The Extensible Markup Language (XML) as defined by the XML Working Group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a markup language designed specifically for delivering information over the World Wide Web. Because there are many books written about XML, we do not go into the details here. Rather, we briefly outline XML's ability to answer many of the problems discussed previously.
One of the main benefits of XML is that it is self-describing. XML documents not only contain the actual data, but also contain the information about the data. This "data about the data" is called metadata. The ability to combine the data and the metadata in the same document allows applications and even databases to exchange the information without having to know anything else about each application or database. As long as the two systems understand how to read an XML document, or have a middleware program translate into and out of XML, they can communicate.
Because XML is relatively simple and text-based, it provides individual industries with the ability to define a common metadata for the industry. For example, the aircraft industry metadata definition would be quite different from the metadata definition of the super market or large grocery store industry.
Two of the challenges of using XML involve defining and using a common metadata definition for an industry, and adapting existing legacy systems to use XML documents. Defining a common metadata definition or schema involves not only with developing the definition. Also users of XML must agree to use the same definition.
Middleware typically not only provides the transport mechanism between two different systems, but also provides (or assists in) the conversion of proprietary data formats into XML documents and schemas.
The combination of XML and middleware provides business-to-business integration where applications and computer systems are not under the control of one organization. When a majority of businesses can agree upon XML and the common metadata standards, XML becomes a valuable tool moving information into and out of the enterprise.
Microsoft offers several products and technologies to help enterprise customers to integrate with their business partners, using XML Web-based services. The major products featured in this part of the book include BizTalk Server, BizTalk Accelerator for Suppliers (AFS), BizTalk Adapter for transferring large data files over the Internet, and SQL Server. Since the BizTalk Framework Initiative addresses some of the common problems in B2B integration, we included a brief introduction here.
The BizTalk Framework Initiative as created by Microsoft, is designed to be open to everyone and use open standards. The BizTalk Framework Initiative has three parts:
Although XML is a core component of BizTalk, BizTalk is much more. BizTalk is designed to solve several business-to-business application integration issues, some of which are:
B2B using BizTalk Server and XML documents
The following chapters describe some ways to help you integrate your business partners into your enterprise. The scenarios cover integrating BizTalk Server with existing EDI platforms, automating electronic procurement, selling through trading partners, and using Web-based XML services to transfer large data files over the Internet.