Oracle unveils secret XML project

Jan Stafford

At Oracle OpenWorld 2001 in San Francisco today, Oracle Corp. offered a sneak preview of a new "top-secret" XML database support initiative. Code-named Project XDB, the initiative is creating technologies that will enable native storage, indexing, querying, and manipulation of XML content in a SQL database.

Project XDB will make it possible to store a whole XML document and maintain its integrity, and do complex queries on that document just as you would on any data in a relational database, said George Demarest, Oracle's Internet platform senior product marketing manager. This has been an impossible dream for many SQL database managers.

In an interview with searchWindowsManageability during Oracle's annual OpenWorld conference, Demarest explained the benefits of bringing XML into the SQL database fold.

sWM: What is the primary goal of Project XDB?

XDB will make Oracle 9i as scalable, secure, and reliable with XML data as it is with transactional data. It will allow you to do SQL operations on XML data and do XML operations on SQL data. It raises XML to the level of any other Oracle data type. This will enable Oracle 9i to handle all files -- including audio, video, and so on -- needed to become the great corporate repository for Web content, or for XML data.

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sWM: Doesn't Oracle 9i already have some XML capabilities?

When 9i was introduced in June, it offered XML database support in terms of native XML storage capabilities. 9i stores XML natively by introducing SMLType, an object data type. It offers navigational access and search for XML documents.

sWM: So, what's missing now in XML capabilities in relational databases?

XML is a very versatile, flexible way to represent data in messaging. The challenge is that when you want to store XML data in the database you want to retain the structure of the document. The problem is that images in XML can be very rich. So, you store the entire, very rich, XML document -- as databases have done in the past -- as large objects. Storing the XML document as a large object keeps it intact, but there's no way you can index the content. You can just have the document stored. You can't do good queries on it.

The other way to store an XML document is to take the document and deconstruct it into relational tables. That way, you can run your queries on it, but you lose your structure of the document. One of the main reasons you want your document in XML is for the structure, so this isn't a great option.

sWM: What is the alternative offered by Project XDB?

XDB provides capabilities that allow you to maintain the fidelity of the document while enabling you to run standard SQL queries and other standard XML queries against that document. This will make it possible for all the programmers who know SQL to access data in an XML document using the tools they know.

sWM: Why is it important today to expand XML capabilities in relational databases?

The industry is transforming itself in terms of transactional data. A huge majority of our data today resides in relational tables. But, use of XML content is growing and will continue to grow. Now, there are XML databases popping up. But the real need out there is to be able to view both the XML data and the SQL data and to be able to make them interoperate with each other. The core mission of Project XDB is to make XML data appear to SQL data and allow applications, users and tools to freely interact with both types of data using the same APIs, the same XML constructs, and so on.


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