Skip to Content

Problem:


The content of messages of web services are typically described in XML
schema, but many business applications send and receive documents that
use special formats as part of their message exchange. Some of these
documents (or parts of a message exchanged) may or may not be
expressed in XML. They may be expressed in popular formats, such as
word, pdf, or even languages that are built in XML, such as rdf. This
leads to a problem of how to describe the parts of XML messages that
contain non-XML content without losing the capability of expressing
their content accurately. This is an important problem to solve to
enable applications that utilize these specific formats to process
them as intended.

As you may also note, the problem of
expression is not limited to web services. It is the expressive
ability of XML schema in describing non-XML content within XML. There
might be many different solutions for this problem, but to achieve
interoperability, ideally vendors can settle down on one solution.

Here I want to talk about the well known and
established trick proposed in [[w3cNote] | #w3cNote] that
aims at increasing the expressive
ability of your schemas.


Example:


The problem is that there is no appropriate data
type to use
to designate the pictures that are in our description, except embedding
xs:base64Binary encoded binary data in the
description to hold
the pictures of the house. This means that the document that
corresponds to
this schema will need to adhere to the requirement that the binary
content is opaque
(because we no longer have the capability of designating what its real
content
is!) and we are required to represent it in an encoding which is
suitable as
part of an XML document.


XML Schema does not offer any solution to this problem other than the
ability
to designate part of the schema with
binary data
types, such as xs:base64Binary(or xs:hexBinary)
elements. In this regard, the schema that corresponds to the message of
our
sample application is to designate them with binary data types where
the values
of these datatypes need to be encoded in xs:base64Binary for each of the picture. 
Further, the
data types that most applications will be interested in are probably
defined
elsewhere, such as IANA tokens and replicating this information within
XML
schema hierarchies would be a non-acceptable solution since the IANA
tokens are
extensible and the content types are domain specific.

This problem becomes more evident when documents that need to utilize
such mixed content need to be exchanged in the world of web services.
Typically, non-XML data is sent via attachments but XML content of the
document becomes part of the payload of the message, i.e. SOAP
body. At this point, there are two choices to consider. Either the
binary encoding as suggested by the schema is used which results in
imploding the size of the document by including the whole content as
part of the SOAP body or  a means to represent the attachment
retaining its intended content has to be found without using
encoding.  Efficient transmission of content is vital to web
services, thus the solution should take into account the preservation
of binary data while retaining the logical definition of the
content.  This approach would require you to make up the logical
description of the house from its physical description and jpeg files
and use a solution that is geared towards expressing the attachments
appropriately in your description.

Let’s look at the description problem first, because without the
correct description one can not design efficient encoding or
serialization approaches anyway.


Using the Global Attribute Trick: 


Unfortunately, XML Schema does not offer a built
in solution
for this problem, but luckily it offers us the basis for a trick that
is widely
used: 

+Trick: Define global XML Schema attributes and use them as
annotations to
designate metadata for your content. 

+

This solution should be of interest to anyone who wants to utilize
a richer
data type model within XML Schema.

Using this principle, w3c WSD and XMLP working groups published a joint
note
that uses this specific trick to designate specific metadata markup as annotations[ [ | #w3cNote]w3cNote]

. The note defines two global
attributes, xmime:expectedContentTypes and xmime:contentType.

The xmime:expectedContentTypes, is used to annotate
a binary element/type to list possible content types in the schema
itself. By using this attribute, the content is expected to be one of
the items that are listed in the list, including wildcards.

The xmime:contentType is used in an instance
document and indicates what the actual content would be. It is most
useful in conjunction with the xmime:expectedContentTypes markup.

In combination, the annotations indicate design
time (in
schema) constraint and document (in instance) specific content type in
conjunction with binary elements that would otherwise be opaque. This
definition allows tools to be able to interpret and provide additional
data
binding capabilities that are geared towards processing the specific
content.


Example Reworked to use the Metadata attributes:


In order to designate the actual content type, the document
instance would need to express the content type, if desired by using
the xmime:contentType attribute. A modified version to include this
attribute would make our schema to look like this. Note that for
simplicity, the xmime annotation is moved to the type definition
instead of the element declaration as it also allows localizing the
constraints better.
You will also note that there is a predefined xmime:base64Binary
type already defined for convenience in [[w3cNote | #w3cNote]].  This type contains the contentType
attribute. Alternatively, we could have retained the annotation at the
element declaration and used the predefined type. The choice is simply
yours, however you should pay attention to the specific rules in tools
that provide language binding, such as JAXB 2.0 which may provide more
guidance as where you should use the annotations.


Content Types as Hints for DataBinding:


As I indicated above,
data
binding solutions may be able to use these hints to provide better data
binding. Java programmers already may be using the benefits of this
approach.


[[JAXB 2.0 | #jaxb]] utilizes some of the possible values of
xmime:expectedContentTypes for providing a better binding
for Java programs and links the existing data types in Java to some of
the known content type values.
</p>
Where all binary data may be mapped by using javax.activation.DataHandler
class, JAXB 2.0 provides more specific databinding
by utilizing the content types “image/jpeg”, “image/gif”,
“application/xml”, “text/xml” attribute values for databinding
when they are specified as expected content
type values on binary elements. The corresponding Java types are java.awt.Imagefor images (jpeg and gif) and javax.xml.transform.Source
for xml content respectively. This mapping solves the problem of
mapping Schema
types to Java types.


In order to generate the desired   marker in XML, JAXB 2.0
introduces a Java annotation @XmlMimeType to indicate
known expected content Type in the schema. This Java annotation is
used to generate the appropriate Schema markup from a Java program for
binary data. </p>


Conclusion:


Utility of media types in describing content within an XML document
may be achieved by using the XML Schema annotations and this solution
is now being utilized by data binding solutions, such as JAXB 2.0. I
happened to be one of the editors of the note and wanted to illustrate
how these attributes may solve the data description problem. In this
weblog, I only talked about the description part of the problem,
however the other problem is avoid encoding of binary data
altogether. This is subject to another weblog.


References:


[ | ][w3cNote] Describing Media
Content of Binary Data in XML, Anish Karmarkar and Umit Yalcinalp (editors), http://www.w3.org/TR/2005/NOTE-xml-media-types-20050504/

[ | ][JAXB 2.0] Java API for XML
Data Binding 2.0 http://jcp.org/aboutJava/communityprocess/edr/jsr222/


To report this post you need to login first.

Be the first to leave a comment

You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.

Leave a Reply