XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
by Brian Dunning
article | del.icio.us
seems that, after a couple years of FileMaker, Inc. staunchly
pushing XSLT as a web development technology, a few sprouts might
be taking root.
When FileMaker first announced that their XML support would
become the foundation for their newly preferred web technology,
started work on my XML Master Class book. But, after some research
and talks with other developers, it was clear that virtually
outside of FileMaker, Inc. was even thinking about XSLT as a
technology for building data-driven web sites, let alone using
it. So I dropped the idea, and there the book has sat ever since,
And to this day, XSLT does not appear on the list of the top
100 technologies most searched for by developers (http://sourceforge.net/top/mostactive.php?type=week),
as of this writing. I emailed a sagely PERL developer (and
former Fortune 1000 CTO) to ask his
thoughts about XSLT as a technology for building data-driven
web sites, and here was his learned reply:
that's not what xslt is for.
Which was what I had always thought. But, a quick browse on
Slashdot.org has turned up a few odds and ends. For the first
time, I saw references
to XSLT as a technology for building data driven web sites.
New open source offerings such as StrutsCX (http://sourceforge.net/projects/strutscx/)
promise greater adoption of XSLT among developers who embrace
conventional web architectures and important frameworks such as
Struts. This is a positive sign for XSLT's future, but is it something
I would thrust in the face of a K-12 teacher trying to put the
class FileMaker database on the school's Intranet? Probably not.
O'Reilly even has some books out now (http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/xslt/)
directed toward the general developer community, though they still
come with such disclaimers in the abstract as "Useful as
XSLT is, its complexities can be daunting." Getting the daunt
out of those complexities is the purpose of such books, of course,
and hopefully time will bring us some software tools that make
a book's guidance more practical.
So with this growing validation in the community, is there yet
any advantage to adopting XSLT now as a front end and back end
our FileMaker powered web sites?
I can answer one aspect of that question by noting that XSLT
editors are still in diapers, and still soiling them. Those that
exist, such as XML Spy, are optimized for what XSLT was originally
intended for: back end server communication and data transformation.
There's still no such thing as a "wizard" that might
compare to Lasso Studio, as one example, for walking you through
development of basic web functionality.
Of course, most advanced web developers never touch such tools,
instead preferring text editors to develop the highly customized
code that the wizards don't accommodate. That doesn't do much
for the novice or the casual FileMaker user. Those people are
still out in the cold, as far as easy development environments
So what about those experienced professionals? Is it time for
them to adopt? Perhaps, but XSLT is a substantially different
paradigm from more familiar code-based languages such as PHP,
Lasso, Java, and ASP.NET. Familiarity with conventional coding
practices doesn't necessarily translate into fluency with XSLT.
You will hear varying opinions on this: but in my estimation,
by no means is XSLT something that anyone other than an advanced,
professional web developer should try and tackle (and even then,
they have other far more appropriate tools at their disposal).
A FileMaker developer will realize a better return on the investment
by buying Lasso Studio, which is easily usable by point-and-click
humans, rather than spinning wheels for endless hours in a text
editor trying to make the simplest functions work in XSLT.
Until XSLT appears on Sourceforge's top 100 list (at the very
least), I will stick with my original contention: that adoption
the general community, not just a few shoehorn wielders in the
FileMaker community, is an important component in the viability
of a technology.
certainly not going away, by any stretch. But will it - and should
it - ever become the web developer's tool of choice?