XML is the Oxygen, PDF the Balloon

By Scott Mackey | November 27, 2010

PDF and XML have a complicated relationship – understanding how and when the two content formats cross paths represents a real opportunity for your business, and gives you a great deal of flexibility with your content.

You could say that XML is like oxygen, and PDF is like the balloon. The balloon contains oxygen – like PDF can contain XML. And the balloon gives XML shape and context.

The widely adopted and open data exchange standard known as Extensible Markup Language (XML) is common when exchanging content between systems – no human consumption required. PDF is a presentation format that can be viewed and consumed by the user.

 XML helps standardize, and streamline, the exchange of data between systems. PDF does the same for the exchange of content between users.

XML data – when combined with a ‘style sheet’ to define how the content should be formatted — can be output as PDF, HTML or other formats – which can then be viewed and consumed by users.

Creating and storing content as XML means you can re-purpose the content. Using the same XML content with multiple style sheets means you can generate multiple outputs to be consumed in different ways. For example, imagine a job posting where the content is stored in XML. That same content can be combined with multiple style sheets and delivered to users as a PDF on your web site and as a web page on mobile devices.

The move to using XML for content exchange has a host of benefits, including:

  • Cost Reduction: Rapid exchange of content using an open, machine consumable format has accelerated business processes and removed the risks and delays associated with manual data entry and consumption of content. The ability to multi-purpose your content (create once/use often) also helps reduce the costs of recreating content for use in multiple applications.
  • Compliance: Removing the hurdles to exchanging information has also facilitated improved compliance with an increasingly regulated and risk-averse world – for example, Sarbanes-Oxley and 21 CFR Part 11. With XML, transactional data, regulatory reports, scientific data and much more can all be stored, shared and consumed without historical barriers.

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