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Chapter 7. Creating Complex Datatypes

We have seen how to create simple datatypes that can be applied to attributes or simple type elements. It's now time to learn how complex types can be created.

7.1. Simple Versus Complex Types

Before we start diving into complex types, I would like to reiterate the fundamental difference between simple and complex types. The simple datatypes that we saw in the previous chapters describe the content of a text node or an attribute value. They are completely independent of the other nodes and, therefore, independent of the markup. The same datatype system can be used to describe the content of any format, even if it is not XML but an RDBMS (Relational DataBase Management System), CSV (Comma Separated Values), or a fixed-sized text format.

The complex types discussed in this chapter (and, more specifically, the complex content models) are, on the contrary, a description of the markup structure. They use simple datatypes to describe their leaf element nodes and attribute values, but have no other links with simple datatypes. Keep this in mind, especially when we study the derivation methods for complex datatypes. Even though the names (and elements) are sometimes the same as those we've seen for simple datatypes, their meaning, usage, and content models are different. When we discuss the xs:restriction element, for instance, you will see that this element has a different meaning and content model for simple types than it does for complex types. (In fact, this element even has two different content models for complex types, depending on its context.) Among the different content models composing complex types, the simple and mixed content models are special cases in which elements may have text nodes.

There is a kind of no man's land between simple types and complex contents, where the distinction between data and markup (or datatypes and structures) becomes fuzzier for W3C XML Schema. This ambiguity is a frequent source of confusion and complexity for human readers, but also for W3C XML Schema editing software and reference guides.

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