xsi:null is not the same as DB NULL

David Beech recently posted a message[1] citing the xsi:null feature in XML
Schemas and commenting on some uses of this in relation to the NULL feature
of typical relational databases. I would like to point out some of the
significance of David's commendably careful wording.  

David writes "If the element is omitted, it is 'not providing' any
(e.g. that column value was not extracted from the database row)."  This
leaves open several possibilities regarding why it was not extracted.  One
may be that it was never requested. Another is that the column is not
present in that row.  Another is that the column is present and had a
"value" of NULL.  Another is that the column is present in the database but
the value of the column matches a default value supplied in the schema.
Since the XSD specification describes syntactic and type constraints, not
database mappings, all these and causes others are possible.

(However, the use of the definite article "the" suggests that all data
originates in and is understood by reference to a database.  That assumption
is beyond the scope of the schemas design.)

David also carefully uses "e.g." when he writes "If the element is present
with xsi:null="true", it is 'providing a value' of the null attribute as
'anti' normal element content (e.g. that column value extracted from the 
database row had a null value instead of a value of the specified type)."  
Indeed, this is one possible use of xsi:null.  

The normative portion of the specification says the following:

If {nullable} is true, then an element may also be valid if it carries the
namespace qualified attribute with [local name] null from namespace
http://www.w3.org/2000/10/XMLSchema-instance and value true (see xsi:null
(2.6.2)) even if it has no text or element content despite a {content type}
which would otherwise require content. Formal details of element validation
are described in Element Locally Valid (Element) (3.3).

That is, the effect of xsi:null, as described by the XML Schemas
specification, is simply to signal that an instance element is valid when
empty even though the validating schema definition of the element's type has
a non-empty content model.

The mapping of NULLs in relational databases to something specific in
relational databases is not part of the XML schemas specification.  An
element with a xsi:null='true' attribute may correspond to a column in a
database table containing a NULL, but it might correspond to something else
entirely, or to nothing at all, and a NULL in a database column might
correspond to an omitted element, an element marked xsi:null='true' or to
something else entirely.  The specification allows all of these.  


Received on Thursday, 4 January 2001 17:05:26 UTC