Navy: No more proprietary XML extensions

In an update to a developer's guide on using Extensible Markup Language, the Navy department's CIO office will advise program managers to stay clear of proprietary XML extensions.

The Navy 'is mindful that many vendors add customizations to specifications, in an attempt to build market share,' said Robert Green, who is the lead of the XML Interoperability and Standards team for the Navy department's CIO office. Unfortunately, such customization 'leads to proprietary implementations and expensive middleware solutions.'

The office is now working on a developer's guide, XML Naming and Design Rules, that will establish a set of elements, attributes, types and schemas to be used consistently across all Navy programs.

The guide, scheduled to be released by the end of this year, updates the Navy's first XML developer's guide, which the office released in 2001 (July 17, 2002, GCN story).

That guide provided initial guidance for program managers using XML in their systems, but still left a number of questions about XML use unanswered, according to Green.

The new rulebook will adopt XML component recommendations from global standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium, the International Organization for Standardization, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, the OASIS Universal Business Language technical committee and the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business.

By adhering to these open standards, the Navy hopes to base the development of future applications more heavily on commercial products, rather than going the expensive route of developing them from scratch. The Navy is echoing the tenets behind Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119, which encourages agency use and involvement of voluntary consensus standards.

To adhere as closely as possible to these standards, one requirement that the Navy CIO office will set is for program managers to avoid the use of proprietary extensions, or XML schemas and other elements that are specific to a vendor's own software.

Two years ago the Government Accountability Office (then the General Accounting Office) had warned agencies on the use of proprietary extensions of XML, in the report 'Electronic Government: Challenges to Effective Adoption of the Extensible Markup Language.'

'The fact that the core XML standard is nonproprietary thus does not ensure that all applications built with it will also successfully interoperate,' the report stated. 'It is easy [for a vendor application] to add elements to an XML document that place unique processing requirements and restrictions on the document, thus preventing other systems from being able to interpret it.'

Exchanging data between that system and another would then require middleware to draw data from, and feed data into, that proprietary system.

The Navy CIO Office will initially make the XML Naming and Design Rules available in the Adobe Portable Document Format and Microsoft Word formats, and later in HTML and XML.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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