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On the nature of data forms

  • From: "Costello, Roger L." <costello@mitre.org>
  • To: "xml-dev@lists.xml.org" <xml-dev@lists.xml.org>
  • Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2019 15:23:42 +0000

On the nature of data forms

Hi Folks,


The XML data format employs many of the forms that humankind has deemed useful in file formats.


But there are many other forms that XML has no notion of and are employed in other file formats.


Are you interested in data forms, above and beyond the specific forms that XML and JSON employ? Are you interested in the nature of data forms?


If yes, then I believe DFDL will be of interest to you.


DFDL is a language for describing the various forms of digital data.


The DFDL language represents a distillation of humankind's last 60 years' experience with formatting data. The DFDL language is a compilation of ways that humankind has deemed useful for formatting data. DFDL is agnostic to any particular file format; with DFDL nearly all file formats can be represented.


For example, humankind has decided that:


- data values may need to be framed (surrounded/outlined/delimited) to distinguish one value from another


- framing symbols may need to be "escaped" so that the normal interpretation of a framing symbol is disabled


- there are nil values and empty values ... and those concepts are different


- the indicator of a nil value may be in-band or out-of-band


- default values may be associated with empty values


- the region for a value may be fixed. A region that is not fully filled by the data may be padded and/or filled


- padding and filling are distinct concepts


- there may be a single occurrence of data (scalar) or a repeating occurrence of data (array)


- data comes in different types -- integers, strings, booleans, date/time, etc. -- and it is beneficial to annotate data by their type


Want to learn more about DFDL? See here:





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