IBM fortifying XML query language

IBM is preparing to advance the XQuery XML query language on two fronts: by submitting with Microsoft Corp. a test suite for industry consideration and by working with Oracle on a Java API for the language.

IBM and Microsoft on Friday plan to submit to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) a test suite for the as-yet-unfinished XQuery language, said Nelson Mattos, Distinguished Engineer for IBM in charge of information integration efforts in data management. The suite is simply called the XQuery Test Suite.

"One of the major milestones in establishing [XQuery as a] standard is a test suite that validates if an implementation conforms with the specification," Mattos said. The test suite consists of a series of programs that illustrate the different features in XQuery and checks if a given implementation supports the features in a way defined by the standard, Mattos said.

He stressed the significance of XQuery as a mechanism for searching and retrieving XML data. Support for XQuery will occur in products such as databases, including IBM's DB2 database, as well as in applications such as content management, document management, and information integration systems.

"XQuery is fully designed to support the XML paradigm, which means that for applications and customers that are dealing with XML technology, it's going to be a lot simpler to use this query language, which will increase their productivity," Mattos said.

Final W3C approval of XQuery as a formal recommendation, which is tantamount to being an industry standard, is expected later this year, according to a W3C spokesperson. W3C will be looking for other vendors to submit test suites as well, according to W3C. The test suite from IBM and Microsoft is to be submitted to the W3C XML Query Working Group.

The test suite provides a framework for comparing specific implementations of XQuery to the W3C specification, according to Microsoft's Michael Rys, program manager for the SQL Server database. Microsoft plans to support XQuery in the Yukon release of SQL Server, due in a beta version by June.

An analyst concurred on the importance of XQuery. "Certainly, as enterprises increasingly store content in an XML format, XQuery is a language -- and many have compared it to SQL -- that is capable of querying the information stored in that format," said Stephen O'Grady, analyst at RedMonk.

The alternative of searching XML documents via the SQL database query language is not suitable, O'Grady said. "That's not ideal because SQL by its nature is not equipped to search hierarchically, and that's essentially what XML is, it's a hierarchical format."

Also planned by IBM within a few weeks is formation, along with Oracle, of an expert group within the Java Community Process that would develop a Java API for XQuery to establish a standard way for a Java program to search for documents written in the XML language. IBM and Oracle would deliver the specification. The Java Community Process is an industry mechanism for adding standard technologies to the Java platform.

The proposed API, which would be the subject of a Java Specification Request within JCP, would relate to XQuery in the same manner that JDBC relates to SQL, IBM said.

IBM is to be responsible for the reference implementation while Oracle develops a Technology Compatibility Kit, according to IBM.

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