XML and Perl

Authors: Mark Riehl & Ilya Sterin



Publisher: New Riders

Reviewed by: Dave Cross

One of Perl's great strengths is in processing text files. That is, after all, why it became so popular for generating dynamic web pages - web pages are just text (albeit text that is supposed to follow particular rules). As XML is just another text format, it follows that Perl will be just as good at processing XML documents. It's therefore surprising that using Perl for XML processing hasn't recieved much attention until recently. That's not saying that there hasn't been work going on in that area - many of the Perl XML processing modules have long and honourable histories - it'd just that the world outside of the Perl community doesn't seem to have taken much notice of this work. This is all set to change with the publication of this book and O'Reilly's Perl and XML.

XML and Perl is written by two well-known members of the Perl XML community. Both are frequent contributors to the "perl-xml" mailing list, so there's certainly no doubt that they know what they are talking about. Which is always a good thing in a technical book.

The book is made up of five sections. The first section has a couple of chapters which introduce you to the concepts voered in the book. Chapter one introduces you separately to XML and Perl and then chapter two takes a first look at how you can use Perl to process XML. This chapter finishes with two example programs for parsing simple XML documents.

Section two goes into a lot more detail about parsing XML documents with Perl. Chapter three looks at event-driven parsing using XML::Parser and XML::Parser::PerlSAX to demonstrate to build example programs before going to talk in some detail about XML::SAX which is currently the state of the art in event-driven XML parsing in Perl. It also looks at XML::Xerces which is a Perl inteface to the Apache Software Foundation's Xerces parser. Chapter four covers tree based XML parsing and presents examples using XML::Simple, XML::Twig, XML::DOM and XML::LibXML. In both of these chapters the pros and cons of each of the modules are discussed in detail so that you can easily decide which solution to use in any given situation.

Section three covers generating XML documents. In chapter five we look at generating XML from text sources using simple print statements and also the modules XML::Writer and XML::Handler::YAWriter. Chapter six looks at taking data from a database and turning that into XML using modules like XML::Generator::DBI and XML::DBMS. Chapter seven looks at miscellaneous other input formats and contains examples using XML::SAXDriver::CSV and XML::SAXDriver::Excel.

Section four covers more advanced topics. Chapter eight is about XML transformations and filtering. This chapter covers using XSLT to transform XML documents. It covers the modules XML::LibXSLT, XML::Sabletron and XML::XPath.

Chapter nine goes into detail about Matt Sergeant's AxKit, the Apache XML Kit which allows you to create a website in XML and automatically deliver it to your visitors in the correct format.

Chapter rounds off the book with a look at using Perl to create web services. It looks at the two most common modules for creating web services in Perl - XML::RPC and SOAP::Lite.

Finally, section five contains the appendices which provide more background on the introductions to XML and Perl from chapter one.

There was one small point that I found a little annoying when reading the book. Each example was accompanied with a sample of the XML documents to be processed together with both a DTD and an XML Schema definition for the document. This seemed to me to be overkill. Did we really need both DTDs and XML Schemas for every example. I would have found it less distracting if one (or even both) of these had been moved to an appendix.

That small complaint aside, I found it a useful and interesting book. It will be very useful to Perl programmers (like myself) who will increasingly be expected to process (and provide) data in XML formats.