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Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a set of rules for encoding documents in machine-readable form. It is defined in the XML 1.0 Specification produced by the W3C, and several other related specifications, all gratis open standards.
XML's design goals emphasize simplicity, generality, and usability over the Internet. It is a textual data format with strong support via Unicode for the languages of the world. Although the design of XML focuses on documents, it is widely used for the representation of arbitrary data structures, for example in web services.
Many application programming interfaces (APIs) have been developed that software developers use to process XML data, and several schema systems exist to aid in the definition of XML-based languages.
As of 2009, hundreds of XML-based languages have been developed, including RSS, Atom, SOAP, and XHTML. XML-based formats have become the default for most office-productivity tools, including Microsoft Office (Office Open XML), OpenOffice.org (OpenDocument), and Apple's iWork.
XML documents consist entirely of characters from the Unicode repertoire. Except for a small number of specifically excluded control characters, any character defined by Unicode may appear within the content of an XML document. The selection of characters which may appear within markup is somewhat more limited but still large.
XML includes facilities for identifying the encoding of the Unicode characters which make up the document, and for expressing characters which, for one reason or another, cannot be used directly.
Other protocols and interfaces