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XML: Future proofing your eBook

Earlier we discussed the importance of discovering and implementing "real" efficiencies in your eBook design process. The earlier in the workflow you incorporate these efficiencies, the more effective the process will be. XML is one of those efficiencies. XML provides a format that allows you to automatically publish to existing eBook formats as well as composition tools, and it "future-proofs" your eBooks by making them flexible enough to handle future formats - with no reworking your content to meet new requirements. That's powerful stuff, and thankfully, it's not magic.

What is XML?

In the beginning, back in the 1970s, there were disparate software applications that really did not play well together at all. Charles Goldfarb, a researcher at IBM, observed that many systems at IBM could not share information with each other, that they each used their own "language" (incompatible file formats) to format the text. SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) was born out of a project to build a system for creating, managing, and publishing legal documents.

A markup language is a set of annotations (tags) on text that describe how the text is to be structured, laid out, or formatted. A markup language is a modern implementation of instructions from editors to typesetters indicating how content should appear. HTML is the most widely known markup language. Any application that formats text has an underlying markup language. For example, RTF (Rich Text Format) was the underlying markup language for Microsoft Word until recently.


SGML was based on the following three principles:

    • Computers need to be able to share files in a common format (they need to "speak" the same language).
    • The mark up of a document has to be extensible, for example, it must be able to be added to and handled by future software.
    • There needs to be a way to identify the structure of content so that different pieces of content of the same type (for example, introduction) will share the same structure or rules.

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