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Expanding Your Toolkit: JSON vs. XML


Back in the stone age — the early 1980's — SGML was created to express document structure, so that complex documents could be electronically shared and rendered by cooperating government agencies and companies. "This part of the content is the title," "this part is a figure," "this is a legend under a figure," and so on.

Still in the stone age — in the 1990's — HTML arose to express less complex documents in a web-browser context. At the dawn of the modern era — the late 1990's — XML was created with the intent of finding a middle ground between the two. One that was both human-readable (plain text with Unicode support) and machine readable (sufficiently structured to be efficiently and unambiguously parsed). It was intended to be a practical compromise between completeness and simplicity.

Like it's parents, XML was conceived as a means of expressing a document . However, it was understood and desired that it could be used to express non-document data as well. XML's elegance comes from not having a rigidly fixed lexicon. It's all well and good to say <title> is a tile, and <p> is a paragraph, but how cool is it to say that <something> is a something? Without having to define an unworkably large universe of possibilities in advance and then deal with missing features, and force-fit messes they cause us to create, we can suddenly talk about <inventoryControlNumber> and <favoriteIceCream> just as easily as anything universally pre-defined.


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