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In this article, we'll cover the basics of XSL and XSL processors. If you don't know much about XML, you may want to first read Mark Johnson's excellent XML article, "Programming XML in Java, Part 1."
Our example will use a servlet to turn well-formed XML into HTML. If you need to learn more about servlets, please refer to Sun's servlets tutorial (see Resources).
The process of transforming and formatting information into a rendered result is called styling. Two recommendations from the W3C come together to make styling possible: XSL Transformations (XSLT), which allows for a reorganization of information, and XSL, which specifies the formatting of the information for rendering.
With those two technologies, when you put your XML and XSL stylesheet into an XSL processor, you don't just get a prettied up version of your XML. You get a result tree that can be expanded, modified, and rearranged.
An XSL processor takes a stylesheet consisting of a set of XSL commands and transforms it, using an input XML document. Let's take a look at a simple example.
Below we see a small piece of XML, describing an employee. It includes his name and title. Let's assume that we would like to present that in HTML.
<employee id="03432"> <name>Joe Shmo</name> <title>Manager</title> </employee>
If we wanted our HTML to look like this:
<html> <body> <p><b>Joe Shmo</b>: Manager</p> </body> </html>
Then we could use a stylesheet, such as the one below, to generate the HTML above. The stylesheet could reside in a file or database entry:
<xsl:stylesheet xmlns:xsl=""> <xsl:template match="/"> <html> <body> <p> <b> <xsl:value-of select="employee/name"/> </b> <xsl:text>: </xsl:text> <xsl:value-of select="employee/title"/> </p> </body> </html> </xsl:template> </xsl:stylesheet>
The stylesheet declaration consists of a version and namespace. The namespace declares the prefix for the tags that will be used in the stylesheet and where the definition of those tags are located:
<xsl:stylesheet xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform" version="1.0"> . . . </xsl:stylesheet>
If there are any extensions referenced, the namespace must be specified. For example, if you were going to use Java, you would specify this namespace: