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A typical example of an XML-based web application in a pharmaceutical R&D environment

More and more we will find XML-based applications based on the simple scheme given in Fig.1. Data, originating either from human input or from other sources (e.g. measuring equipment) are stored in databases. These data are retrieved by an application using SQL-queries. Then business logic is applied (e.g. calculations). For sofar, there is nothing special about this application.

A typical XML-based web application

In a web environment, the application will typically be a servlet.
In the next step, the result is transformed into an XML-document, which can be stored into a database. The XML document is then parsed with one or more stylesheets, to produce the presentation. For example, using (fully reusable) different stylesheets, the XML document, is presented as HTML (i.e. a dynamic web site), a PDF file (using XSL-Format), or even as a Word-document (it can also be presented as e.g. a WAP-document).

Let us now have a look at a typical application using this scheme: Analysis Certificates

The application is used to produce Analysis Certificates in the Quality Control lab of a pharmaceutical company (Fig.2).
Data from analytical measurements and human input are stored into a database. When triggered (e.g. by a human), the application retrieves all the information about a certain sample (or series of samples) and calculates some properties, deciding whether the materials conforms, or not, to the specifications.

If the specifications are not met, a non-conformity report is generated. If the specifications are met, an Analysis Certificate is generated. Both are in XML format, so they contain only data, no presentation. These XML-files themselves can be stored (and usually are) in a database. Different stylesheets (XSL) are retrieved from a database or from files, to generate the presentation of the reports. First of all, an HTML file is generated, so that the responsible person immediately sees the results, only needing a browser (on an inexpensive PC or web terminal). Secondly, a PDF document is generated. The PDF document has the advantage that its layout is fixed, irrespective of how it is viewed (this is not the case at all with Word documents), that the contents cannot be changed (important for a certificate), that "sticky notes" can be added when several persons have to review the document, and that electronic signatures can be used.
Ultimately, the PDF document can be printed, mailed to the customer, stored in a database, into a Document Management System such as Documentum, etc...

If the company now decides to give the Analysis Certificate another design (e.g. because the company name changed), all that has to be changed is the stylesheet. It is not necessary to change anything in the application (which would mean an expensive re-validation !).

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