Computer screen showing XML

Plug-ins ease the move to XML

Connecticut put its regulatory code online in the early 2000s, converting 15,000 pages of text to PDF for posting on a Web site.

PDF was an easy choice at the time because it could be generated from the familiar typesetting system the state used in publishing its law journal. But it is a static document that does not change once it is posted, and publishing a new or edited document could take weeks. The result was that the site was friendly neither to end users nor to those maintaining regulations.

The new portal being developed under Connecticut’s e-Regulation initiative will use XML to keep the collection up to date and make the site more interactive, allowing users to more easily search records and track changes.

XML, the eXtensible Markup Language, is an open standard that defines a common way to identify structures in an electronic document by adding markup tags. Where HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) defines how a page is displayed, XML tagging describes the content of the page, allowing sharing of online information in a consistent way. The XML specification was published by World Wide Web consortium in 1998.

The “extensible” in XML means its tags are not limited so users can create their own tags, making it flexible. XML documents are both machine readable and readable by people.

XML will be used in Connecticut throughout the regulatory process, from writing through editing and revision to publishing. One of the advantages of using the markup language is the availability of familiar word processing programs to work with it, such as Quark XML Author, a plug-in for Microsoft Word.

According to Quark, the XML Author remains invisible until a Word user tries to edit an existing XML document or create a new one. At that point, Quark XML Author “slips in and modifies the operation of the user interface to correspond with XML requirements.”  

If, for example, a user wanted to change the style of an XML document, the styles that appear in the drop-down would be only those that are valid for insertion at the current cursor location. Quark XML Author can also intercept invalid functions, such as an attempt to drag and drop an image into a part of the document where it is not allowed, and displays a user-friendly error message instead.

“Change is always difficult and will get pushback,” said Chris Drake, deputy legal counsel to Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. Everyone already is familiar with Word, and they don’t have to use special text editing software. “If we did that, we would escalate the risk of agencies pushing back.”

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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