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A First Look At XML Publisher - Part 1
January 13, 2006
Mark Rittman

I've put my name forward for doing an XML Publisher presentation at the next BIRT SIG, and as I've finished the articles I was writing I've got a chance now to start playing around with the product. Over the next few days I'll be posting updates on how I get on with the product, working through the version that's available for download now and the sample reports and datasets.

For anyone not familiar with XML Publisher, it's the new reporting technology that originally surfaced as part of E-Business Suite and is now available to license as a separate product. If you're interested in getting hold of a copy, you can download it from - first select Oracle Application Server Products, then select your platform, then locate the XML Publisher CD Pack, as below:

My understanding is that there's a new release of XML Publisher due out early next year, but the version you can download now seems to work OK and is fine for working through the demos. From a licensing perspective, I understand (although you'll need to check with your Oracle Rep) it's $40k per processor (ouch), $30k if you've already licensed Application Server, or $40 per employee - which is certainly a more palatable option for small-to-medium size organizations, could make it quite cheap actually. From speaking to a couple of people the per-processor license should also be seen in the context of the likely number of processors you're going to need - XML Publisher doesn't need a particularly big server (so I'm told) and so you shouldn't need to license more than one or two processors. All this is just stuff I've been told though so don't take my word on it.

When you download the XML Publisher CD/Media Pack you get a Zip file containing two directories - XML Publisher Desktop, XML Publisher Server and a tutorial document. I was thinking first of all that you'd need to install the server component to get up and running - which requires Apache Tomcat or OC4J 10.1.2 or higher - but you can actually work through all the demos using just the Desktop component.

The Desktop install is an InstallShield installer that installs some components into Microsoft Word 2000 or higher. My understanding is that future releases of XML Publisher Desktop will include Microsoft Excel components, but for the time being you build all your reports using a Word add-in. The installer runs simply and with no problems and then opens up the tutorial document on your desktop:

The basic premise with XML Publisher is this: you use Microsoft Word (or Excel in the future) to lay out a report template. This could be something you do yourself, our you could have report templates passed on to you by someone in the business. You then use the XML Publisher add-in in Word to load up an XML document containing your data, then pick data elements from the XML document and add them to the document template, in the same way that you'd add data to a mail-merge document. You can then preview the output using the Word add-in, or (I'm guessing here) submit the template and data to the XML Publisher Server.

Once you've installed the Word add-in, when you open up Word you see an additional menu just below the toolbar. This menu lets you attach an XML datasource document, add the XML data to your template, set preferences and preview the output.

The download comes with a number of samples consisting of templates and XML data. The tutorial starts off with a "customer balance letter" template and so I worked through this.

The first step is to load the template, which is an RTF (Rich Text File) format document. Like a mail-merge document there's placeholders for the data you're going to add, and you can add whatever formatting you like.

Next step is to select Data > Load XML Data from the toolbar menu, then pick up the XML data from a file in the samples directory. Once the data is loaded, a "Data Loaded Successfully" dialog box comes up and you can then start adding your data to the template.

To add data items from the XML file into your report, you locate in the document the placeholder for the field you're going to add, highlight it and then select Insert > Field from the toolbar. A dialog box comes up with all of the available data items, you select the one you want and then press OK, like this:

You can add repeating rows into your document by selecting Insert > Table/Form from the toolbar. This brings up a different dialog box that lets you drag a parent node - in this case, "Invoices" - into the middle section, which becomes your repeating rows.


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