Binary XML advances, but not all are happy

Binary XML is on the way, but will it hurt interoperability?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently took the next step in its efforts to establish a Binary XML standard.  The group announced the launch of the "Efficient XML Interchange (EXI) Working Group," charged with ensuring that its proposed Binary XML format is compatible with other XML formats. However, some industry watchers question why such a standard is needed.

There's been quite a bit of concern lately about an impending XML performance "crisis", a situation brewing in which systems may get overloaded in the parsing of bloated XML messages (tags in text format). W3C is working toward a specification that supports compressing XML messages into a binary bit format that ostensibly will run faster on machines.

The EXI group's objective is to follow up on work developed by W3C's XML Binary Characterization (XBC) Working Group. The XBC group concluded that Binary XML is needed, is feasible, and recommended that the W3C produce a standard Binary XML format.

Some industry observers are not all that enamored with the prospect of Binary XML, however. Loek Bakker, for one, says he is "not sure whether binary XML is the solution to the performance problem with XML, as there are alternatives available. Especially in a service-oriented architecture (SOA), it is extremely important that there are no standards applied that limit the use of the service to only a specific platform. Interoperability is key here, and the solution should respect that." Bakker speculates that the use of Binary XML is likely to be confined to the Java community.

Joe Gregorio also weighs in on the EXI initiative, inserting his irreverent comments into a copy of the EXI Working Group charter (posted here.)

Among Joe's gems:

W3C:  "The group's objective is to define an alternative encoding of the XML Information Set that addresses the requirements identified in the work of the XML Binary Characterization Working Group, while maintaining the existing interoperability between XML specifications."

JG comment: "You know you have problems if you're churning out tortured language like this."

W3C: "For performance reasons, the format is not required to be "human-legible and reasonably clear (XML goal 6)."

JG comment: "Because no one ever needs to debug services. We'll all have perfect libraries for that. The tools will save us! The tools will save us!"

W3C: The EXI group is charged with "Maintaining the existing interoperability between XML applications, as well as XML specifications."

JG comment:  "Because interop between specs is important. Interop between applications? That's for pansies."

W3C: The EXI group will "Establish sufficient confidence in the proposed format, in particular establishing confidence that the performance gains are significant, and the potential for disruption to existing processors is small."

JG comment: "Yeah, small disruption for the processors, unless those processors happen to be human."