10.5 Standard APIs

Nowadays, all programs are written as layered components, where libraries provide functions or objects to take care of routine tasks like parsing and writing XML. An application programming interface (API) is a way of delegating routine work to a dedicated component. An automobile's human interface is a good example. It is essentially the same from car to car, with an ignition, steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, and so on. You do not have to know anything about the engine itself, such as how many cylinders are firing and in what order. Just as you never have to fire the spark plugs manually, you should never have to write your own XML parser, unless you want to do something really unusual.

Linking to another developer's parser is a good idea not just because it saves you work, but because it turns the parser into a commodity. By that I mean you can unplug one parser and plug in another. Or you could unplug a parser and plug in a driver from a database or some real-time source. XML does not have to come from files, after all. None of this would be possible, however, without the use of standard APIs.

This chapter will demonstrate a few examples of this. For event streams, the standard is SAX. DOM is a standard for object tree interfaces. Most programming languages have a few conforming implementations of each. When possible, it is always a good idea to use SAX or DOM.