XML Junction Transforms Source Data

SAN MATEO (04/24/2000) - Although Web development companies continue to flock to XML, the process of transforming source system data into XML is still underserved by the software market. As a result, companies end up delaying their time to market and paying more for flexible and responsive Web systems.

Enter Data Junction Corp.'s XML Junction 7.0 Professional Edition, a data conversion tool that automates the transformation process. The product, which runs on Windows 95, 98, and 2000 and Windows NT, is available as a free download from www.xmljunction.net until July 31, after which the product will cost $895 per single-user copy.

XML Junction is based on the company's flagship product, Data Junction, which is a full-featured data transformation tool that lets you map source data to target structures via an intuitive graphical interface. The new product comes with all the same features except that XML is the only target structure it allows. However, XML Junction integrates with two other members of the Data Junction family, Cambio and DJEngine. Cambio lets you mine data from virtually any source, and DJEngine is an execution engine that lets you run data transformations on demand or through a third-party scheduler.

Apart from a few problems encountered during the conversion process, XML Junction was a solid performer, earning a score of Very Good.

XML Junction provides two visual design tools: the Conversion Designer and the Project Designer. These are the same tools found in Data Junction 7.0, so if you've ever used the core product, you'll recognize XML Junction's friendly graphical interface. In a nutshell, the Conversion Designer is used to define and map your source files to an XML target. Using those definitions, the Project Designer lets you build the conversion steps into a project that will define a complete process.

Defining the process

The data transformation process starts, which starts with the Conversion Designer, consists of three stages. First, you select your source data; then you define XML as the target structure; and, finally, you map the data to form the completed transformation process.

First, I selected Microsoft Access as my source type, and the Conversion Designer displayed fields to connect to the database. Each source type displays fields specific to its requirements: For example, when I selected SQL Server, I was given a set of SQL Server-specific fields. If you're not sure of the format, you can use the File Sniffer to determine the format that it's in.

There are more than 130 source formats to choose from.

Next, I selected XML as the target type and entered the file name to store the results. (Although it's not immediately obvious, you must click the Connect button after entering each target file.) You're then shown the output mode, which is always set to Replace File/Table for XML, and a Target Record Layouts input field, which is used to identify a predefined layout. This lets you use XML DTDs (Document Type Definitions).

The final step was to map the transformation. I didn't use DTDs in my tests, so I had to manually map my source fields to the target. But the process was smooth; I was particularly impressed with the Conversion Designer's capability of transforming information from ASCII-delimited files and Microsoft Access databases to create XML output based on the fields and tags I had selected.

On the downside, the Conversion Designer was also responsible for the only real problem I had with XML Junction: During the mapping process, I often found it difficult to drag and drop source fields from the source layout grid. Several attempts to move a field failed, although I finally found a way to get past the problem: When dragging the source field name to the target, I left the target field name blank.

Moreover, in the process of selecting groups of fields to be moved, I had to ensure that I maintained the mouse selection or the last field would be left behind. In fairness, however, the Data Junction representatives I spoke with insisted that both of these problems would be corrected in future versions.

Once I was finished developing the conversion steps in the Conversion Designer, I was ready to organize them into a specific project using the Project Designer. The Project Designer is a management tool that lets you arrange conversions into steps that define a complete process.

When you open the Project Designer, you're shown a grid window in which conversions can be organized. Two preselected steps -- Start and End -- were already defined. Using the Data Junction conversion icon, I could include the conversions I had already created. (The icon also lets you define new conversions by activating the Conversion Designer.)Next, I linked the processes from the Start to End steps, using the link arrow to define a complete workflow. This process was extremely easy, and I could even add text to clearly describe each of the steps. Finally, I clicked the Validate Project button to make sure there were no errors, followed by the Run Project button to execute the process.

In addition to conversions, you can also include other processes to enable conditional logic, SQL statements, Microsoft's Data Transformation Services, and any other applications needed to define the data transformation process.

This may also include third-party schedulers that let you schedule your conversions to run at scheduled intervals.

The value of conversion

Overall, XML Junction does an excellent job of providing full transformation capabilities. Other companies beginning to support XML are implementing XML database systems but are not focusing on the transformation process from pre-installed systems. That means companies must rely on the support and management of additional database systems. With XML Junction, they don't have that problem.

One warning: The downloadable version of XML Junction is more than 22MB, so be prepared to wait, especially if you're using a 56Kbps modem. But once the file was downloaded, the installation went extremely well. More good news: The downloaded file is the full product and does not expire. I suspect that Data Junction is counting on users being so enthralled with the product that they'll eventually upgrade to the full-featured Data Junction transformation tool, which supports XML at both the source and target types in the mapping process.

Until then, companies looking to take advantage of the features that XML provides should consider this strong and cost-effective package.

Allan Holbrook is a senior systems engineer at Holbrook Consulting. You can reach him at allan@servillian.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

XML Junction 7.0 Professional Edition

Business Case: XML Junction provides a rich environment for building XML output for Web-based data exchange. The package offers easy-to-use interfaces, virtually eliminating any learning curve for companies familiar with the core product.

Technology Case: XML Junction uses a three-step approach to building XML output files, which are ready to use in XML-enabled browsers or can be electronically transferred to any business that can receive and process XML data.

Pros:

+ Generates XML output quickly and easily+ Supports several source formats+ Integrates with other Data Junction products, enabling data mining and scheduled executionCons:

- Bugs found in the drag-and-drop capabilities of the Conversion DesignerCost: Free download until July 31; $895 per single-user copy, beginning Aug. 1Platform(s): Windows 95/98/2000 and Windows NTData Junction Corp., Austin, Texas; (800) 580-4411; www.xmljunction.net.

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