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XML Interview Questions

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The way candidates answer this question may provide insight into their view of XML data. For those who view XML primarily as a way to denote structure for text files, a common answer is to build a full-text search and handle the data similarly to the way Internet portals handle HTML pages. Others consider XML as a standard way of transferring structured data between disparate systems. These candidates often describe some scheme of importing XML into a relational or object database and relying on the database’s engine for searching. Lastly, candidates that have worked with vendors specializing in this area often say that the best way the handle this situation is to use a third party software package optimized for XML data.

Obviously, some important areas of XML technologies were not included in this list — namespaces, XPointer, XLink, and so on — and should be added to the interviewer’s set of questions if applicable to the particular position that the candidate is applying for. However, these questions in conjunction with others to assess soft skills (communication skills, ability to work on teams, leadership ability, etc.) will help determine how well candidates understand the fundamental principles of XML.

Even if candidates have never participated in a project involving this type of architecture, they should recognize it as one of the common uses of XML. Querying a database and then formatting the result set so that it can be validated as an XML document allows developers to translate the data into an HTML table using XSLT rules. Consequently, the format of the resulting HTML table can be modified without changing the database query or application code since the document rendering logic is isolated to the XSLT rules.

There are literally thousands of applications that can benefit from XML technologies. The point of this question is not to have the candidate rattle off a laundry list of projects that they have worked on, but, rather, to allow the candidate to explain the rationale for choosing XML by citing a few real world examples. For instance, one appropriate answer is that XML allows content management systems to store documents independently of their format, which thereby reduces data redundancy. Another answer relates to B2B exchanges or supply chain management systems. In these instances, XML provides a mechanism for multiple companies to exchange data according to an agreed upon set of rules. A third common response involves wireless applications that require WML to render data on hand held devices.

The Document Object Model (DOM) is an interface specification maintained by the W3C DOM Workgroup that defines an application independent mechanism to access, parse, or update XML data. In simple terms it is a hierarchical model that allows developers to manipulate XML documents easily Any developer that has worked extensively with XML should be able to discuss the concept and use of DOM objects freely. Additionally, it is not unreasonable to expect advanced candidates to thoroughly understand its internal workings and be able to explain how DOM differs from an event-based interface like SAX.

The Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) uses XML to define a protocol for the exchange of information in distributed computing environments. SOAP consists of three components: an envelope, a set of encoding rules, and a convention for representing remote procedure calls. Unless experience with SOAP is a direct requirement for the open position, knowing the specifics of the protocol, or how it can be used in conjunction with HTTP, is not as important as identifying it as a natural application of XML.

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