W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-xml-binary@w3.org > December 2004

Re: Non-XML binary formats.

From: Robin Berjon <robin.berjon@expway.fr>
Date: Wed, 01 Dec 2004 17:01:24 -0500
Message-ID: <41AE3F34.6050004@expway.fr>
To: bobwyman@pubsub.com
Cc: public-xml-binary@w3.org

Bob Wyman wrote:
> David Ryan wrote:
>>I'm guessing this debate has been going on for a while already. :)
> 	Yes, about 20 years at this point. It started as SGML vs. ASN.1 back
> when most of today's coders were still in kindergarten.

The real problem here is in the "vs". Sometimes there are very good 
reasons to use text, and sometimes there are very good reasons to use 
binary. I'm still curious to find out why SGML-B never took off, but 
unfortunately have not been able to get an answer out of anyone that was 

>>I have briefly looked at ASN.1 in the past and found it wasn't
>>what I was looking for.
> 	Yes. Most such statements start with something like "briefly
> looked." The reality is that ASN.1 has always been able to do all that XML
> could do and it has been doing it for 20 years.

That's simply not an argument that flies. We put people on the moon with 
Cobol and Fortran, yet we tend to use different languages today and 
there probably are reasons for that. I'm not saying that ASN.1 is the 
Cobol of data frameworks, but simply that "already could do for n years" 
is a non-argument.

> The problem is that people
> typically look at it "briefly," get overwhelmed by what they consider to be
> complexity or a hard to read specification and then decide to do something
> simpler or easier to implement or proprietary.

If you care about a technology, you care about it being used. When 
people don't use it, you can either rant about it or do something about 
it. Yes it can be quite frustrating but that's just the way it is. 
People look briefly at XML and think that it's simple and very usable 
(probably thanks to the fact that they only looked briefly :). People 
open an ASN.1 book at a random page and go "VideotexString? Ha!" before 
giving up on it. (I'm caricaturing here of course, though I've actually 
been a witness to the latter)

> What they don't realize is
> that there is a reason that ASN.1 is as "complete" as it is. That
> "completeness" has been found to be required.

Are you absolutely positive? I regularly hear talks about ASN.2 doing to 
ASN.1 what XML did to SGML. I'd be curious to hear what the current 
thinking on that is. After all, you'd think that if you go to the 
trouble of making your version number integral to your name, you'd 
expect to actually change it sometimes ;)

> The truly insane thing about this is that the W3C went to a
> great deal of effort to define XSD instead of simply accepting the existing
> international standard ASN.1 and defining the XML Encoding Rules for it.

What good would that have done when we all know that the One And Only 
True Schema Language is RelaxNG anyway? <g>

> This was simply arrogant, proprietary pig-headedness on their part. It is
> not useful when our "standards organizations" choose to ignore each other...

Your tone here makes me wonder... you claim that people dismiss ASN.1 
because it "your (grand-)father's technology". In your opinion, will 
they change their mind if some of its vocal defenders sound like "your 
(grand-)father's rant about technology"?

The XBC WG isn't the Binary Strikes Back Working Group so there's little 
point in unearthing ye olde SGML/ASN.1 hostilities. We have a simple 
situation to deal with: XML has been tremendously successful because of 
properties it has that other solutions do not have (for instance being 
syntax-based rather than schema-based). But some of these properties 
carry a cost (whether by their presence or by their absence) and there's 
a great number of people out there that would benefit from dropping some 
of those properties, keeping other vital ones, and adding new ones. Our 
job is to figure out if there's such a configuration of properties that 
would make enough of those people happy and if it's possible to do it 
without impacting the existing technological situation in such a way 
that would make a lot of other people unhappy. Whether that, if it turns 
out to be possible, also turns out to map to an existing solution is a 
question that's still relatively far down the road.

Robin Berjon, Arrogant Pighead on the XBC WG
Received on Thursday, 2 December 2004 04:32:02 UTC

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