SCDJWS Study Guide: XML Namespace

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Naming Namespaces

XML namespace identifiers must follow the generic syntax for Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) defined by RFC 2396. Just like when you define a namespace in a programming language like C++, there are restrictions on the characters that may be used in the name.

A (Uniform Resource Identifier) URI is defined as a compact string of characters for identifying an abstract or physical resource. In most situations, URI references are used to identify physical resources (Web pages, files to download, and so on), but in the case of XML namespaces, URI references identify abstract resources, specifically, namespaces.

According to the URI specification, there are two general forms of URI: Uniform Resource Locators(URL) and Uniform Resource Names (URN). Either type of URI may be used as a namespace identifier. Here is an example of two URLs that could be used as namespace identifiers:

And here are a few examples of URNs that could also be used as namespace identifiers:


The most important attribute of a namespace identifier is that it is unique. Authors can guarantee the uniqueness of a URL by registering a domain name with an Internet naming authority. Then it's the author's responsibility to make sure that all strings used after the domain name are unique.

URNs work the same way. The following is basic URN syntax:

urn:<namespace identifier>:<namespace specific string>

To guarantee the uniqueness of a URN, authors must again register their namespace identifier with an Internet naming authority. The author is then responsible for following a scheme for generating unique namespace-specific strings.

Organizations defining XML namespaces should develop a consistent scheme for creating new namespace names. The W3C, for example, is constantly defining new XML namespaces. They use a fairly intuitive heuristic that uses the current year and the name of the working group.

By definition, a URI is unique, so there is never a need to layer additional namespaces on top of XML namespace identifiers. As long as the namespace author guarantees the uniqueness of the namespace identifier, it's always possible to uniquely identify something in XML with only a single namespace qualifier. This greatly simplifies the job of working with namespaces in XML.

XML processors treat namespace identifiers as opaque strings and never as resolvable resources. Let me repeat: namespace identifiers are just strings! Two namespace identifiers are considered identical when they are exactly the same, character for character.

In the end, it really doesn't matter which type of URI reference you choose to use. Many developers like to use URLs because they are easier to read and remember, while others prefer URNs because of their flexibility. Whichever type you choose, make sure you know how to ensure uniqueness.

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