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Need an introduction to XML Extensible Stylesheet Language? Learn how to use XSL to transform XML documents into HTML documents. Learn how the style sheet language of XML can transform XML documents into HTML documents for XSL clients, XSL servers, and more. - ?
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Introduction to XSL

by Jan Egil Refsnes

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XSL - The Style Sheet of XML?

HTML pages uses predefined tags, and the meaning of these tags is well understood: <p> means a paragraph and <h1> means a header, and the browser knows how to display these pages.

With XML we can use any tags we want, and the meaning of these tags are not automatically understood by the browser: <table> could mean a HTML table or maybe a piece of furniture. Because of the nature of XML, there is no standard way to display an XML document.

In order to display XML documents, it is necessary to have a mechanism to describe how the document should be displayed. One of these mechanisms is Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), but XSL (eXtensible Stylesheet Language) is the preferred style sheet language of XML, and XSL is far more sophisticated than the CSS  used by HTML.


XSL - More than a Style Sheet

XSL consists of two parts:

  • a method for transforming XML documents
  • a method for formatting XML documents

If you don't understand the meaning of this, think of XSL as a language that can transform XML into HTML, a language that can filter and sort XML data and a language that can format XML data, based on the data value, like displaying negative numbers in red. 


XSL - What can it do?

XSL can be used to define how an XML file should be displayed by transforming the XML file into a format that is recognizable to a browser. One such format is HTML. Normally XSL does this by transforming each XML element into an HTML element.

XSL can also add completely new elements into the output file, or remove elements. It can rearrange and sort the elements, test and make decisions about which elements to display, and a lot more.


A note about XSL in IE5

XSL in Internet Explorer 5.0 is not 100% compatible with the latest released W3C XSL standard. That is because IE 5 was released before the standard was completely settled. Microsoft has promised to solve this problem in the 5.5 release.


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