I was using XML as a file format for a recent project. Not a standardized dialect, just an ad hoc, custom flavor whipped up to hold the data of particular interest. Now, I’ve used many file formats and always thought XML was a bit hyped up. After all, it’s bulky and angle brackets can be a bit tedious to wade through. In addition, parsing it is hard (creating it is difficult too, if you want to do so by creating a DOM tree). Not too hard, you say. Well, compare the joy of a StringTokenizer parsing a pipe delimited line to the pain of traversing around a DOM tree (to say nothing of the “if” hell of a SAX handler).

However, XML does have strong points. Storing hierarchical data in XML is easier. And, as far as I’m concerned, XML’s killer feature as a file transport format is its self-documenting nature. Sure, you can put headers at the top of a pipe delimited file, but it’s easy enough to forget them. Omitting the XML tags isn’t really possible–you can choose obscure names for the tags that cloud the meaning of the data, but that’s about the worst you can do. Using a custom flavor of XML as a data transmission format can be a really good idea; it just means you’ll have a helper class to do the node traversing contortions everytime you want to read it. (I’m purposefully ignoring the technologies like JAX because I haven’t used them.)

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