A text-centric markup derived from SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), XML (Extensible Markup Language) helps define protocol for encoding documents in a way that can be understood by both humans and machines. XML tags are different from HTML tags – the former is prominently used for data identification, organization, and storage, while the latter is mostly used for data display. XML seems to be much superior in a way that it boasts of a lot of HTML features, but has its own unique functionality as well.
Software personnel prefer XML for three of its important characteristics – to begin with, XML does not participate in displaying data, it basically carries the data. In essence, it allows users to store data no matter how it will be presented. Secondly, as the name suggests, it is an extensible markup; it enables programmers to create their own tags which they find suitable to their applications. And lastly, XML is available as an open standard.
One of the main advantages of XML that companies leverage is content reuse. It helps realize time and cost savings as information us handles less often and content editing and updating is done just once for many documents.
Since long, desktop publishing has been used to maneuver data in technical publications; indeed, since it was introduced over three decades earlier, it has been the go-to paradigm for content creation. It is characterized by tools that have rich and powerful features, easy template overrides, and the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) feature, where authors can exactly see the final version of how the document will look, as they are working on it. In addition, authors have style guidelines and templates, although they have the option to not follow them as well.
XML authoring is a new and enhanced version of technical communication, which is quite an improvement over desktop publishing. For one thing, it works on the WYSIOO (What You See Is One Option) model; that is, the content is displayed with a little bit of formatting, however, it is not how the final document will look. To view the same, a separate process is required to be carried out. Also, unlike desktop publishing, XML authoring mandates template compliance – the authoring tool itself enforces templates, and authors are expected to adhere to the structure standards of the software in question.
In XML authoring, content generation and publication are separate; meaning, authors will not be able to do much to improve the appearance of the final deliverable. Despite the fact that desktop publishing boasts of better features, XML authoring is gaining traction, as it offers benefits such as better information, better content storage, cost reduction, and automated formatting.
Oxygen XML Editor is by far one of the best XML authoring tools there is. The tool offers multi-platforms for XML editing and is renown among developers to be an advanced solution for technical authoring and development. The Oxygen XML Editor promises to deliver an advanced set of editing tools in addition to numerous other helping tools.
It encompasses solutions such as the Web Help, XML Author, XML Editor, XML Web Author, and XML Developer. Right from simple authoring to development and editing, the Oxygen XML Editor makes it simple for all technical communication projects. The tools are all available on a single suite.
Oxygen, by default, is inclusive of capabilities for profiling conditional text, content review, and change tracking, all of which work independently of XML vocabulary. It can also be customized as required and is driven by CSS stylesheets.
Notepad++ is a free text editor with a ready plugin for editing XML files. It helps users copy, paste, and highlight text in XML files, similar to other editors. It also enables them to work on multiple files at the same time. Notepad++ has a GPL License and boasts of excellent performance, given that it’s based on C++ and the editing component Scintilla. It supports code formatting, code folding, syntax highlighting, and auto-completing functionality for scripting, programming, and markup languages. In addition, it has a Color Coding feature that helps differentiate the content and code in an XML file.
One of the only drawbacks of this tool is that it does not have any functionality for syntax hacking or code completion. In order to easily edit libXML2-XML documents, users usually add the XML Tools Plugin to Notepad++.
This tool helps users define Macros with bulk actions to be applied on multiple XML files together. It also has something called a ‘Pretty Print layout’ for defining, structuring, and organizing XML files.
#3 XML Notepad
An open-source editor for XML based on Notepad’s features, XML Notepad boasts of very user-friendly interface that helps to browse and edit XML documents. The interface has an error-debugging window at the bottom, a node text on the right pane, and an XSL Output on the left pane.
XML Notepad has some extraordinary features:
· Unlimited cut/copy/paste
· Incremental search system in text and tree views
· Tree and Node Text views, synchronized
· Quick editing
· Drag and drop feature
In addition, the tool also helps to load a document of close to 3 MB in literally one second, featuring configurable fonts and colors, integrated XML diff tool, and support for custom editors for date, Time, etc. It is one of the best for large XML documents. XML Notepad also provides users with the advantage of go to definition for XSD schema information and support for XInclude.
XML Notepad’s toolbar buttons provide convenience in quickly handling the movement of nodes on the tree. It is one of the best tools for developers and technical writers alike, given that it provides intelligence-based elements and values.
Kate is a powerful editor and has many plugins for XML. The validation plugin for XML usually checks the XML document for errors and warning displayed on Kate’s window. In addition, there’s another plugin called ‘XML Completion’ that checks and verifies if the XML document follows the file’s DTD. XML Completion is based on libxmlcalled by xmllint.
Kate’s source code editor shows up its different plugins, debug window, and file explorer. It also has an option for development tasks, viewing HTML sources, and editing configuration files. It allows users to control their UI layouts, thereby ensuring that every customer experience is self-optimized. Unlike most editors, which either have a simple, uncomplicated design or a cluttered one with too many features, Kate strikes a balance by placing the vital features at the front and the advanced features a little far away.
#5 Online XML Tools
Online XML Tools, as the name signifies, is an online set of XML tools developed by browserling.com that helps you work with Extensible Markup Language documents and structures. All the XML tools available here free and easy to use, sans ads or popups. All utilities have the same manner of working – users will just need to load the XML and get the result.
With these tools, users can convert an XML document to JSON TSV, CSV, YAML, and Base64 and vice-versa. They can beautify and validate XML documents with much ease. Some of the features included here are working with XML and SQL, visualizing XML with other features, and truncating over XML.
#6 Adobe FrameMaker
Adobe FrameMaker by far, is one of the most well-known, excellent XML authoring tools for technical communication. Its interface works well even for beginners, with user-friendly structured views revealing XML nodes and attributes. It has a WYSIWYG editor for XML design and also provides major shortcuts for navigating between DITA.
With Adobe FrameMaker, it is rather easy to embed markdown, YouTube videos, CSS3, and other media files. In addition, one of its best benefits is that it can be used as a PDF editor – it transforms content from XML to DITA, and can be rendered as a PDF. It helps users generate multilingual content and possesses advanced DITA capabilities. FrameMaker has the ability to publish content in EPUB, PDF, Mobile App, and responsive HTML5. It has an extensive user base and online support.
One of the best advantages of FrameMaker is that it boasts of bidirectional language support (for specific languages only though). Despite being expensive, it is a highly reliable authoring tool and an excellent choice for technical communication.
FontoXML is an XML authoring tool that is mostly deployed by subject matter experts and content developers looking for efficient solutions to generate structured, well-articulated content. Its functionality can be categorized into the web-based XML editor, authoring solutions, and FontoXML add-ons. This tool adapts any XML schema and CMS infrastructure and is a blessing for people who are not experts in XML.
FontoXML is available as a web-based platform and aids users develop structured authoring tools. It has several advantages – it helps users work with multiple documents, carries out content validation in real-time, and enables users to copy-paste data from varied platforms. In addition, it allows easy content insertion and helps merge any overlapping changes.
FontoXML has an array of extensions that can be integrated using APIs. Some of its features include real-time validation, spell check, localization, WYSIWYG, convenient E-CMS integration, structure and source view, note making, tracking changes, and more.
Designed by Altova, XMLSpy is more commonly known as a JSON and XML Editor. It enables users to create XML-based applications using myriad technologies. This XML editor is used to edit, debug, transform, and for modeling purposes. Given its easy to understand interface, the tool is very useful for beginners as well as experienced users. It has numerous options to optimize code; the product provides user with brilliant debugging features that enables the code to be error-free.
XMLSpy has the ability to generate visual charts from XML data. It boasts of a built-in schema designer and editor as well as an XPath builder, evaluator, debugger, and validator. In addition, it includes a Visual Studio and Eclipse integration.
The SmartFix XML validation is a special characteristic of this platform – it detects XML errors and applies auto-correction on the part selected.
#9 Madcap Flare
This is one authoring tool that is extremely popular in the technical communication domain. It’s built by the company Madcap Software, which in itself provides online support and training material. This platform has many advanced tools to help SMEs, technical authors, and content developers coordinate effectively with each other. Madcap Flare enables users to generate and publish content in numerous formats – online, print, and mobile.
The tool is open-source, built on XML, HTML, and CSS, and lends support to Asian and Eastern European languages. This makes it rather simple for users to leverage legacy content migration from other applications. It also contains an advanced stylesheet editor, XML WYSIWG editor, advanced analytics, project templates, scalability, source control support, accessibility compliance, and content management.
It is slightly expensive; perhaps that is its only drawback, but still, it remains one of the most popular tools for technical writing.
Editix is a high-quality and easy-to-use XML editor that helps technical communicators and developers use the latest XML-related technology such as such as XSLT/FO and XSD Schema. This cross-platform boasts of a lot of features such as Debugger, visual Schema Editor, XSLT Editor, grid editor, XQuery editor, and so on.
Editix contains a free online tool for XPath tester in addition to a new option for XML document building from JSON. The XML functionality in this tool in incredibly huge – it also has real-time Xpath location and syntax error detection. It has default templates for XHTML, XML RelaxNG, MathML, DocBook, XML, XSLT, DTD, XSD, XSL-FO, and SVG. The tool has a version called EditiX Free XMLEditor Lite that is free and can be downloaded without registration.
Note that EditiX is available for the Mac OS, Windows, and Linux.
While this is a comprehensive list of some of the best-known XML authoring tools, remember that there are many more for users to choose from. It is a good practice to analyze your needs and then opt for one that fits your purpose. Choose one that is offers excellent features, saves time, and is still moderately reasonable in terms of price. Although there are many free tools available, refrain from using those for the long-term; especially if you have important projects in hand.