XML-based configurations

Aaron adg1653 at cs.rit.edu
Wed Nov 25 00:20:26 PST 1998

I propose (or reiterate, if it's already been proposed) that relatively
complex, and especially new configuration files be XML-compatible (that is,
could be parsed by an XML-parser given a proper DTD). My reasoning is this:
doing so would link the myriad of different formats used in system
configuration into a single format whose only difference is in the element types
used. This would greatly simplify the administrator's work (in that he/she
doesn't have to learn obscure formats) and also provides for the developer
a coherent means of configuration. It also provides the opportunity for
a configuration tool which, given the appropriate DTD, can handle configurations
for basically any application making use of XML-based configuration.

I see this as especially enabling of application integration in a way
far superior to the Microsoft way. Microsoft integrates its applications
by binding their code together. I see proper integration as efficient and
functional communication between applications. This is made much easier
with a standard format of resource storage. This is a similar idea to
that of the Xresources and the resource database xrdb. However, an XML
based system is far more extensible and universal.

Obviously, many things don't have the complexity to require XML, and
many applications can't use it due to familiarity to their own traditional
configuration formats. But I would propose that any LSB type of 
configuration (for instance the standard package format, if any) be XML
compatible, and that adquate services be made available to encourage
(not mandate) application developers to make use of the system (for
instance, no one will use XML configuration if a good open source XML renderer
is part of the standard base).

Along the thread of standardized GUIs, someone mentioned a standard
configuration format for window managers/environments. Using XML, this
problem will be somewhat solved, especially if a standard base DTD
is given which all GUI configurations would have to follow. Environment-
specific functionality can be configured using an extended version of
the standard DTD. Then converting from one environment to the other
while perserving configuration would only consist of extracting those
elements which are standard from the configuration and applying them to
the new enviroment. Obviously the environment-specific configurations would
not be applied because the new environment wouldn't understand them.
This way we would capture a base standard for GUI services without
constricting GUI developers to that standard (allowing them to add
extensions for their particular product).

Because XML is relatively easy to understand and even to write DTDs for,
it would take a large burden off of developers and administrators/hackers
alike. Developers because they would not have to spend time defining their
own formats, their own parsers, and possibly attempting to coordinate those
formats with other applications' formats. Administrators/hackers because
whenever they go to edit a configuration, there is a clear and universal
interface to that configuration.


| Aaron Gaudio                   mailto:icy_manipulator at mindless.com |
|                    http://www.rit.edu/~adg1653/                    |
|      "The fool finds ignorance all around him.                     |
|          The wise man finds ignorance within."                     |

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