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Chapter 18. Document Object Model (DOM)

The Document Object Model (DOM) defines an API for accessing and manipulating XML documents as tree structures. The DOM is defined by a set of W3C Recommendations that describe a programming language-neutral object model used to store hierarchical documents in memory. The most recently completed standard, DOM Level 2, provides models for manipulating XML documents, HTML documents, and CSS stylesheets. This chapter covers only the parts of the DOM that are applicable to processing XML documents.

This chapter is based on the Document Object Model (DOM) Level 2 Core Specification, which was released on November 13, 2000. This version of the recommendation, along with any errata that have been reported, is available on the W3C web site (http://www.w3.org/TR/DOM-Level-2-Core/ ). At the time of this writing, the latest DOM Level 3 Core working draft had been released on January 14, 2002. The working draft corrects omissions and deficiencies in the Level 2 recommendation and includes some basic support for integrating validation into DOM API document manipulation. Additional modules of DOM Level 3 add support for content models (DTDs and schemas), as well as support for loading and saving XML into and out of DOM.

18.1. DOM Foundations

At its heart, the DOM is a set of APIs. Various DOM implementations use their own objects to support the interfaces defined in the DOM specification. The DOM interfaces themselves are specified in modules, making it possible for implementations to support parts of the DOM without having to support all of it. XML parsers, for instance, aren't required to provide support for the HTML-specific parts of the DOM, and modularization has provided a simple mechanism that allows software developers to identify which parts of the DOM are supported or are not supported by a particular implementation.

Successive versions of the DOM are defined as levels. The Level 1 DOM was the W3C's first release, and it focused on working with HTML and XML in a browser context. Effectively, it supported dynamic HTML and provided a base for XML document processing. Because it expected documents to exist already in a browser context, Level 1 only described an object structure and how to manipulate it, not how to load a document into that structure or reserialize a document from that structure.

Subsequent levels have added functionality. DOM Level 2, which was published as a set of specifications, one per module, includes updates for the Core and HTML modules of Level 1, as well as new modules for Views, Events, Style, Traversal, and Range. DOM Level 3 will add Abstract Schemas, Load, Save, XPath, and updates to the Core and Events modules.

Other W3C specifications have defined extensions to the DOM particular to their own needs. Mathematical Markup Language (MathML), Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), and SMIL Animation have all defined DOMs that provide access to details of their own vocabularies.

TIP: For a complete picture of the requirements that all of these modules are supposed to address, see http://www.w3.org/TR/DOM-Requirements. For a listing of all of the DOM specifications, including those still in progress, see http://www.w3.org/DOM/DOMTR. The DOM has also been included by reference in a variety of other specifications, notably the Java API for XML Processing (JAXP).

Developers using the DOM for XML processing typically rely on the Core module as the foundation for their work.

18.1.1. DOM Notation

The Document Object Model is intended to be operating system- and language- neutral; therefore, all DOM interfaces are specified using the Interface Description Language (IDL) notation defined by the Object Management Group organization (http://www.omg.org). To conform to the language of the specification, this chapter and Chapter 24 will use IDL terminology when discussing interface specifics. For example, the word "attribute" in IDL-speak refers to what would be a member variable in C++. This should not be confused with the XML term "attribute," which is a name-value pair that appears within an element's start-tag.

The language-independent IDL interface must then be translated (according to the rules set down by the OMG) into a specific language binding. Take the following interface, for example:

interface NodeList {
  Node               item(in unsigned long index);
  readonly attribute unsigned long    length;

This interface would be expressed as a Java interface like this:

package org.w3c.dom;
   public interface NodeList {
       public Node item(int index);
       public int getLength( );

The same interface would be described for ECMAScript this way:

Object NodeList
   The NodeList object has the following properties:
       This read-only property is of type Number.
   The NodeList object has the following methods:
       This method returns a Node object.
       The index parameter is of type Number.
       Note: This object can also be dereferenced using square
       bracket notation (e.g. obj[1]). Dereferencing with an
       integer index is equivalent to invoking the item method
       with that index.

The tables in this chapter represent the information DOM presents as IDL conveying both the available features and when they became available. DOM implementations vary in their implementation of these features--be sure to check the document of the implementation you choose for details on how precisely it supports the DOM interfaces.

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