All of this site is written in simple XML documents and transformed to HTML. I find this works really well, and means I never have to worry about dealing with HTML formats. (Not that fancy layout is my style, as you can tell.) I've even written a whole book that way.

For most of this time I've used XSLT as my transformation language. I've got pretty good with slinging XSLT around and getting it to do what I want.

But no more.

When I wrote the software for this Bliki (on a long flight) I did it in Ruby.Prior to that I used Ruby to do a new version of my home page. My conclusion from this exercise was that using Ruby for XML transforms was much easier than using XSLT.

  • XML makes a lousy syntax for a programming language. There's way too much noise in there and as a result you can't see the program.
  • XSLT makes calling subroutines so painful that you are seriously discouraged from using them, which encourages duplicate code.
  • XSLT handles simple tasks well, but is baroque when it comes to more complicated things. Indeed some are impossible and you have to jump out into another language anyway.
  • Ruby gives me a clean, OO language with clear syntax and a kick-ass XML library.(Python may well be just as good, I haven't tried it.)
  • I can mix template style code with transformer style code.

I think this may raise some real questions about XSLT. There's still much I like about the power of XSLT, but I hate the syntax and the walls you keep running into. I'm not going to convert my whole site over to Ruby tomorrow – most of the XSLT works fine – but I can certainly see my way to doing that at some point in the future. But the bigger question is whether you're better off with scripting language for this kind of task than XSLT.  [Martin Fowler's Bliki]

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