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Validating Namespaces - How To

From: Matthew Fuchs <matt@wdi.disney.com>
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 1997 12:17:39 -0700
Message-Id: <9706201217.ZM9911@scrumpox.rd.wdi.disney.com>
To: w3c-sgml-wg@w3.org
Since some of us are nervous about how namespaces and validity might interact,
 I've tried to build a model for just that.  If it holds up to scrutiny, then
we'll be able to mix the two.  I think it may even stay SGML in some

Matthew Fuchs

The closest thing we have to a namespace is an external entity
containing a bunch of rules to stick in the DTD.  I think we can build
on that to establish an isomophism between a DTD composed mostly of a
lot of entities and a document with a lot of namespaces.  We would
also like to take advantage of the fact that defining namespaces
corresponds closely to AFs could be a good thing.  Note that an
architecture _is_ a bunch of element definitions and attlists.
However, I'm not going to handle that one on this round.

Syntactic considerations

A namespace is an entity containing:

element definitions
attribute definitions
names (which could be used in attribute values)
entity definitions

We can assume these are hanging out at some URL or another.

Documents and DTDs can use namespace prefixes pretty much anywhere
there is a name - for GIs, for attributes, for attribute values, for
entity references.

Our interest now is how to bind namespaces prefixes to actual
namespaces and how they affect DTD syntax (document syntax has already
been discussed ad nauseum).  As prefixes are really variables, there
will be two kinds of prefixes - bound and free.  In a valid document,
all the prefixes must be bound.  In a DTD, however, some can be bound
and some can be left free (and then bound in the document instance).

Namespace prefixes can show up in DTDs in the following places:

1) The content model of an element
2) An attribute definition
3) An attribute value

We will view these one at a time.

Content Models

Prefixes can only be on the right hand side, because the left hand
side is declaring a name in the current namespace.  In the content
modes, the prefix either stands alone, or prefixes an element name.
In the first case, it means that any content model from the namespace
can go there.  In the second, it must be the appropriate content model
from the referenced namespace:

<!element my-name (from-here, NEAR::, FAR::its-name)>

Attribute Definitions and Values

We can only borrow names here.

<!attlist my-name attr1 cdata #implied
                  THERE::attr2 (a | b | c) a
                  THERE::attr3 (THERE::a THERE::b THERE::c) THERE::c
                  attr4 (a | THERE::b | c) a>

Semantics and Validation -- the fun part

The primary rule for namespace binding, as anyone who knows me can
guess, is that namespaces are all lexically bound.  This means when
parsing an element in another namespace, we are in that space, and all
names are resolved as in that space.  This means I don't need prefixes
for bound namespaces - if the same element is defined differently in
two spaces, then the lexical scoping will tell me which namespace the
current gi refers to, and I can use that content model.  If the name
is not bound, then I will need to use a prefix.  Furthermore - and
this is key - it means that if I have the DTD, the only namespace
prefixes I need to worry about are those not bound by the DTD.  (Note
that if we do curry out the prefixes, we've change the rules of SGML
parsing, but not [I think] if we leave them in.  I think it's neater
to take them out, as I'll do here, but that's really not necessary.)

In a document instance, to refer to names in the outermost, default
document namespace, we prepend ::, to use something from some
other space, we prepend the appropriate prefix.  Note that within a
namespace, we don't need to use prefixes for names that are

The basic point on validation in a document, is you can stick
namespace prefixes pretty much anywhere you want, as long as two
properties are maintained:

1) All namespace prefixes in the document are bound to some namespace
(possibly the current one)
2) Once all the prefixes in the document are bound, they must refer to
the same names in the same namespaces as they do in the DTD, if the
DTD were actually constructed.

For example, let's take the content model above:

<!element my-name (from-here, NEAR::, FAR::its-name)>

The document may have something like one of the following:

1)  <my-name><near-gi>....</near-gi><its-name>...</its-name></my-name>


In all cases, NEAR and FAR can be bound in either the DTD, the
document, or both.  If, for example, NEAR is bound in both, then they
must agree.  Otherwise the instance is invalid.

The big difference comes in what information would be passed to the
application.  In example one, only a validating parser could pass
namespace information to the application, which it could get from the
namespace declarations in the DTD.  In the second case, a
non-validating parser could pass on namespace info about NEAR (which
must be bound in the instance), but not about far, while a validating
one could do both.

One place where this proposal actually buys you something new in the
validation arena is shown in 3, where we still assume that the DTD has
declared my-name as above.

3)  <my-name><NEAR::near-gi><its-name>...<its-name></NEAR::near-gi>

The content model for the first its-name must be defined in whatever
the namespace for NEAR is, while that for the second must be defined
in FAR.

``Multiple Inheritance''

In describing the contents of a namespace entity, I deliberately left
out recursive namespace declarations (i.e., a namespace can't include
another namespace).  This is essential to avoiding name clashes with
only a single element in the namespace prefixes.  Otherwise, two
namespaces could use the same name for a free prefix, and the
including DTD or document would have no way of disambiguating them.
On the other hand, we can see that these declarations must form a
tree, and we can deal with the whole thing using paths through the
tree.  If people are interested in that, it's easy to work out a
syntax.  This would allow the NEAR namespace in the example above to use
another namespace to define the content model for its-name, which might work
out to be the same namespace as for FAR.

Received on Friday, 20 June 1997 15:15:42 EDT

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