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From lawyers to durations

From: Xavier C. Franc <xfranc@online.fr>
Date: Thu, 11 Sep 2003 22:27:31 +0200
Message-ID: <3F60DAB3.2030300@online.fr>
To: public-qt-comments@w3.org

To find the quotation in Jon Bosak's XML markup of Shakespeare's plays,
it is possible to use the following query:

for $d in doc("hen_vi_2.xml")//SPEECH[ contains(., "kill") and contains(., "lawyers")]
     return ($d/ancestor::PLAY/TITLE, $d/ancestor::ACT/TITLE, $d/ancestor::SCENE/TITLE, $d)

yielding something like:

        <TITLE>The Second Part of Henry the Sixth</TITLE>
        <TITLE>SCENE II.  Blackheath.</TITLE>
          <LINE>The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.</LINE>

This is written in XML Query, a nice new language with interesting features,
but whose specifications are IMHO a bit slow to become a definitive recommendation
and suffer from a few remaining problems.

So, the first thing we do, let's look at those remaining problems.
[we'll care later about lawyers... :-)]

I am concerned mainly about duration types and related functions, but I have
a few other issues that will be addressed later.

Although Michael Kay made a sensible proposal about this question, so far there were
no replies to it:


In this posting I would like to:

1) Back up the idea of date/time F&O involving only *numeric* durations
        (With the consequence of dropping subtypes xdt:yearMonthDuration,

2) Try to sketch out what kind of functions are useful in practice

3) make a detailed proposal


1) Why only numeric durations should be used:

     ISO 8601 and XML Schema define durations that can have a "month" component.
     That means that it is possible to express a duration like "three months" ["P3M"].
     While this can be convenient in casual language, xs:duration can hardly be
     considered a scientific notation: there is no way to convert "three months" into
     a number of days in a one-to-one way (the result can be 89 or 90 or 91 or 92 days,
     depending on the origin), and therefore it is not possible for example to
     compare P3M and P90D.

     In consequence, functions manipulating such data are bound to
     be of great complexity and to have peculiar properties. As an example,
     - it is not possible in general to compare two durations (partial order)
     - adding P1M to March 31 is currently supposed to return April 30, but this is
       arbitrary: it could as well return May 1.
     - (2000-03-30 + P1D) + P1M is different than (2000-03-30 + P1M) + P1D

     To cope with such problems, the WG has chosen to introduce subtypes of
     xs:duration plus a great deal of functions and operators manipulating these types.

     It looks like a rush towards complexity, that fails to acknowledge some points:

     - Due to their peculiar characteristics, xs:duration or derived types are
       difficult to manipulate and thus not suitable for computations

     - In contrast, a numeric representation is simple, efficient, well-defined,
       suitable for most purposes and easy to implement. As Michael Kay points out,
       other quantities like distances, weights, or monetary amounts have no
       special representation and operators, so why should durations have one ?

       It seems that the ultimate reason is sort of to pay respect to the XML Schema
       recommendation which defines xs:duration and related algorithms.

     - application programmers most probably won't want to use xs:duration, because
       it has no direct utility. At the opposite it appears as an intermediary
       that merely induces complexity.

2) Which date/time/duration functions and operators would be useful in practice ?

     - time elapsed between two instants (`instant' stands for date, time, dateTime).
       For time and dateTime, the result would be a (double or decimal) duration in
       For dates, the result would be an integer number of days.

	$dateTime1 - $dateTime2 -> seconds as double
	$date1 - $date2 -> days as integer

     - conversely, addition of a duration to an instant, producing another instant.

	$dateTime1 + seconds -> $dateTime2
	$date1 + days -> $date2

        Note: this is equivalent to the functions proposed by Michael Kay
       (seconds-since-origin and dateTime-from-seconds), but eliminates the need for
        an arbitrary origin and produces simpler expressions.

      - to be able to implement any kind of specialized computation (e.g. third party
        library functions), it is desirable to provide both:

	- component extractors (get-year, get-month, get-day etc.)
               [like in the current Working Draft, but with overloaded and shorter names.]

	- constructors accepting numeric components, eg:
		xs:date( year as integer, month as integer, day as integer)

	- and for convenience, functions that modify one component. For example
		modify-month( $d as date, $month as integer ) as date

- As Michael Kay notices, a function to format a date and time is desirable.

       BTW, a function to format any item (in particular numeric values) is also needed.

3) Proposal:

a) remove subtypes yearMonthDuration and dayTimeDuration and related functions
        and operators.

b) component extraction functions:

        [the notation '|' between types is a shorthand for representing overloading]

        get-year( $t as (date | dateTime | gYear | gYearMonth | duration) ) as integer
        get-month( $t as (date | dateTime | gYearMonth | gMonthDay | duration) ) as integer
        get-day( $t as (date | dateTime | gMonthDay | gDay | duration) ) as integer

        get-hours( $t as (time | dateTime | duration) ) as integer
        get-minutes( $t as (time | dateTime | duration) ) as integer
        get-seconds( $t as (time | dateTime | duration) ) as double

        It can be noticed that there is no specialized functions for duration:
        if needed, it is easy to write something like:
           get-year($d) * 12 + get-month($d)
           get-day($d)*24*3600 + get-hours($d)*3600 + get-minutes($d)*60 + get-seconds($d)

c) constructors

        This is a generalization of cast operators. The following functions
        don't replace but overload existing cast operators:

         xs:date( $year as integer, $month as integer, $day as integer,
                  $timezone as duration? )

         xs:time( $hours as integer, $minutes as integer, $seconds as double,
	     $timezone as duration? )

         xs:dateTime( $year as integer, $month as integer, $day as integer,
		 $hours as integer, $minutes as integer, $seconds as double,
		 $timezone as duration? )

         xs:gYear( $year as integer )
         xs:gYearMonth( $year as integer, $month as integer )
         xs:gMonth( $month as integer )
         xs:gMonthDay( $month as integer, $day as integer )
         xs:gDay( $day as integer )

         xs:duration( $years as integer, $months as integer, $days as integer,
	         $hours as integer, $minutes as integer, $seconds as double )
         xs:duration( $months as integer, $seconds as double )

d) arithmetic

        operator - ( $date1, $date2 ) as integer 		[days]
        operator - ( $dateTime1, $dateTime2 ) as double	[seconds]
        operator - ( $time1, $time2 ) as double		[seconds]

        operator + ( $date as date, $days as integer) as date
        operator + ( $dateTime as dateTime, $seconds as double) as dateTime
        operator + ( $time as time, $seconds as double) as time

e) convenience functions:

        modify-year( $t as (date | dateTime | gYear | gYearMonth | duration) )
	[return type identical to argument type]

        for example: modify-year(xs:date("2000-01-01"), 2003) ->  2003-01-01

        Same for modify-month etc.

        This is equivalent to combine a constructor with extractors, but
        more convenient.

        These functions should be lenient, i.e. accept out of bounds arguments
	eg: modify-month( xs:date("2000-01-01"), 13 )  ->  2001-02-01

        For modify-day, some kind of wildcard to specify the last day of a month
        would be useful, eg:
	modify-day( xs:date("2000-02-01"), () ) -> 2000-02-29

Xavier FRANC
Received on Thursday, 11 September 2003 16:26:51 UTC

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