives and decide which is best for your situation.

39 39 genericode genericode is a standardized generic list vocabulary [1]. That is, it is an example of approach #4. Here's the idea behind the design of genericode's vocabulary: –Oftentimes when creating a list there are multiple ways to express each value in the list. For example, in a list of countries we may express the first value as Afghanistan or AF. genericode permits each value to be expressed in multiple ways. Thus, the list is expressed in terms of rows and columns - each row has a column for the multiple ways to express a list value. [1] http://docs.oasis-open.org/codelist/cd-genericode-1.0/doc/oasis-code-list-representation-genericode.pdf

40 40 uniquely identify this list here AF AFGHANISTAN AL ALBANIA...

41 41 Acknowledgements Thanks to the following people for contributing to this document: –Roger Costello –Bruce Cox –Ken Holman –Rick Jelliffe –Michael Kay –Rob Simmons


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