There have been many other changes in the workings of the World Wide Web, including the introduction of XML in 1998. Since that time, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has released many different recommendations for working with XML documents. XML has become a standard for exchanging electronic data both on and off the Web. Software packages like databases and web browsers now offer the ability to work with XML documents. Even Microsoft Office 2003 for PCs offers support for information in XML format.
The W3C published the first XML specification back in 1998. XML provides a way to create new markup languages and sets out some strict rules for the creation process. In 2000, applying XML rules to the HTML recommendation created a new recommendation, Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML).
Since that time, XML has filtered into the web development world and its expansion looks set to continue. XML documents provide structured data for both humans and software applications to read. Websites can use XML documents to provide content. Web services allow us to share information across the Internet using an XML format.
XML is a powerful tool for use in building web applications. It is browser and platform independent, and isnt tied to any commercial organization. XML processing software is also available on virtually every platform.
Flash 5 was the first version to introduce XML support. It has remained an important tool in subsequent releases of Flash. The built-in XML parser means that Flash movies can include content from external XML documents. Flash can also generate XML to send to external files.
Flash MX 2004 included data components that automated the process of connecting to an XML document. Developers could incorporate XML content with a single line of ActionScript. The components also allowed for binding between XML content and UI components.
The advanced multimedia and GUI development tools within Flash make it a perfect front-end for applications that use XML documents. You can generate XML from diverse sources, and its even possible to use Office 2003 on a PC to update the XML content in your Flash movies.
Before we continue, I need to point out that XML is not necessarily the best solution for all dynamic Flash movies. XML documents are a useful option, but other solutions might be more appropriate, such as storing content in a text file or database. Chapter 11 looks at some of the issues you need to consider when deciding which approach to use in your Flash movies.