Everything You Need to Know About XML Documents



What are XML documents? How does one open, use, and work with them? Well, there’s an answer to each of those questions, and you’re in the right place to find them.

In premise, XML is an Extensible Markup Language format. It’s a plain text document that does not really do anything, but that’s only partially true. 

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about XML documents. 

What Are XML Documents?

As mentioned earlier, XML is an Extensible Markup Language format file. It’s a plain text document that has no purpose beyond describing the storage, structure, and movement of data.

It’s easy to comprehend when you compare it against another popular markup language, such as HTML. HTML is used to encode web sites, and it uses a pre-defined set of symbols that describe the content, specifically the format of it on the page. 

For instance, the following HTML code uses stages to make some of the words italic and some bold

This is <b>bold</b> and this is <i>italic</i>. 

The thing that is different about XML is the fact that it’s extensible. XML does not have a defined set of symbols. Instead, XML allows the user to develop their own symbols to describe data.

HTML focuses on the aesthetic of content, whereas XML is concentrated on data-description to store data. XML is often employed for the use of other document formats. Here are some you might be able to recognize:

  1. Microsoft.NET
  2. Microsoft Office
  3. ATOM
  4. RSS
  5. Excel
  6. Powerpoint 

So in premise, if you have an XML, it does not specifically outline what app it’s intended to be used with.

How to Open/Interact With An XML File?

There are so many programs that open XML documents, even your web browser is probably capable of it. Some common free XML editors are XML Notepad and Notepad++.

Adobe Dreamweaver and EditiX are also useful, but they only offer a trial version. Visual Studio Code can handle XML files quite easily.

Just because you can open an XML document and see it, it does not mean it will do something. Lots of various programs use XML to store their data, but actually using XML for a purpose requires that you know what particular program the file is storing data for.

For instance, the XML document is used for MusicXML, an XML sheet music format. You can most definitely open it in a text editor to see what’s inside, but it’s only useful in an application that can interpret music sheet data.

Since XML is text-based, any text editor, even regular Notepad can properly display and edit the contents of the document. The dedicated editors are better for editing only because they offer more features sand understand the true structure. A standard text editor isn’t as easy to use.

Video project files that use XML can be opened with the software they are intended for. If still cannot open your file, ensure that you are not confusing your XML with another format, such as XMF, ML, or XMP.

You can also choose to convert your document with an XML to Word software, which will allow you to manipulate the content of the file with Microsoft Word in full capacity.

Text Editor for Regular XML Editing

Since XML are only text, you can open them with any text editor. It might be okay to use Notepad t open them up and take a look, but there are better tools. 

In any case, right-click the XML document and choose the Open With the selection in the menu, then click on Notepad when applicable.

This is using Windows for example, but the same holds true for any other operating system. You can do the same on Mac without downloading any special software or applications.

The file will open, but you will most likely see that it has lost lots of the formatting, and it crams the entire content into two lines of the Notepad. This can make editing quite difficult.

You’re much better off with Notepad++, it is completely free and it highlights syntax and formats the XML in the way that it is intended to be seen.

Web Browser for XML

If you simply want to view your XML files, you can just use the same browser you are reading this article from. And in fact, your default browser is probably the default software for opening XML when double-clicking it. 

If that does not work, you can right-click the document to find options, and select your browser. When the file opens, you should be able to see some structured data that is legible. It’s not pretty because of the sample color-coding, but it’s better than what you will see with Notepad.

Some browsers are better than others for the purpose of opening XML files. For instance, Chrome is better than IE, simply because the user interface is different. Also, Chrome has extensions which means you can download a full-scale editor right into your browser and open XML files in that manner.

XML Reviewed

Now that you know what XML documents are, and how to interact with them, you are well on your way to view and edit your own. As long as you make sure that the format is .XML and not something else, you should be able to follow the advice in this article.

If you’re interested in similar articles, feel free to check out the rest of our tech-related articles on the sidebar.

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