Whatever Happened to XLink?

AT the W3C UK and Ireland launch meeting yesterday I had a chat with Nick Gibbens about W3C standards which had failed to take on.  Nick reminded me about XLink – a rich mechanism for providing hyperlinks, much better than the simple src“> mechanism which was developed when the Web was launched. But what happened to XLink?   The User Help Guide tells us:

Plans for XLink were announced in the early days of XML. There were great expectations for it. The limitations of HTML links were to give way to a whole new world of possibilities, from customizable navigation views to third-party collections of documents, a document soup if you will.

The recommendation is divided into two levels: simple and extended. Simple covers the traditional, inline hypertext links that we are all familiar with. Extended links are an exciting new mechanism, describing links between resources from either point, or even a third document.

Now it is two years after XLink reached recommendation status (it took four years just to reach that point), and hardly any implementations are available. None of the web browsers available today offer extended link support, and only a few support even simple links.

Why XLink failed to capture the imagination of developers and XML users may have to do with the popularity of embedded programming languages like JavaScript and Java. While XLink was slowly wending its way through the standards process, browser vendors quickly added support for various coding platforms to enable all kinds of stunts, including many of the problems XLink was meant to solve.

Had XLink appeared sooner, its chances for success might well have been better, and I suspect it would have saved a lot of headaches for web site developers. All programming languages (yes, even Java) are platform-dependent solutions. They don’t always work as expected, and they aren’t well suited to archiving information for a long period of time.

Perhaps XLink is an example of when the standards process does not work as advertised. Instead of inspiring developers to adopt a best practice, all it managed to inspire was a collective yawn. Whether it’s because the recommendation fails to address the problem adequately, or it clashes with the marketing plans of commercial developers, or the new functionality does not justify the effort to implement it, these things do happen.

As mentioned on the W3Schools tutorial:

The browser support for XLink and XPointer is minimal.

There is some XLink support in Mozilla 0.98+ and Internet Explorer 6.0+. Earlier versions of these browsers have no XLinks support at all!

It should also be noted that there is very little discussion on the W3C’s www-xml-linking-comments mailing list. A dead standard, I wonder, with discussions about withdrawal of support in Mozilla?   Or since SVG makes use of XLink could there be a revival?