Home > Articles > Web Services > XML

Converting Flat Files to XML

  • Print
  • + Share This
Converting data from non-XML formats to XML is not particularly difficult, but there are no magic bullets to do it for you. You just have to roll up your sleeves and write the code. Once you've parsed the input data and organized it in the form you want, outputting it as XML is not hard. However, parsing the non-XML input data can be quite a challenge. Elliotte Rusty Harold explains how to fit the non-XML universe into an XML world.
This chapter is from the book

Relatively little of the world's data is currently stored in XML. Much of it is stored in flat files as tab-delimited text, comma-separated values, or some similar format. More is locked up in databases of one kind or another, whether relational, hierarchical, or object based. Even more is hidden inside unstructured documents, including Microsoft Word files, HTML documents, and plain text. XML tools are not suitable for working with any of this.

There are no magic bullets that will convert all of your data to semantically tagged XML. There are a few specialized programs that convert certain formats such as Word documents to particular XML applications such as XHTML. However, the output from even the best of these tools often needs to be cleaned up by hand. How much clean-up work you need to do generally depends on how structured the data format is to start with and how clean the data is. It's relatively easy to encode a relational table from a DB2 database as XML because it already has a lot of structure and a mandatory schema. It's a lot harder in practice to convert tab-delimited text files because those tend to be full of mistakes and dirty data. Records are missing fields. Fields get swapped with each other. A field that is supposed to contain a number between 1 and 12 may contain a list of foodstuffs the data entry clerk was supposed to buy on his way home one day. All of these things can and do happen, and you have to account for them regardless of what you're doing with such data, whether that's converting it to XML or summarizing it for an annual report.

When you're tasked with converting legacy data to XML, you just have to roll up your sleeves and attack the problem. You need to understand the current structure of the data. You need to write a program that reads the input format and writes out XML. You need to debug the inevitable problems that arise when the data in the input isn't exactly you thought it was or what it was supposed to be. By far the hardest part of this problem is parsing the input data, in whatever form it takes. Once you've loaded the data into your program, writing it back out again in XML is a cakewalk.

The Budget

As an example of this process, I'm going to use U.S. federal government budget authorization data, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) publishes in a variety of equivalent flat formats, even though the data itself is relatively unflat. This is a good example of the sort of legacy data developers often have to deal with. The complete document [http://w3.access.gpo.gov/usbudget/fy2002/db.html] consists of 3,185 line items. Each line item consists of 43 separate fields. In the comma-separated values (CSV) version of the file, a typical line item looks like this:

"418","National Endowment for the Humanities","00","National Endow-
ment for the Humanities","0200","National Endowment for the Humani-
ties: grants and administration","59","503","Research and general
education  aids","Discretionary","On-budget",   0,  0,   0, 121275,
145231,  150100,  151299,  130560, 135447, 140118,  139478, 132582,
138890,  140435,  153000,  156910, 170002, 175955,  177413, 177491,
172000,  110000,  110000,  111000, 112000, 115000,  120000, 121000,
124000, 126000, 129000,  132000

Each field is separated from the following field by a comma. Strings are enclosed in double quotes, and may contain commas that do not delimit fields. Dollar amounts are expressed as integers divided by 1,000. That is, the last value in the above line is 132 million dollars, not 132 thousand dollars. Table 4.1 identifies the 43 separate fields.

Table 4.1. Public Budget Database Field Descriptions

Field Number Field Name Description
1 Agency code A unique, three-digit, numerical code for the cabinet department or independent agency.
2 Agency name The name of the cabinet-level department (e.g., Department of Defense) or independent agency (e.g., Peace Corps). Even though only the executive branch has true agencies, for purposes of the budget, offices within the legislative branch are given the agency name “Legislative Branch” and offices within the judicial branch are given the agency name “Judicial Branch.” Agency names have a maximum of 89 characters.
3 Bureau code A two-digit numerical code for the bureau within the cabinet department or independent agency; bureau codes are unique only within an agency.
4 Bureau name The name of the suboffice within the agency (e.g., Coast Guard or Federal Aviation Administration). Budget amounts for the agency as a whole that are not part of a specific bureau are generally categorized under a fictional bureau with the same name as the agency. Bureau names have a maximum of 89 characters.
5 Account code A four-digit code (outlays) or six-digit code (offsetting receipts) for the account within the bureau.
6 Account name The name of the budgeted function within the bureau. Account names have a maximum of 160 characters.
7 Treasury Agency code A two-digit numerical code for the agency, assigned by the Treasury Department.
8 Subfunction code A three-digit numerical code for the subfunction within an account.
9 Subfunction title The name of the subfunction within the account. Subfunction titles have a maximum of 72 characters.
10 BEA category Budget Enforcement Act category: “Mandatory,” “Discretionary,” or “Net interest.”
11 On- and off-budget indicator “On-budget” or “Off-budget”; Social Security trust funds and the Postal Service are off-budget; all other accounts are on-budget.
12 1976 value Actual amounts, in thousands of dollars, for fiscal year (FY) 1976. Budget authority is usually shown as a positive value. Offsetting receipts are usually negative values.
13 TQ value Actual amount, in thousands of dollars, for the “transitional quarter” in 1976 when the government shifted the start of its fiscal year ahead from July to October.
14–37 1977–2000 Actual amounts, in thousands of dollars, for each fiscal year from 1977 to 2000.
38–end 2001–2006 Estimated amounts, in thousands of dollars, for FY 2001 through FY 2006.
Source: Adapted from U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Budget Analysis Branch. Public Budget Database User's Guide: Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2002 [http://a257.gakamaitech.net/7/257/2422/09apr20010800/www.gpo.gov/usbudget/FY2002/pdf/db_guide.pdf], April 9, 2001, 8.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020