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Using W3C XML Schema
by Eric van der Vlist | Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Table of Contents

Introducing Our First Schema
Slicing the Schema
Defining Named Types
Groups, Compositors and Derivation
Content Types
Building Usable and Reusable Schemas
W3C XML Schema and Instance Documents
W3C XML Schema Datatypes Reference
W3C XML Schema Structures Reference

Building Usable -- and Reusable -- Schemas

Perhaps the first step in writing reusable schemas is to document them. W3C XML Schema provides an alternative to XML comments (for humans) and processing instructions (for machines) that might be easier to handle for supporting tools.

Human readable documentation can be defined by xs:documentation elements, while information targeted to applications should be included in xs:appinfo elements. Both elements need to be included in an xs:annotation element and accept optional xml:lang and source attributes and any content type. The source attribute is a URI reference that can be used to indicate the purpose of the comment documentation or application information.

The xs:annotation elements can be added at the beginning of most schema constructions, as shown in the example below. The appinfo section demonstrates how custome namespaces and schemes might allow the binding of an element to a Java class from within the schema.

<xs:element name="book">
 	<xs:documentation xml:lang="en">
		Top level element.
 	<xs:documentation xml:lang="fr">
		Element racine.
	<xs:appinfo source="http://example.com/foo/">
		<bind xmlns="http://example.com/bar/">
			<class name="Book"/>

Composing schemas from multiple files

For those who want to define a schema using several XML documents -- either to split a large schema, or to use libraries of schema snippets -- W3C XML Schema provides two mechanisms for including external schemas.

The first one, xs:include, is similar to a copy and paste of the definitions of the included schema: it's an inclusion and as such it doesn't allow to override the definitions of the included schema. It can be used this way:

<xs:include schemaLocation="character.xsd"/>

The second inclusion mechanism, xs:redefine, is similar to xs:include, except that it lets you redefine declarations from the included schema.

<xs:redefine schemaLocation="character12.xsd">
  <xs:simpleType name="nameType">
    <xs:restriction base="xs:string">
      <xs:maxLength value="40"/>

Note that the declarations that are redefined must be placed in the xs:redefine element.

We've already seen many features that can be used together with xs:include and xs:redefine to create libraries of schemas. We've seen how we can reference previously defined elements, how we can define datatypes by derivation and use them, how we can define and use groups of attributes. We've also seen the parallel between elements and objects, and datatypes and classes. There are other features borrowed from object oriented designs that can be used to create reusable schemas.

Abstract types

The first of these features derived from object oriented design is the substitution group. Unlike the features we've seen so far, a substitution group is not defined explicitly through a W3C XML Schema element, but through referencing a common element (called the head) using a substitutionGroup attribute.

The head element doesn't hold any specific declaration but must be global. All the elements within a substitution group need to have a type that is either the same type as the head element or can be derived from it. Then they can all be used in place of the head element. In the following example, the element surname can be used anywhere an element name has been defined.

<xs:element name="name" type="xs:string"/>
<xs:element name="surname" type="xs:string" 
	substitutionGroup="name" />

Now, we can also define a generic name-elt element, head of a substitution group, that shouldn't be used directly, but in one of its derived forms. This is done through declaring the element as abstract, analogous to abstract classes in object oriented languages. The following example defines name-elt as an abstract element that should be replaced either by name or surname everywhere it is referenced.

<xs:element name="name-elt" type="xs:string" abstract="true"/>
<xs:element name="name" type="xs:string" 
<xs:element name="surname" type="xs:string" 

Final types

We could, on the other hand, wish to control derivation performed on a datatype. W3C XML Schema supports this through the final attribute in a xs:complexType, xs:simpleType or xs:element element. This attribute can take the values restriction, extension and #all to block derivation by restriction, extension or any derivation. The following snippet would, for instance, forbid any derivation of the characterType complex type.

<xs:complexType name="characterType" final="#all">
    <xs:element name="name" type="nameType"/>
    <xs:element name="since" type="sinceType"/>
    <xs:element name="qualification" type="descType"/>

In addition to final, a more fine-grained mechanism is provided to control the derivation of simple types that operate on each facet. Here, the attribute is called fixed, and when its value is set to true, the facet cannot be further modified (but other facets can still be added or modified). The following example prevents the size of our nameType simple type to be redefined:

  <xs:simpleType name="nameType">
    <xs:restriction base="xs:string">
      <xs:maxLength value="32" fixed="true"/>

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