Extensible markup language (XML) is a language that allows organizations to communicate internally and externally in a standard way. True? Well, not exactly. XML is more of a syntax than a language. The XML specification defines such things as the use of angle brackets and matching start/end tags. However, unlike HTML, which is a defined language consisting of words such as table, image and font, XML does not come with a specific vocabulary. For this reason, XML is sometimes described as a meta language or a language without words.

Consider the simple example of a mailing address (see Figure 1). Examples 1 and 2 are both valid XML and represent the same information, but they are not the same. The vocabulary used is different. Example 1 uses ZIP while Example 2 uses postal code. There is different capitalization and use of special characters in the tags. The structure is also different. The type of address (shipping) is reflected in the data (as an attribute value SHIPTO) in Example 1, but is indicated in the tag (shipping-address) in Example 2. Lastly, the format of the data itself is different. Example 1 uses two-letter abbreviations, and Example 2 contains the name of the state.

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