New XML Standard for Super-Fast, Lightweight Applications Announced by W3C

From embedded sensors to high-frequency stock trading to everyday mobile Web applications, the race is on for technologists to build the most efficient systems for quickly streaming large sets of data from one device to another. Sometimes the language that data is communicated in can come with high costs in terms of efficiency. Today the Web’s most venerable standards body, the Word Wide Web Consortium (W3C), announced official support for a new standardized data format for super-efficient transmission of data.

Efficient XML Interchange, or EXI, is described as a very compact representation of information in XML (extensible markup language). EXI is so efficient that the W3C says it has been found to improve up to 100-fold the performance, network efficiency and power consumption of applications that use XML, including but not limited to consumer mobile apps. It is particularly useful on devices with low memory or low bandwidth.

A Historic Agreement

EXI has been used in commercial contexts for more than seven years, but today’s adoption of the format as a formal standard is the culmination years of collaboration between the W3C and 23 different corporate and academic institutions from around the world, including Oracle, IBM, Adobe, Chevron, Stanford University, Boeing, Cannon, France Telecom, Intel, the Web3D Consortium and others.

It’s an amazing world where the transmission of large sets of data is costly enough relative to their creation, storage and processing (the price of those has fallen so much already) that industries have a strong incentive to work together to use standards to reduce those data transmission costs substantially.

The creation of a new data transmission standard format is an event of historic importance; it’s like a new trans-continental railroad network has been unveiled, but in this case with standard rail-widths primed to make the delivery of all kinds of goods up to 100 times faster and cheaper than ever before. Florida oranges are going to make it to Minnesota for the first time, you might say, but in this century that will be a metaphor for massive sets of real-time data jumping from device to device around the world, enabling the creation and delivery of previously unimaginable products and services made of that data.

Foundational Platforms vs. Market Fragmentation

XML is a relatively open-ended data format that supports the creation of new fields of data, or namespaces, in a standardized and predictable format. The W3C says XML standards are “omnipresent in enterprise computing and are a part of the foundation of the Web.” RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is one of many forms of XML, as is XLRB, the XML data format for business data. The standardization of these formats allows data to be shared easily across different applications and devices, without the challenges of translating data from proprietary formats.

The W3C says it’s been clear for years that in low memory or low bandwidth situations, basic XML carried too high a cost for data transmission. “Market demand led to the proliferation of application-specific approaches,” the Consortium said today, “but most were neither efficient nor general enough, and they sacrificed the interoperability that makes XML so valuable.”

To adress that fragmentation of standards, the W3C brought together a wide variety of organizations seeking advances upon XML in industries ranging from smart electrical grids to defense technology to consumer devices.

The editing of the EXI standard has been lead by John Schneier, CTO of a company called AgileDelta, which has been offering EXI-based products for seven years. “They’ve achieved over 100-fold performance improvements and expanded their data networks to high speed aircraft, automobiles, mobile devices and sensor networks,” Schneier says of technologies leveraging EXI. “At the same time, they’ve achieved dramatic cost savings by using open Web standards and off-the-shelf products in place of the custom protocols, gateways and applications previously required by these applications.”

You can learn more about EXI at the W3C’s website.

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