XML stands for Extensible Markup Language. The development of XML started somewhere around the 1996 timeframe. In 1998, the W3C made it a official standard. XML’s derived directly from SGML, another document language from the 80’s (standardized in 1986). The developers of XML took parts of SGML together with their experience from HTML and create a language which is not less powerful or capable, but a lot more structured and easier in use. Where SGML was primarily used for technical documentation and less for formating data, it’s the other way around with XML.
If you open a XML document in a text editor, you will notice that it looks a lot like HTML. At first glance you will probably notice that the first tag is XML, instead of HTML, but other than that, the tags are different and looks familiar. However, if you open the same XML document with a browser, you will see that it looks just like what you just saw when you opened it with a text editor. And this is where the journey begins.
HTML has tags to define and format font-type, -size, tables, frames and colors. XML by its very nature knows nothing about those tags. XML has to rely on an external source that tells the browser how to format the XML tags.
You might get that feeling that you have heard about that before, and if you are “in love” with Cascading Stylesheets (CSS)(ver. 1 & 2), you have. CSS is a helper to HTML and XML in some ways. In HTML usage, Stylesheets are referenced in the source code of your website to format the output without them, HTML would look a lot less pretty. And CSS are one way to format XML output as well.
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood
The other method is utilizing XSL-files. XSL means Extensible Stylesheet Language. The components within XSL is made of are called XSLT – XSL-Transformations – and XSL-FO – XSL-Formating Objects. Together they perform two very important tasks. Number one being the formating
(XSL-FO) and number two the converting, or the (XSL)tranformation, of XML documents over to HTML, XML-FO (of course), TeX and even PDF.
United we stand?
HTML has been responsible for a couple of my nervous breakdowns while working as an HTML monkey. The phrase, “It works with Internet Explorer, but it doesn’t work with Netscape!”, has been present for some time in my world or any webmaster’s world each day. Seven out of ten times that I am asked to fix and clean up some source code, it is because of a cross-browser issue. In recent years Opera has added to the list that no longer just contains Netscape.
To find out how Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator/Mozilla, Opera and Konqueror (Linux only) support XML, stay tuned, as it will be covered in another tutorial soon.
If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, feel free to post them on the forums.
As an IIS administrator it sometimes gets downright annoying having to fend off all the insults from Apache admins I meet claming innate server superiority. Generally the discussion about Web administration starts first with all the various security holes plaguing IIS and the negative press the platform garnered over the last year. Then it invariably moves to a discussion about how Netcraft and other stats sites show Apache as the dominant server on the Web, or how a certain big site uses Apache, or how there are so many cool modules to add to Apache. Pointing out that scads of non-identified corporate in-house servers run IIS, or that it too is a free server (since it comes with the operating system), or that there are in fact plenty of cool add-ons for IIS (including many that provide source code) — all this does little to dissuade these server chauvinists of their opinion. Rather than whining about rude Apache admins, however, I thought it would be a more useful response simply to write down some of the ways I’ve found of improving IIS. So without further delay here are my top ten tips for making the most of your IIS.
Tip 10: Customize Your Error Pages
Although this is quite simple to do, few people seem to take advantage of it. Just select the “Custom Errors” tab in MMC and map each error, such as 404, to the appropriate HTML or ASP template. Full details can be found here. If you want an even easier solution — or if you want to let developers handle the mapping without giving them access to the MMC — use a product like CustomError.
Tip 9: Dive into the MetaBase
If you think Apache is powerful because it has a config file, then take a look at the MetaBase. You can do just about anything you want with IIS by editing the MetaBase. For example, you can create virtual directories and servers; stop, start and pause Web sites; and create, delete, enable and disable applications.
Microsoft provides a GUI utility called MetaEdit, somewhat similar to RegEdit, to help you read from and write to the MetaBase. Download the latest version here. But to really impress those UNIX admins — and to take full advantage of the MetaBase by learning how to manipulate it programmatically — you’ll want to try out the command-line interface, officially called the IIS Administration Script Utility. Its short name is adsutil.vbs and you’ll find it in C:\inetpub\adminscripts, or else in %SystemRoot%\system32\inetsrv\adminsamples, together with a host of other useful administrative scripts.
A word of caution though: Just like Apache conf files, the MetaBase is pretty crucial to the functioning of your Web server, so don’t ruin it. Back it up first.
Tip 8: Add spell checking to your URLs
Apache folks always brag about cool little tricks that Apache is capable of — especially because of the wealth of modules that can extend the server’s basic functionality. One of the coolest of these is the ability to fix URL typos using a module called mod_speling. Well, thanks to the folks at Port80 Software, it now appears that IIS admins can do this trick too, using an ISAPI filter called URLSpellCheck. You can check it out right on their site, by trying URLs like www.urlspellcheck.com/fak.htm, www.urlspellcheck.com/faq1.htm — or any other simple typo you care to make.
Tip 7: Rewrite your URLs
Cleaning your URLs has all sorts of benefits — it can improve the security of your site, ease migration woes, and provide an extra layer of abstraction to your Web applications. Moving from a ColdFusion to an ASP based site, for example, is no big deal if you can remap the URLs. Apache users have long bragged about the huge power of mod_rewrite — the standard Apache module for URL rewriting. Well, there are now literally a dozen versions of this type of product for IIS — many of them quite a bit easier to use than mod_rewrite, which tends to presume familiarity with regular expression arcana. Check out, for example, IIS ReWrite or ISAPI ReWrite. So brag no more, Apache partisans.
Tip 6: Add browser detection
Tip 5: Gzip site content
Browsers can handle Gzipped and deflated content and decompress it on the fly. While IIS 5 had a gzip feature built-in, it is pretty much broken. Enter products like Pipeboost to give us better functionality — similar to what Apache users have enjoyed with mod_gzip. Don’t waste your bandwidth — even Google encodes its content, and their pages are tiny.
Tip 4: Cache your content
While I’m on the topic of improving performance, remember to make your site cache friendly. You can set expiration headers for different files or directories right from the MMC. Just right click on an item via the IIS MMC, flip to the “HTTP Headers” tab, and away you go. If you want to set cache control headers programmatically — or even better, let your site developers do it — use something like CacheRight. If you want to go further and add reverse proxy caching, particularly for generated content, use a product like XCache — which also throws in compression.
It might involve more time and expense to take full advantage of caching, but when you watch your logs shrink because they don’t contain tons of pointless 304 responses, and your bandwidth consumption drop like a stone, even while your total page views increase over the same period, you’ll start to understand why this particular tip was so important. Cache friendly sites are quite rare, but there is plenty of information available online about the enormous benefits to be had by doing it right: Check out Brian Davidson’s page, this nifty tutorial from Mark Nottingham, and what AOL has to say on the subject.
Tip 3: Tune your server
Tuning IIS is no small topic — whole books and courses are dedicated to it. But some good basic help is available online, such as this piece from IIS guru Brett Hill, or this Knowledge Base article from Microsoft itself. However, if you don’t feel like getting your hands dirty — or can’t afford the time and expense of turning yourself into an expert — take a look at XTune, from the makers of XCache. It’s performance tuning wizards step you through the process of tuning your IIS environment, making expert recommendations along the way.
Tip 2: Secure your server with simple fixes
Sure people are going to attack sites, but you don’t have to be a sitting duck if you’re willing to make even a small effort. First off, don’t advertise the fact that you are running IIS by showing your HTTP server header. Remove or replace it using something like ServerMask — probably the best twenty-five bucks you’ll ever spend. You can go farther than this by removing unnecessary file extensions to further camouflage your server environment, and scanning request URLs for signs of exploits. There are number of commercial products that do user input scanning, and Microsoft offers a free tool called URLScan which does the job. URLScan runs in conjunction with IISLockDown, a standard security package which should probably be installed on every IIS server on the planet. These are simple fixes that could pay off big, so do them now.
Tip 1: Patch, patch, patch!
Okay, we in the IIS world do have to patch our systems and make hotfixes. However, as a former Solaris admin I had to do the same thing there, so I am not sure why this is a big surprise. You really need to keep up with the patches, Microsoft is of course the definitive source, but if you can also use the highly-regarded www.cert.org. Simply search on “IIS”.
Well there you have it: 10 tips for IIS admins to improve their servers. Some of the tips might become obsolete once IIS 6 is gold, but, for now at least, W2K and NT IIS admins should apply a few of these today and sleep a little better at night.
Matt Foley is a former Solaris sysadmin who was turned to the “darkside” and is now works for a large southern California hosting and Web agency. He quite likes Windows now in spite of himself.
A couple of weeks ago, I ran into a problem. I found this very nice looking color on a site while I surfed the net, and decided to use it on a graphic. After copying the hexadecimal from the source code, I didn’t know how get the RGB values for Photoshop from it. I thought, easy task, there should be a program for it, but to my very surprise I couldn’t find any. This small tutorial requires the Microsoft Calculator (If you don’t have it, install it over Control Panel/Software/Windows Setup/.).
First of all, I needed to switch the Calculator in “Scientific” mode, because otherwise there is no key for the hexadecimals. To switch, I just had to go to “View” and click on “Scientific”. After I did that, I had to make sure before I started to convert, that “Hex” was checked on the calculator.
The colors we use on the web, come in a certain format. It always looks something like: FF000A. In order to be able to convert it, I split it up in 3 parts: “FF”, “00” and “0A”. From RGB we know, that every color has certain Red, Green and Blue values. Hexadecimals are not different from that. It has Red, Green and Blue values (In order.). In order to convert the Red value, I put “FF” in the Calculator (Make sure that “Hex” is check first.) and clicked at “Dec”, which stands for decimal. If you did it, you should see a “255” appear in your calculator.
The next would be “00”, but this one is special, zero is always zero, it doesn’t matter how many zeros are there. That is why I dropped the zeros, and continue to “0A”. This time I just entered the “A” in the calculator and click at “Dec” again, and got a “10”. If the hex would have been “A0”, I would have entered “A0” in the calculator, but when the zero is first, you do not need to do it. It is like if you enter 01 it is still 1.
“FF000A” in decimals (and RGB values) is 255, 0 and 10. Isn’t that neat and easy way, and it is completely free too. Yeah!
Have fun converting, and just in case: “Yes it works backwards too.” (RGB to Hex).
Most designers wonder about one thing about their graphics. Should you use GIF or JPEG? Well, let us help you answer that question.
First of all, Compuserve’s 8-bit GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) supports 256 colors and has good compression but still has holds excellent picture quality. However, just because a GIF is 256 colors does not mean that it conforms to the 216 Internet color pallete. That pallete can be found here. The 24-bit JPEG (Joint Picture Experts Group) supports all 16.7 million colors, and has a greater compression ratio. However, the tradeoff is that JPEG doesn’t hold its picture quality as good as GIF.
Also, it depends on what kind of graphic you want to make. For regular pictures and graphics that have long stretches of the same color, JPEG is not the format to use. Here’s an example. The graphic below was created with only 73 colors:
See the blemishes all over the JPEG, and see how clean the GIF is? But, if you’re scanning in a lot of photographs and multicolored graphics, then JPEG might be a better choice. Here’s another example. The graphic in this example was created with 4984 unique colors.
As you can see, this time the blemishes aren’t as visible in the JPEG because of the constant color variations. However, when you look at the file sizes, you can see that although the JPEG has more colors, it still can keep file size down. Conclusions:
If you’re concerned with how your picture will look, and its under 256 colors, use GIF.
If the picture is more than 256 colors try GIF first, but if it still looks grainy, use JPEG.