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Subject: Re: Datatype section

Phil Goatly reminds us in that "any XML message only contains text
data," which "is why, for example, EDIFACT distinguishes only between
alphanumeric (fixed & variable length) and Numeric (fixed & variable
length).  It makes no assumptions as to how this data will be
'converted' on a host machine, or how the developer of a piece of end
user software will implement these 'data types'." See

Certainly data types will be represented on different machine
architectures in various ways, but we can make assumptions on their
behaviors.  If Integers, Floating points and character strings did not
behave as we would expect them to, no data interchange would be possible
between two vendors' environments.

It's true that EDIFACT relies on two simple data types, alphanumeric and
numeric (and the rare alphabetic).  But business semantics dictate that
more complicated structure lies within, based on context.  For example,
EDIFACT numerics cover any of the numeric formats described by ISO
6093:1985 Representation of numerical values in character strings for
information interchange. These would include the familiar Fortran
formats for integer, decimal and floating point (with the "E" exponent).
See EDIFACT Syntax Version 4, in ISO 9735-1: Syntax rules common to all
parts, together with syntax service directories for each of the parts,
at http://www.gefeg.com/jswg/s4/data/9735-1.pdf.

XML Schema Part 2: Datatypes, whence Betty Harvey derived her Datatypes
document, provides a more hardware "lookish" form of datatypes, and one
built on a 32-bit word at that; otherwise how could the maxInclusive of
the "long" type end up being an oddball 9223372036854775807?  I'm
assuming that this big number is what fits in a doubleword, something
like 2**63, with one bit left over for the sign.  It gets even more
hardware'ish when talking about 'float' and 'double' datatypes, by
referring to the IEEE 754-1985 Standard for Binary Floating-Point
Arithmetic, which has nothing to do with representing floating point
numbers in text, as does ISO 6093.

But now that we have Schema as a base for ebXML work, we can make
explicit what was implicit in EDIFACT.  There are lots of things in
business documents that we think of only in whole number terms - Line
Item numbers, Number of originals or copies of a document required,
Consignment load sequence number, Number of stages, No. of Significant
digits, Number of packages, Total number of items, and Number of stops,
inter alia. These can be represented with the unsignedLong, unsignedInt,
unsignedShort and unsignedByte datatypes, depending on reasonable
expectations;  for example, Line numbers may get real big, and
unsignedLong will probably be useful.  Number of originals or copies of
a document required, on the other hand, would probably fit in an
unsignedByte (which could hold up to 256).  The decimal datatype would
be suitable for where simple decimal numbers will suffice (e.g.,
currency conversion rates, price per unit, etc.). Prescribing floats or
doubles in a core component would probably only rarely be done, say for
radioactivity measurements in Becquerels.

EDIFACT had to lump all sorts of formats for date and time in an
alphanumeric, with the formatting context described by an associated
qualifier.  The various timeInstant, date, time, and timePeriod  schema
datatypes can now be can be used to restrict the allowable values, with
violations detectable at the syntax analysis (parsing) stage.  Schema
pattern components can use regular expressions to enforce syntax
checking, for example in product codes and invoice numbers; e.g., a
product code might always be "AB" followed by two numerics, a dash, and
three numerics.

William J. Kammerer
4950 Blazer Memorial Pkwy.
Dublin, OH USA 43017-3305
+1 614 791-1600

Visit FORESIGHT Corp. at http://www.foresightcorp.com/
"Commerce for a New World"

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