XML Takes a Step Forward, Hits Snag on Another Front

IBM moves ahead with new support in DB2 8; XQuery standard falters.

While support for XML grew last week as IBM released DB2 Universal Database 8 with support for the language, support of a limited query language from a standards group could limit the broad use of XML.

With the addition of Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations, a SQL function for automatic style transformation, DB2 now has about 100 extensions to SQL that are built to support XML data. DB2 has caught up to Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server 2000 and Oracle Corp.s Oracle9i in its ability to handle Web services—and it includes support for a Universal Description, Discovery and Integration registry.

More XML support is what DB2 users such as Suppleyes.com Inc. are looking for as they anticipate business partners and customers use of XML. Suppleyes.com runs a business-to-business e-commerce system that automates purchasing and inventory management for large ambulatory surgery centers, many of which run DB2.

"XML is one of those things that, because were connected with a tremendous amount of large companies on our back end [that run DB2, the databases] support of XML has been advantageous," said Perry Cain, vice president and chief technology officer of the Akron, Ohio, company. "I dont think [the majority of my customers are] XML-ready yet, but when they are, the fact that IBM has [XML Extender] will be pretty important to us."

Janet Perna, general manager of IBM Data Management Solutions, in Armonk, N.Y., told eWeek that future XML support includes XQuery—the XML query language—and native database support for XML in DB2.

"Suffice it to say were not finished," Perna said.

But at the World Wide Web Consortium Advisory Committee meeting last week, members confirmed that Version 1.0 of the working draft of XQuery will not include support for full-text search operations. As a result, most vendors of document-oriented XML databases will be forced to maintain their existing approaches to queries, which will limit the short-term usefulness of the proposed specification.

Nelson Mattos, an IBM distinguished engineer, said a full-text version, which the W3C has developed in parallel, is still on track. "One goal of developing it in parallel is that they could publish the XQuery portion without it if there was any delay with the full-text version," said Mattos, in San Jose, Calif.

Analysts say that, as the standard becomes more widely used, it has become imperative for relational DBMS vendors to support XQuery. "XQuery is a key standard for accessing, transforming and integrating XML data from disparate sources," said Susan Funke, an analyst at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.

Thats true for E-Doc Architects, a Wheaton, Ill., company that provides its clients with XML programming and conversion services. Pete Leonard, vice president, said the W3Cs decision to leave out full-text search is a bad one. "Anybodys database that can only use those standards cannot offer full-text search to the application that might be querying," Leonard said. "It prevents you from giving information based on content in the document. Thats bad."