This is a W3C Working Draft for review by W3C members and other
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inappropriate to use W3C Working Drafts as reference material or to
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Note: Since working drafts are subject to frequent change, you are advised to reference the above URL, rather than the URLs for working drafts themselves. Some of the work that is still be done in this particular draft is described in Appendix A.
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This document specifies a simple set of constructs that may
be inserted into XML documents to describe links between objects
and to support addressing into the internal structures of XML
It is a goal to use the power of XML to create a structure that can
describe the simple unidirectional hyperlinks of today's HTML as well as
more sophisticated multi-ended, typed, self-describing links.
This document specifies a set of constructs which may be inserted in XML documents to describe links between objects. A link, as the term is used here, is a relationship which is asserted to exist between two or more data objects or portions of data objects. This specification is concerned with the syntax used to assert link existence and describe link characteristics. Implicit (unasserted) relationships, for example that of one word to the next, or that of a word in a text to its entry in an on-line dictionary, are outside its scope. Explicitly asserted links do not constitute the only useful kind of link, but this specification is intended neither to provide machinery for every possible kind of link nor to preclude the use of such machinery.
The existence of links is asserted by the presence of elements contained in XML documents. They may or may not reside at the locations of, or in the same documents with, the objects which they serve to connect.
This specification aims to provide an effective, compact structure for representing links that can be in documents or external to them, and that can have multiple typed locators, indirection, and precise specification of resource locations in XML and SGML data. It also aims to represent the abstract structure and significance of links, leaving formatting issues to stylesheets or other mechanisms as far as is practical.
Three standards have been especially influential:
Many other linking systems have also informed this design, including Dexter, MicroCosm, and InterMedia.
The following basic terms apply in this document:
clink, and TEI
XREFare all examples of in-line links.
The formal grammar for locators is given using a simple Extended Backus-Naur Form (EBNF) location, as described in Part 1.
There is an extensive literature on link typology. Some well-known axes are:
The existence of a link is asserted by a
Linking elements must be recognized reliably by software in
order to provide appropriate display and behavior.
XML linking elements are recognized based on the use of a designated
Possible values are
DOCUMENT, signalling in each case that
the element in whose start-tag the attribute appears is to be treated as an
element of the indicated type, as described in this specification.
An example of such a link:
This specification describes many attributes that can be attached
to linking elements to describe various aspects of links.
Each is given a name in this specification.
It may be desired to use existing elements in XML documents as
linking elements, but such elements might already have
attributes whose names conflict with those described in this document.
To avoid collisions, user-chosen attributes can be declared as equivalent to those
in this specification using the
This attribute must contain an even number of white-space-separated names,
which are treated as pairs.
In each pair, the first name must be one of those described in this
The second name, when recognized in the document, will be treated as though it
were playing the role assigned to the first.
For example, consider a DTD with the following declaration:
If it were desired to use this as a simple link, it would be necessary to remap a couple of attributes, which could be accomplished in the internal subset:
Then in the document, the following would be recognized as a simple link:
There are two distinct mechanisms that may be used to associate the
XML-ATTRIBUTES attributes with a
linking element. The simplest is
to provide it explicitly.
However, this practice is verbose, and would be not only cumbersome but
of network bandwidth in the case where there are large numbers of linking
Fortunately, XML's facilities for declaring
default attribute values can
be used to address this problem.
For example, the following would accomplish the declaration of the
A element as an XML SIMPLE link:
Such a declaration may be placed in either the external or the internal subset of the Document Type Declaration. Placing it in both subsets would be the obvious thing to do for convenient network operation. So doing, at the time of creation of this specification, would cause the document to fail to be valid. Note that the successful completion of the current work on a technical corrigendum to ISO 8879 that is in the process of international ballot would resolve this problem and allow this practice in valid documents. However, for interoperability, the declaration should not be placed in both subsets.
This specification defines two types of linking
First, a simple link, which is usually
in-line and always
one-directional, very like the HTML
Second, a much more general extended link
which may be either in-line or out-of-line and
may be used for
links into read-only data, and so on.
This specification describes a variety of information that may be (and in some cases is required to be) associated with linking elements:
ROLEattribute is used to provide both link and resource roles.
HREFattribute, as described below.
TITLEattribute. This specification does not require that applications make any particular use of the title.
ACTUATEattributes may be used by an author to communicate general policies concerning the traversal behavior of the link; this specification defines a small set of policies for this purpose. The
BEHAVIORattribute may be used to communicate detailed instructions for traversal behavior; this specification does not constrain the contents, format, or meaning of this attribute.
INLINEattribute may be used to communicate whether the linking element is in-line or not.
This specification places no constraints on the contents
of linking elements; for this reason, in the sample declarations given below,
they are given declared content of
Any element may be recognized as a linking element based
on use of the
XML-LINK attribute; in a valid
document, each such element must conform to the constraints expressed in its
Simple links are very much like HTML
A or TEI
but with more general reference capabilities.
A simple link may contain only one locator; thus there is no necessity
for a separate
child element, and the locator
attributes are attached directly to the linking element.
Following is a sample declaration for an XML simple link; note that the
element type need not be
SIMPLE, since the linking element will
be recognized based on the value of the
An extended link can involve any number of resources, and need not be co-located with any of them. An application may be expected to provide traversal among all of them (subject to semantic constraints outside the scope of this paper). The key issue with extended links is how to manage and find them, since they do not necessarily co-occur with any of their resources, and often are located in completely separate documents. This process is discussed under Extended Link Groups below.
A extended link's locators are contained in
child elements of the
each with its own set of attributes.
Once again, in the following sample declaration, the element
types need not be
recognition depends on the
The declared content of
ANY for the linking element is perhaps
misleading; the idea is that locator elements should appear as
children of the linking element, along with any other content that
Note that many of the attributes may be provided for both the parent linking element and the child locator element. If any such attribute is provided in the linking element but not in a locator element, the value provided in the linking element is to be used in processing the locator element. In other words, the attributes provided in the linking element may serve as defaults for the (possibly many) locator elements.
INLINE attribute can take the values
TRUE, which is the default, means that all of the
content of the linking element
is to be considered a resource of the link, except for any child
locator elements (which are considered part of the linking element
When the link is in-line, the
CONTENT-TITLE attributes may be used to provide the title and
role information for this "content" resource.
FALSE, it is not an error to provide
CONTENT-ROLE attributes, but
they have no effect.
This specification provides a mechanism for the authors of linking elements
to signal their intentions as to the timing and effects of traversal.
Such intentions can be expressed along two axes, labeled
These are used to express policies rather than
mechanisms; programs which are processing links in XML documents
are free to devise their own mechanisms, best suited to the user environment
and processing mode, to implement the requested policies.
In many cases, there will be a requirement for much finer control over the
details of traversal behavior; existing hypertext software typically provides
Such fine control of link traversal is outside the scope of this
specification; however, the
BEHAVIOR attribute is provided as a
standard place for authors to provide, and in which programs should look for,
such detailed behavioral instructions.
attribute is used to express a policy
as to the
context in which a resource that is traversed to should be displayed or
processed. It may take one of three values:
ACTUATE attribute is used to express a policy as
to when traversal of a link should occur.
It may take one of two values:
The locator value for a resource is provided in the HREF attribute. HREF may have at one point stood for "Hypertext reference"; the name is adopted for compatibility with existing practice.
A locator always contains a URL, as described in
IETF RFCs 1738 and
As these RFCs state, the URL may include a trailing
query (marked by a "
?"), and be followed
by a "
#" and a fragment identifier,
with the query interpreted by the host providing the indicated resource,
and the interpretation of the fragment identifier dependent on the data type of
the indicated resource.
Thus, when a locator in an XML linking element identifies a resource that is
XML document (for example, an HTML
or PDF document), this
specification does not constrain the syntax or semantics of the query nor of
the fragment identifier.
When a locator identifies a resource that is an XML document, the locator value may contain either or both a URL and a fragment identifier, which in this case is a TEI-derived "Extended Pointer" (hereinafter XPointer). Special syntax may be used to request the use of particular processing models in accessing the locator's resource. This is designed to reflect the realities of network operation, where it may or may not be desirable to exercise fine control over the distribution of work between local and remote processors.
In this discussion, the term designated resource refers to the resource participating in the link which the locator serves to locate. The following rules apply:
ID(Name)"; i.e. the sub-resource is the element in the containing resource that has an XML ID attribute whose value matches the Name. This shorthand is to encourage use of the robust
#", this signals an intent that the containing resource is to be fetched as a whole from the host that provides it, and that the XPointer processing to extract the sub-resource is to be performed on the client, that is to say on the same system where the linking element is recognized and processed.
|", no intent is signaled as to what processing model is to be used to go about accessing the designated resource.
In the case where the URL contains a query (to be interpreted by the server) information providers and authors of server software are urged to use queries as follows:
XML uses a locator syntax derived from that for TEI extended pointers; the XML version of a TEI extended pointer is referred to as an XPointer. XPointers operate in a straightforward way on the element tree which is defined by the elements of an XML document.
The basic form of an XPointer is a series of location terms, each of
which specifies a location, either absolute or (more frequently) relative
to the prior one. Each term has a keyword such as
ANCESTOR, and so
on, and can be qualified by parameters such as an instance number, element
type, or attribute. For example, the locator string
refers to the 3rd child of the 4th SEC within the 2nd CHAP within
The syntax for TEI Extended Pointers has been adjusted in order to allow them to be packaged naturally with URLs without requiring URL-escaping of space characters:
..". These define the beginning and end of a span which constitutes the resource. This merely combines the capability of the TEI
TOattributes into the locator syntax.
At the heart of the XPointer is the location term. Location terms are designed to work in sequences and are explained fully below.
A locator can contain either one or two XPointers; if there
are two, they are separated by the string "
For a locator with one XPointer, the
is the element or location selected by the sequence of location terms
With two XPointers, the designated resource
is all of the text from the location, or start of the element, selected by the
first, through to the location, or the end of the element, selected by
Note that the implementation of traversal to a resource is not constrained by this specification. In particular, handling a resource designated by a span is probably highly application-dependent. In a display-oriented application, such traversal might simply be implemented by highlighting the designated characters. In particular, it should be noted that a span cannot safely be treated as a set of elements; most spans will include partial elements.
A location term is an atomic unit of addressing information; XPointers consist of combinations of location terms. Location terms are grouped into absolute terms, relative terms, and string-match terms. Absolute terms select one or more elements or locations in an XML document; if an XPointer contains only an absolute term, that term identifies its designated resource. If the absolute term is followed by any relative or string-match terms, the elements or locations that it designates are termed a location source and serve as a starting point for the operations of the following location terms.
|Absolute, relative, and string-match|
The keywords described in this section do not depend on the existence of a location source. They can be used to establish a location source or as standalone self-contained XPointers.
|Absolute location terms|
If an XPointer omits any leading absolute location terms
only of relative and string-match terms) it is assumed to have a leading
ROOT() absolute location term.
The empty parentheses after
for consistency with other keywords and to avoid ambiguous
interpretation of an extended pointer containing just the string "ROOT" or
If an XPointer is preceded by
ROOT(), the location source is
the root element of
the containing resource.
This is the default behavior. Thus, the presence of the
keyword has no effect on the interpretation of the locator; it exists in the
interests of design clarity.
If the first or second XPointer is preceded by
location source for the first location term of that series is the
linking element containing the locator rather
than the default root element.
This allows extended pointers to select
items such as "the paragraph immediately preceding the
one within which this pointer occurs".
It is an error to use
HERE in a locator where a URL is also
provided and identifies a resource different from the document which contains
the linking element.
If the second XPointer is preceded by
the location source for its first location term is the location source
specified by the entire first XPointer in order to facilitate relative
specification of a span.
If the first or second XPointer is preceded by
ID(Name), the location source for the first
location term is the element in the containing resource which has an attribute
of type ID with a value
matching the given Name.
For example, the location specification
chooses the necessarily unique element of the
containing resource which has an attribute declared to be of type ID
whose value is
The location term
HTML(NAMEVALUE) selects the first
element whose type is
A and which has a
NAME attribute whose value is the same as the supplied
NAMEVALUE; this is exactly the function performed by
#"-fragment in the context of an HTML document.
The keywords described in this section depend on the existence of a location source. They provide facilities for navigating forward, backward, up, and down through the element tree.
|Relative location terms|
The keyword selects zero or more elements relative to the location source, which are referred to as candidate locations. Each keyword summarized here is described in detail in following sections.
All relative location terms operate using arguments; each keyword takes the same set of arguments. Multiple sets of arguments can be attached to a single keyword as a shorthand for repeated occurrences of that keyword.
|Relative location term arguments|
Multiple argument lists are a shorthand in which the keyword is considered to have been repeated between each of the steps. That is to say, the following two XPointers are equivalent:
Candidates can be selected by occurrence number:
When the value of instance is the number
N, it selects the Nth of the
If the special value
ALL is given, then
all the candidate locations are selected.
Negative numbers count from the last
candidate location to the first; numbers out of range constitute
Candidates can be selected by element type as well as number:
The ElType gives an XML element type; only elements of that type will be selected from among the candidate locations. For example, the location term
selects the 29th paragraph of the fourth sub-division of the third major division of the location source.
selects the last example in the document.
Selection by type is strongly recommended because it makes links more perspicuous and more robust. It is perspicuous because humans typically refer to things by type: as "the second section", "the third paragraph", etc. It is robust because it increases the chance of detecting breakage if (due to document editing) the target originally pointed at no longer exists.
The type may be specified by Name or by using
one of the values "
*CDATA", or "
If the type is specified as "
.", candidate elements of any
type are matched.
If the type is specified as "
*CDATA", the location term
selects only untagged sub-portions of an element with
mixed content (these are
generally referred to as pseudo-elements).
*" selects among child elements and pseudo-elements.
Consider the following example:
DIRECTION" element, "
SPEAKER" and "
DIRECTION" elements is the first), "
Fare you well, my lord."
SPEAKER" and "
Candidates can be selected based on attribute name and value:
The Attr and Val are used to provide attribute names and values to use in selecting among candidates.
If specified within quotation marks, the attribute-value parameter is case-sensitive; otherwise not.
As with generic identifiers, attribute names
may be specified as "
*" in location terms in the (unlikely)
event that an attribute value constitutes a constraint regardless of what
attribute name it
is a value for.
For example, the location term
selects the first child of the location
source for which the attribute
TARGET has a value.
The location specification
chooses an element using the
N attribute. Beginning at the location source, the first child
(whatever element type it is) with an
N attribute having
2 is chosen; then that element's first child
element having the value
1 for the same attribute is
The location specification
selects the first child of the
location source which is an
FS element for which the
attribute has been left unspecified.
Note that the
HTML keyword is a synonym for
a very specific instance of attribute-based addressing such that the
following two XPointers are equivalent:
The location specification
selects the second
TERM element with a
whose value is
occurring within the element with an
attribute whose value is
The search for matching elements occurs in the same order as the XML data
stream (depth-first, left-to-right).
If an instance number is negative, the search is depth-first right-to-left, in which the right-most, deepest matching element is numbered -1, etc. The location specification
thus chooses the last
element in the document, that is, the one with the rightmost start-tag.
ANCESTOR location term selects an element from among
the direct ancestors of the location source. The
parameters are as for
CHILD. However, the
ANCESTOR keyword selects
elements from the list of containing elements or
"ancestors" of the location source, counting upwards
from the parent of the location source (which is ancestor number 1) to the
the document instance (which is ancestor number -1).
For example, the location term
first chooses the smallest element
properly containing the location source and having attribute
1 and then the smallest
properly containing it.
Note that the
ANCESTOR keyword's second (element type)
argument cannot be "
*" or "
PRECEDING keyword selects an element or
pseudo-element from among those which precede the location source.
The set of elements and pseudo-elements which may be selected is the set of
all those in
the entire document which occur or begin before the location source. (For
purposes of the keywords
FOLLOWING, elements are interpreted as occurring where they
start.) The result of the
is not guaranteed to be a subset of its location source.
The instance number in the location value of a
term designates the nth element or pseudo-element preceding the
location source, counting from most recent to less recent. The XPointer
thus designates the fifth element or
pseudo-element before the element with an
Negative instance numbers also designate preceding elements or pseudo-elements
counting from the eldest to the youngest.
ALL may be
used to select the entire portion of the document preceding the beginning
of the location source.
PSIBLING keyword selects an element or
pseudo-element from among those which precede the location source within the
same parent element. We speak of the elements and pseudo-elements
contained by the same
parent element as
siblings; those which precede the location in
the document are its elder siblings; those which follow it
are its younger siblings.
The instance number in the location value of a
term designates the nth elder sibling of the location source, counting from
recent to less recent.
The location source must have at least as many elder siblings as the
absolute value of the instance number; otherwise, the
PSIBLING term fails.
thus designates the element immediately
preceding the element with an
Negative instance numbers also designate elder siblings, but counting from the
eldest left sibling to the youngest.
has at least one elder sibling, then the location term
designates the very eldest sibling and is synonymous with
ALL may be used
to select the entire range of elder siblings of an element:
thus designates the set of
elements preceding the element with an
contained by the same parent.
FOLLOWING behaves like
PRECEDING but selects from the portion of the document
following the location source,
not preceding it.
FSIBLING behaves like
but selects from the younger siblings of the location source, not the elder
siblings. The XPointer
thus designates the element
following the element which has an
Negative instance numbers designate younger siblings counting from
the youngest sibling toward the location source. If the location source has
at least one younger sibling, then the
designates its youngest sibling.
A string-match sub-element address may optionally appear as the last in the series of location terms in an XPointer.
In this case the designated resource is a location which is found by searching the textual content of the current location source for occurrences of the SkipLit string given in the second argument. The Index is a number which selects among these occurrences, and the Offset is a number which gives a character offset from the start of the match to the designated location. Thus, the XPointer
selects the letter "
P" (7 from the start of the string) in the
third occurrence of the string "
selects the character immediately following the fifth exclamation mark.
For purposes of string matching, the "text of the element" means all the
character data in the
element(s) in the current location source and descendant elements, all markup
characters being ignored
in the pattern matching. Thus in the example above, the string
Thomas Pynchon" would match and designate a reference in
The pattern matching is exact and character-for-character. No case, space, or combining-character normalization of any kind is to be performed. Thus, there would be no match to "Thomas Pynchon" in the following:
Hyperlinked documents are often best processed in groups rather than one at a time. If it is desired to highlight resources to advertise that traversal can be initiated, and if at the same time use is being made of out-of-line links, it may be an absolute requirement to read other documents to find these links and discover where the resources are.
these cases, the Extended Link Group
element may be used to store a list of links to other documents
that together constitute an interlinked document group.
Each such document is
identified using the
HREF attribute of an
Extended Link Document element, which is a child element
of the GROUP.
The value of the HREF attribute is a locator,
with the same interpretation as described above.
These elements, just as with EXTENDED, SIMPLE, or LOCATOR elements, are
recognized by the use of the
XML-LINK attribute with the value
GROUP or DOCUMENT.
Here are sample declarations for the GROUP and DOCUMENT elements:
STEPS attribute may be used by an author to help deal with
the situation where an Extended Link Group directs a processor to another
document, which proves to contain an Extended Link Group of its own.
Clearly, there is a potential here for infinite regress, and yet there are
situations where processing several levels of Extended Link Groups
STEPS attribute should have a numeric value that serves as
a hint from the author to any link processor as to how many steps of Extended
Link Group processing should be undertaken.
It does not have any normative effect.
For example, should a group of documents be organized with a single
"hub" document containing all the out-of-line links, it might well
make sense for each non-hub document to have an Extended Link Group
containing only one reference to the hub document. In this case,
the best value for
STEPS would be 2.
The simple title mechanism described in this draft is insufficiently flexible to cope with internationalization or the use of multimedia in link titles. A future version will provide a mechanism for the use of structured link titles.
It is possible to specify a link's resource based on the value of an attribute. It is is difficult to decide what the correct behavior is as regards case-sensitivity in matching. Ideally, the declared type of the attribute value should be taken into account, but that presupposes fetching and reading the document's DTD, which may not be appropriate in many XML applications. The current system, while easy to explain, may not prove suitable in the long run.
Formally, the operations of the XPointer mechanism may may be specified as operating on groves as defined in the HyTime standard. Every construct in such locators has a corresponding expression in SDQL, and most also have direct equivalents in the HyTime location module.