Tech Write Tips

February 20, 2006

What is: XSL

Filed under: Technology,What is — AndyR @ 1:35 pm

Having discussed the difference between HTML and XML, and established the benefit of XHTML content, we can now look at one of the benefits of this strict clean XHTML format, namely XSL.

XSL stands for Extensible Stylesheet Language. As it’s name suggest it is essentially a simplpe programming language. HTML documents can only output content in the order it appears in the file. XSL enables you to disaplay XML documents in more complex ways.

It enables you to control which parts of the file are output, and where (and how often) it appears. You can do things like output a heading for each Surname in your XML, or start a new row of a table for each persons address. You could output the same personal details from your XML in three or four different orders. Your XML document may contain some tags where someone’s name appears just once, but also contains four addresses for that person. XSL enables you to pull out the name each time you output the address.

XSL does enable you to output content and style tags in the same file. Taking an XML file and using XSL to output structured content including formatting:

  • XML – Content
  • XSL – Structuring and Look and Feel of Output

In my experience it is better to use it to output just content and keep the look and feel in a separate CSS which is referenced in your output. This then retains the separation bewteen content and style that we introduced with CSS:

  • XML – Content
  • XSL – Structuring of Output
  • CSS – Look and Feel of Output


  1. Is XSL the same as XSLT. I understand you can also use XSL to move one XML format to another. Perhaps this would help in the move to DITA and MAML?

    Does anyone have experience of this?

    Comment by writer01 — February 22, 2006 @ 8:14 am | Reply

  2. I understood XSLT to be the use of XSL to transform from one XML schema to another. So essentially it is the same technology.

    Comment by marks — March 27, 2006 @ 7:14 am | Reply

  3. […] The XSL style sheet produces the following sections of XML-FO : […]

    Pingback by Tech Write Tips » Best Pratice: Flare 4 - High Definition PDF Part 2 — July 24, 2006 @ 6:26 am | Reply

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