Exploring the Differences Between HTML and XML

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Danielle Richardson Ellis
Danielle Richardson Ellis

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If you're familiar with website design, chances are you've heard of HTML and XML — but do you understand the differences between these two languages?

Differences of HTML vs XML

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Although they might seem similar on the surface, several key distinctions set them apart. In this blog post, we'll explore how HTML and XML differ in terms of their functionality and applications so that you can decide which language is right for your needs.

Introducing HTML and XML

HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, is the most widely used language to create webpages. It consists of elements that tell websites how to display components such as text and images on the screen. HTML supports interactive forms, media files like audio clips, and other content types.

HTML operates on a tag system, meaning that an opening and closing tag identifies each element. For example, the pair <h1>Heading</h1> represents a heading element, and <p>Paragraph</p> represents a paragraph.

XML, or Extensible Markup Language, is a language used to store and transport data. Unlike HTML, the purpose of XML isn’t presentation — it’s organization instead. XML tags are more flexible than HTML tags because they don't have pre-defined meanings; users can define their tags depending on their needs.

With XML, description is the name of the game — for example, a user can include descriptive tags such as <title> or <author> to better structure content. The flexibility of XML makes it easier to store data in relation to one another and more suitable for exchanging information between different systems.

Comparing HTML and XML

HTML and XML are both markup languages, meaning they provide the structure for data. Both use tags to identify elements, which is one of their most common similarities.  Beyond this, though, the two languages serve different purposes and have unique features.

Exploring their Uses – Where are HTML & XML Used Today?

HTML is used for most website designs, from small personal blogs to large corporate sites. With HTML, developers can add elements such as images and buttons to a page, enabling users to interact with web pages and applications. It's also an integral part of mobile and web applications that require a visual interface.

XML is widely used in data management applications such as electronic data interchange (EDI) or healthcare information systems. Developers can use XML to store customer information, and then use the data for product recommendations or other specific uses. It’s also becoming increasingly popular for creating chatbots, which use XML documents to store and exchange data.

HTML and XML don’t have to exist independently – combining them in different ways can create powerful web experiences. For example, you could embed XML content within an HTML page, like in the example below:

See the Pen HTML and XML by HubSpot (@hubspot) on CodePen.

In this example, we've created an HTML page that contains an XML data island. In certain cases, this could reduce the number of HTTP requests made as the XML data is retrieved at the same as the page's resources. 

HTML and XML Limitations 

HTML and XML each have their limitations, which should be considered before choosing one over the other. For example, HTML can’t store data in a structured format the way XML can. Additionally, HTML is limited in exchanging information with different systems.

Ultimately, the language you choose to use depends on your project's needs. HTML might be the best choice if you create a website requiring frequent updates. On the other hand, if your project involves exchanging data between multiple systems, XML is the better option.

If there’s any doubt about which language to use, consider consulting a professional web developer who can advise you on the best course of action.  With their help, you can leverage HTML and XML to create dynamic web experiences that meet your project's needs.

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Topics: HTML

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