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Chapter 7. DOM

In this chapter, we return to standard APIs with the Document Object Model (DOM). In Chapter 5, "SAX", we talked about the benefits of using standard APIs: increased compatibility with other software components and (if implemented correctly) a guaranteed complete solution. The same concept applies in this chapter: what SAX does for event streams, DOM does for tree processing.

7.1. DOM and Perl

DOM is a recommendation by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Designed to be a language-neutral interface to an in-memory representation of an XML document, versions of DOM are available in Java, ECMAscript,[27] Perl, and other languages. Perl alone has several implementations of DOM, including XML::DOM and XML::LibXML.

[27]A standards-friendly language patterned after JavaScript.

While SAX defines an interface of handler methods, the DOM specification calls for a number of classes, each with an interface of methods that affect a particular type of XML markup. Thus, every object instance manages a portion of the document tree, providing accessor methods to add, remove, or modify nodes and data. These objects are typically created by a factory object, making it a little easier for programmers who only have to initialize the factory object themselves.

In DOM, every piece of XML (the element, text, comment, etc.) is a node represented by a Node object. The Node class is extended by more specific classes that represent the types of XML markup, including Element, Attr (attribute), ProcessingInstruction, Comment, EntityReference, Text, CDATASection, and Document. These classes are the building blocks of every XML tree in DOM.

The standard also calls for a couple of classes that serve as containers for nodes, convenient for shuttling XML fragments from place to place. These classes are NodeList, an ordered list of nodes, like all the children of an element; and NamedNodeMap, an unordered set of nodes. These objects are frequently required as arguments or given as return values from methods. Note that these objects are all live, meaning that any changes done to them will immediately affect the nodes in the document itself, rather than a copy.

When naming these classes and their methods, DOM merely specifies the outward appearance of an implementation, but leaves the internal specifics up to the developer. Particulars like memory management, data structures, and algorithms are not addressed at all, as those issues may vary among programming languages and the needs of users. This is like describing a key so a locksmith can make a lock that it will fit into; you know the key will unlock the door, but you have no idea how it really works. Specifically, the outward appearance makes it easy to write extensions to legacy modules so they can comply with the standard, but it does not guarantee efficiency or speed.

DOM is a very large standard, and you will find that implementations vary in their level of compliance. To make things worse, the standard has not one, but two (soon to be three) levels. DOM1 has been around since 1998, DOM2 emerged more recently, and they're already working on a third. The main difference between Levels 1 and 2 is that the latter adds support for namespaces. If you aren't concerned about namespaces, then DOM1 should be suitable for your needs.

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