Chapter: Fundamentals of Database Systems - Object, Object-Relational, and XML: Concepts, Models, Languages, and Standards - XML: Extensible Markup Language

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XML Languages

1. XPath: Specifying Path Expressions in XML 2. XQuery: Specifying Queries in XML 3. Other Languages and Protocols Related to XML

XML Languages

 

There have been several proposals for XML query languages, and two query language standards have emerged. The first is XPath, which provides language constructs for specifying path expressions to identify certain nodes (elements) or attributes within an XML document that match specific patterns. The second is XQuery, which is a more general query language. XQuery uses XPath expressions but has additional constructs. We give an overview of each of these languages in this section. Then we discuss some additional languages related to HTML in Section 12.5.3.

 

1. XPath: Specifying Path Expressions in XML

 

An XPath expression generally returns a sequence of items that satisfy a certain pat-tern as specified by the expression. These items are either values (from leaf nodes) or elements or attributes. The most common type of XPath expression returns a collection of element or attribute nodes that satisfy certain patterns specified in the expression. The names in the XPath expression are node names in the XML document tree that are either tag (element) names or attribute names, possibly with additional qualifier conditions to further restrict the nodes that satisfy the pattern. Two main separators are used when specifying a path: single slash (/) and double slash (//). A single slash before a tag specifies that the tag must appear as a direct child of the previous (parent) tag, whereas a double slash specifies that the tag can appear as a descendant of the previous tag at any level. Let us look at some examples of XPath as shown in Figure 12.6.

 

The first XPath expression in Figure 12.6 returns the company root node and all its descendant nodes, which means that it returns the whole XML document. We should note that it is customary to include the file name in the XPath query. This allows us to specify any local file name or even any path name that specifies a file on the Web. For example, if the COMPANY XML document is stored at the location

 

www.company.com/info.XML

 

then the first XPath expression in Figure 12.6 can be written as

 

doc(www.company.com/info.XML)/company

 

This prefix would also be included in the other examples of XPath expressions.


The second example in Figure 12.6 returns all department nodes (elements) and their descendant subtrees. Note that the nodes (elements) in an XML document are ordered, so the XPath result that returns multiple nodes will do so in the same order in which the nodes are ordered in the document tree.

 

The third XPath expression in Figure 12.6 illustrates the use of //, which is convenient to use if we do not know the full path name we are searching for, but do know the name of some tags of interest within the XML document. This is particularly useful for schemaless XML documents or for documents with many nested levels of nodes.

 

The expression returns all employeeName nodes that are direct children of an employee node, such that the employee node has another child element employeeSalary whose value is greater than 70000. This illustrates the use of qualifier conditions, which restrict the nodes selected by the XPath expression to those that satisfy the condition. XPath has a number of comparison operations for use in qualifier conditions, including standard arithmetic, string, and set comparison operations.

 

The fourth XPath expression in Figure 12.6 should return the same result as the pre-vious one, except that we specified the full path name in this example. The fifth expression in Figure 12.6 returns all projectWorker nodes and their descendant nodes that are children under a path /company/project and have a child node hours with a value greater than 20.0 hours.

 

When we need to include attributes in an XPath expression, the attribute name is prefixed by the @ symbol to distinguish it from element (tag) names. It is also possible to use the wildcard symbol *, which stands for any element, as in the following example, which retrieves all elements that are child elements of the root, regardless of their element type. When wildcards are used, the result can be a sequence of different types of items.

 

/company/*

 

The examples above illustrate simple XPath expressions, where we can only move down in the tree structure from a given node. A more general model for path expressions has been proposed. In this model, it is possible to move in multiple directions from the current node in the path expression. These are known as the axes of an XPath expression. Our examples above used only three of these axes: child of the current node (/), descendent or self at any level of the current node (//), and attribute of the current node (@). Other axes include parent, ancestor (at any level), previous sibling (any node at same level to the left in the tree), and next sibling (any node at the same level to the right in the tree). These axes allow for more complex path expressions.

 

The main restriction of XPath path expressions is that the path that specifies the pat-tern also specifies the items to be retrieved. Hence, it is difficult to specify certain conditions on the pattern while separately specifying which result items should be retrieved. The XQuery language separates these two concerns, and provides more powerful constructs for specifying queries.

 

2. XQuery: Specifying Queries in XML

 

XPath allows us to write expressions that select items from a tree-structured XML document. XQuery permits the specification of more general queries on one or more XML documents. The typical form of a query in XQuery is known as a FLWR expression, which stands for the four main clauses of XQuery and has the following form:

 

FOR <variable bindings to individual nodes (elements)>

 

LET <variable bindings to collections of nodes (elements)>

 

WHERE <qualifier conditions>

 

RETURN <query result specification>

 

There can be zero or more instances of the FOR clause, as well as of the LET clause in a single XQuery. The WHERE clause is optional, but can appear at most once, and the RETURN clause must appear exactly once. Let us illustrate these clauses with the fol-lowing simple example of an XQuery.

 

LET $d := doc(www.company.com/info.xml)

 

FOR $x IN $d/company/project[projectNumber = 5]/projectWorker, $y IN $d/company/employee

WHERE $x/hours gt 20.0 AND $y.ssn = $x.ssn

 

RETURN <res> $y/employeeName/firstName, $y/employeeName/lastName, $x/hours </res>

 

        Variables are prefixed with the $ sign. In the above example, $d, $x, and $y are variables.

 

        The LET clause assigns a variable to a particular expression for the rest of the query. In this example, $d is assigned to the document file name. It is possi-ble to have a query that refers to multiple documents by assigning multiple variables in this way.

 

        The FOR clause assigns a variable to range over each of the individual items in a sequence. In our example, the sequences are specified by path expressions. The $x variable ranges over elements that satisfy the path expression $d/company/project[projectNumber = 5]/projectWorker. The $y variable ranges over elements that satisfy the path expression $d/company/employee. Hence, $x ranges over projectWorker elements, whereas $y ranges over employee elements.

 

        The WHERE clause specifies additional conditions on the selection of items. In this example, the first condition selects only those projectWorker elements that satisfy the condition (hours gt 20.0). The second condition specifies a join condition that combines an employee with a projectWorker only if they have the same ssn value.

 

Finally, the RETURN clause specifies which elements or attributes should be retrieved from the items that satisfy the query conditions. In this example, it will return a sequence of elements each containing <firstName, lastName, hours> for employees who work more that 20 hours per week on project number 5.

 

Figure 12.7 includes some additional examples of queries in XQuery that can be specified on an XML instance documents that follow the XML schema document in Figure 12.5. The first query retrieves the first and last names of employees who earn more than $70,000. The variable $x is bound to each employeeName element that is a child of an employee element, but only for employee elements that satisfy the quali-fier that their employeeSalary value is greater than $70,000. The result retrieves the firstName and lastName child elements of the selected employeeName elements. The second query is an alternative way of retrieving the same elements retrieved by the first query.

 

The third query illustrates how a join operation can be performed by using more than one variable. Here, the $x variable is bound to each projectWorker element that is a child of project number 5, whereas the $y variable is bound to each employee ele-ment. The join condition matches ssn values in order to retrieve the employee names. Notice that this is an alternative way of specifying the same query in our ear-lier example, but without the LET clause.

 

XQuery has very powerful constructs to specify complex queries. In particular, it can specify universal and existential quantifiers in the conditions of a query, aggregate functions, ordering of query results, selection based on position in a sequence, and even conditional branching. Hence, in some ways, it qualifies as a full-fledged programming language.

 

This concludes our brief introduction to XQuery. The interested reader is referred to www.w3.org, which contains documents describing the latest standards related to XML and XQuery. The next section briefly discusses some additional languages and protocols related to XML.



3. Other Languages and Protocols Related to XML

 

There are several other languages and protocols related to XML technology. The long-term goal of these and other languages and protocols is to provide the technology for realization of the Semantic Web, where all information in the Web can be intelligently located and processed.

 

        The Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) can be used to define how a document should be rendered for display by a Web browser.

 

        The Extensible Stylesheet Language for Transformations (XSLT) can be used to transform one structure into a different structure. Hence, it can convert documents from one form to another.

 

        The Web Services Description Language (WSDL) allows for the description of Web Services in XML. This makes the Web Service available to users and programs over the Web.

 

        The Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) is a platform-independent and programming language-independent protocol for messaging and remote procedure calls.

 

        The Resource Description Framework (RDF) provides languages and tools for exchanging and processing of meta-data (schema) descriptions and specifications over the Web.

 

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