Sun's plans include creating a Java extension that alllows Java developers to build XML applications and for XML applications to link to Java code.
The specification will ensure that XML, an increasingly popular technology, and Java can be easily combined within applications, and are speaking on the same terms, said Sun.
XML lets developers easily create information formats, and share data contained in those formats--as well as the format itself--across the Web and on corporate networks.
Sun, with the help of other companies, will develop an application programming interface (API), a reference implementation of the XML-Java link, and a test suite that conforms to the XML 1.0 specification.
"It's the plumbing for XML," said Nancy Lee, Sun's XML senior product manager for the Java platform group "This will benefit everyone. Anyone who uses Java to develop and are interested in supporting XML will now have the ability."
Right now, many companies--including Sun, IBM and Microsoft--are offering Java parsers that read XML text within an application, Lee said. A common API, as Sun is proposing, will ensure that all the parsers are compatible, she said.
"Developers using XML can feel confident that they're using an API that's stable," she said. "And providing this, we won't have wide variations that may cause compatibility issues. It's one standard everyone in the Java community can count on."
Sun said the API will not be part of the core Java standard, but just an extension. The company is submitting the proposal through its standards process, called the Java Community Process, which allows third-party vendors to help develop Java standards. Sun said it will build upon existing Java platform API efforts, such as those proposed by the World Wide Web Consortium.
"XML and Java are a perfect combination," said Anne Thomas, of the Patricia Seybold Group. "XML is truly portable and will likely be the universal data format everyone uses to communicate, but when you're transferring data back and forth, you need some way to process that data. And Java is the obvious programming language to implement the data. It's portable data and portable code--a really nice match."
Thomas said the Java API will start off as an extension, but expects it will eventually be rolled into the core Java standard. That's what happened with previous extensions such as JDBC for database connectivity and Remote Method Invocation, a standard that allows Java objects stored in the network to run remotely, she said.
"Now people can easily write their own Java classes to generate, interpret, and process XML, or you can create a set of standard Java classes installed in every Java Virtual Machine," Thomas said. "It's a win-win situation for everyone if there's a standard set of Java classes to manipulate XML."
But one analyst downplayed Sun's announcement.
"This doesn't really affect anyone's life that much. Everyone knows that XML is cool. It's clear that with Microsoft and IBM endorsing XML, that's the place to be," said analyst Kevin Dick, of Kevin Dick Associates, in Palo Alto, California.
"This really is more of a follower type of an announcement," Dick said. "It's nice that it will come from Sun and it will work with the rest of their stuff, but there are plenty of Java-XML tools out there already."
Dick said a Java API for XML may help Java programmers, but not necessarily XML programmers.
"The whole point of XML is you don't have to use the same languages and programming tools to exchange information," he said. "For an average Java programmer, maybe this encourages them to move and become an XML programmer. With the Java standard, you get the ability to manipulate XML documents. But with the developer community who have. Java-XML tools, this isn't an earth-shattering revelation."
An executive from Bluestone Software, an application server maker supporting Sun's announcement today, said Sun is acknowledging that XML is important.
"They have this Java-centric view of the world, so they're actually saying they're embracing XML as part of Java and kind of make sure that people use Java as a great platform for doing XML work," said Bob Bickel, Bluestone's senior vice president of products. "Part of it is reaction to Microsoft and trying to co-opt their leadership position with XML."
But for the developer community, today's move doesn't do a whole lot initially, he said. "All Sun is doing is endorsing the APIs that the W3C has standardized already. And they're doing more implementations on that."
In other news, IBM introduced two free XML tools today: a faster, new version of its XML for Java Parser and Xeena, a Java application that gives developers a user interface for creating and editing XML documents. Both are available for download at IBM's alphaWorks Web site.