EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) pre-dates XML by several years; people started using the term EDI to describe the transfer of data, typically across multiple companies, often using VANs (Value Added Networks) or the Internet. Many standards bodies have been creating EDI standards in the past several years; some of the most popular EDI standards in active use today include X12, HL7, EDIFACT, IATA.
So how is XML related to all this? Since the start of XML's adoption in the late 90's, one of XML's primary applications was in handling B2B or even B2C data interchange. The benefits compared to EDI were obvious, numerous, and embedded in the very nature of XML: human readable, easily extensible, easy to validate (well, after XML Schema saw the light, at least), easily parsed using off-the-shelf components, and easily accessed through standard interfaces like DOM, Sax, and StAX. None of these features applies to the EDI standards, as anyone dealing with EDI knows very well. So, there is no point in worrying about EDI standards; we can just use XML and rely on powerful XML tools like DataDirect XQuery to create and manipulate messages used for data interchange across companies, right? Wrong.
It is true that "the world" is moving in the direction of using XML more and more to deal with data interchange. But it's also true that there are so many existing critical applications based on EDI standards, in so many different industry verticals (health, airlines, and insurance, to name but a few), that EDI is not going away anytime soon.
As you can imagine, the contemporaneous existence of two strong data interchange formats creates another problem: you are company A, and you deal with company B, which "speaks" only EDI, and with company C, which has recently upgraded all its systems which now "speak" only XML... (I wish I were making up this scenario for illustrative purposes, but I am not.) You must become bilingual, speaking and understanding both EDI and XML. Many companies try to address that problem creating ad-hoc code that knows how to deal with EDI and XML, and the many variants that various partner companies may be using in their EDI approach; but that's far from an optimal approach, as developing and testing applications becomes a nightmare, and handling changes is a big challenge.
That's exactly where a product like Progress® DataDirect® XML Converters can help. Part of the Progress® DataDirect® Data Integration Suite, XML Converters are streaming-based Java and .NET components that translate between EDI and XML. This means that if your company (company A) receives EDI messages from a partner company (company B), you can still treat that EDI as XML data thanks to XML Converters; similarly, if you need to send an EDI message to a partner company, you can create XML and then rely on XML Converters to translate that XML into EDI. You don't need to write EDI parsers; you can handle variations from the EDI standards through XML Converters; and you can just focus on manipulating XML, preferably through a language like XQuery.
Edict Systems understood the benefits that DataDirect XML Converters bring to the table, and they are now part of the growing number of companies that use XML Converters to handle business situations in which EDI and XML need to co-exist, or where developers want to be shielded from the task of parsing and creating raw EDI.
View all posts from Minollo on the Progress blog. Connect with us about all things application development and deployment, data integration and digital business.
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