Is XML dead?

November 18th, 2013
Filed under: Enterprise Architecture, IBM, IT Insight | Huibert @ 11:38 am

XMLOver the last few years there has been a relentless attack on XML. First it was on the browser, where it was argued that due to the lack of processing power and need for responsiveness, a data format like JSON that could be easily and quickly parsed by JavaScript was far better suited for the job. Ever since that assertion was made, JSON’s ascension has been unstoppable. Very few HTML clients still rely on XML to exchange data with the back-end application and the numbers are dwindling.

On the desktop application front, XML seemed to be the king of the hill, with all major office suite quickly adopting XML, led by MS Office. Interoperability and readability were thought to easily trump other considerations like size and performance, given that desktop PCs, lacked neither storage space nor processing power. That started to change with iWork 13, the newest release of Apple’s productivity suite. The reason Apple adopted a new proprietary binary format for its flagship product was that it was better suited for use on mobile devices such as the iPad and the iPhone, where space and processing power are indeed a constraint. Since portability among different devices was a key requirement, XML was sacrificed on the altar of mobile adequacy. It is hard to blame Apple for their choice when you look at the numbers they presented. Files now open much faster on the iPad and that is a key factor for customer satisfaction. Microsoft may not with away from XML to a binary format immediately, because many customer built applications rely on it, but they must have taken notice.

That leaves a small space for XML in which to grow, mainly in the integration space. It is hard to envision an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) that is not based on processing and dispatching XML documents. In this context transaction management is still important, which makes SOAP-based services much better suited for the job than alternatives such as REST services. That said, there is pressure in this space too to try to avoid XML. That means that XML’s place in IT will be reduced to the large enterprise sector, the place it was born. While XML may have seemed to be ubiquitous in the beginning, it’s disadvantages ultimately condemned it over the long run.

I must say that I am quite disappointed to see XML fail in so many spaces and applications. I still believe in its many virtues and feel that in most cases its disadvantages are overblown when the architecture of the application is properly designed with NFRs such as performance and security are properly planned for since the beginning. That said, trends and public perception are hard to fight, specially when some of the concerns are absolutely based on facts. It is clear that the use of XML in any application is no longer a done deal. There will be discussions as to what alternative is better for a particular use case. Ultimately, Enterprise Architects will have to take a decision, and that is good, because XML has become what it should always have been, just another tool on their belt.

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