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More on XML Publisher - Part I
March 9, 2006
Mark Rittman

I've continued looking at the Desktop element of XML Publisher today, and I've been thinking about how we get data into XML Publisher. The emphasis is on getting data from XML documents, which obviously reflects the products' heritage - XML Publisher was originally the new reporting element of Oracle Applications, and it's also been used in products such as Oracle Discoverer 10.1.2 to provide print-quality output - it's pretty easy for all of these applications to output XML as XML is pretty much the medium of data interchange between Java applications these days. But what about us mere mortals? How do we go about getting data into XML Publisher to do our reporting?

When you load up XML Publisher Desktop, the Data menu has entries for both "Load XML Data" and "SQL...", like this:

If you read yesterday's posting you'll have seen me working through a basic demo of loading an XML document and building a report off of it, so I thought I'd start off today by trying to base a report on an SQL query. When you select "SQL" as the data source, you get a dialog that looks like this:

A pretty rudimentary dialog box where you can type in an SQL query. From what I understand, the SQL input area of XML Publisher is something that'll be revised in a later version, something along the lines of a query builder, perhaps (speculating here) something like the query builder you get in Oracle Reports Builder or TOAD. Now of course what would be really nice would be a query builder that works off of the Discoverer End User Layer; it'd be easy to use and would immediately fill a gap in Oracle's product line - a reporting tool, like Cognos Impromptu - that produces "production quality" output, barcodes and so on, but works off of a catalogue rather than "raw" SQL. Now that woudl be good.

Anyway, once you enter your SQL, XML then reads the database and turns the output into a simple XML "rowset", like this:

You can then insert the SQL query's fields onto the Word document template, in this case adding them to a repeating rows table that will contain all the data from the query:

So that's fairly straightforward, but I can't help thinking that this way of putting a data query together is going to be a bit limiting when using XML Publisher. XML Publisher is expecting data sets where sets of data are embedded in other sets of data - transaction details embedded in invoice details, themselves embedded in customer details and so on - so a simple flat SQL query wont provide data in a format where XML Publisher can start to group and burst data. For example, if you take a look a the data set used with the Balance Report template I used yesterday ...

  <?xml version="1.0" ?>
 Generated by Oracle Reports version 


  <ADDRESS_LINE1>5645 Main Street</ADDRESS_LINE1>

... etc

you'll see that invoices are stored hierarchically within customers, and that's just not the sort of output style you're going to be able to produce when generating an SQL query. Obviously this might all change when a future version of XML Publisher has a proper SQL query interface, but for the time being how can we go about generating XML data for use with XML Publisher?

Now having a look at the XML used for the Balance Report demo there's a couple of interesting points that you'll notice. First is that it's obviously been generated by Oracle Reports, so we'll have to take a look in a minute at how that's done. The second is that there's nothing special about the XML format, it'd be very easy to generate that sort of output programmatically, or using something like XQuery or some other form of XML output support from the database.


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