XML Spy Tops as XML Editor

XSLT debugger and HTML-to-XML conversion features lead advances in version 5 of tool.

Altova GMBHs XML Spy has long been a strong player in the XML space, and Version 5 of the XML editor raises the bar even higher. Of all the XML editors eWEEK Labs has seen—and weve seen a lot—the $990 XML Spy 5.0 Enterprise Edition provides the best overall combination of editing power and usability, along with wide database and programming language integration support. This earns the product an eWEEK Labs Analysts Choice award.

XML Spys user interface—particularly its graphical schema editing tools and grid-based XML data editor—keeps impressing us with its versatility, intuitiveness and power. For quick, ad hoc XML transformations, such as converting a series of attributes into elements, XML Spy is a perfect tool.

The Enterprise Edition of XML Spy is new to the product line. It includes cutting-edge HTML-to-XML conversion capabilities; Java and C++ code generation; and Web services features, including a Simple Object Access Protocol debugger and a graphical WSDL (Web Services Description Language) file editor.

The $399 Professional Edition of XML Spy does not have these features but does include the XML and XML Schema editing features, database import and export capabilities, and the XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) debugger found in 5.0.

Upgrades from XML Spy 4 Suite to XML Spy 5.0 Enterprise Edition cost $219 through Dec. 24.

Both the Enterprise and Professional versions are available now and run on Windows 98, Millennium Edition, 2000 and XP. We tested Maintenance Release 2 of the Enterprise Edition, a bug fix release that became available early this month.

The XSLT debugger in the new XML Spy line is important not only because it will be highly useful to developers, but also because it was one feature the competition had that XML Spy didnt. Excelon Corp.s Stylus Studio 4.5, for example, has a very effective XSLT debugger. (See www.eweek.com/links for the Labs Oct. 28 look at Stylus Studio.)

Also significant in XML Spy 5.0 is a new feature that helps automate the conversion of an HTML-based site to one that is based on XML technologies. XML Spy accomplishes this by transforming XML source data through Extensible Stylesheet Language into HTML.

We found a few rough spots in this complicated process. Still, the feature is useful and one that we havent yet seen in any other competing tools.

Using the Stylesheet Designer tool included with XML Spy, we imported an HTML file into an editing window and then dragged a table into an XML structure window to create a mapping between HTML table elements and named XML elements or attributes.

This process was laborious (although doing it by hand would be even worse), but with tweaking and careful editing, the system created an XML file of source data (screen-scraped from the source HTML), an XML Schema file describing the structure of the XML file and an XSLT file that could transform the XML data back into the original HTML.

The resulting files are specific to the structure of the source HTML file, and the process is a one-time transformation. Developers can then use these files as a basis for developing a new Web publishing system based on XML source data and XML transformations.

Its all a lot of work, but XML Spy starts the job right. The result is a flexible Web system that can easily be used to publish source data to formats other than HTML.

XML Spys Web services interactive debugger has been a big help to us in the past in trouble-shooting Web services tools. Altova has also added a graphical WSDL file editor that does a good job of making the complex file format clear and easy to modify. However, WSDL editing is needed less and less now that the files are automatically generated by most development tools.

XML Spys market-leading XML database integration support includes specific support for the XML database markup tags used by Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server, Oracle Corp.s Oracle, Software AGs Tamino XML Server (a new addition in this release) and a number of other XML databases. Unfortunately, XML markup syntax used by IBMs DB2 and Sybase Inc.s Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise are not supported.

West Coast Technical Director Timothy Dyck can be contacted at timothy_dyck@ziffdavis.com.

Executive Summary: XML Spy 5.0 Enterprise Edition

XML Spy 5.0 Enterprise Edition does everything wed expect an XML editing tool to do and then some. This is a tool that developers working with XML or Web services should definitely have in their back pockets.


At $990, the high-end Enterprise Edition of XML Spy is more expensive than competing products, but it also does more. For those who dont need HTML-to-XML conversion or Web services features, the $399 Professional version is a great buy.

(+) HTML-to-XML conversion capabilities; XSLT processor and debugger; graphical WSDL editor; Java and C++ code generators for XML data structures; Web services debugger; powerful XML editing features.

(-) Lacks support for DB2 and Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise XML database extensions.