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DSSSL [1], the SGML predecessor of XSLT and CSS, included a full blown built in Scheme interpreter, by the standard. That turned out to be a bit too much raw power and complexity for most people, so it never really caught on outside of the Boeing Airplane Maintenance Manual Publication Department and other big enterprisy SGML-loving organizations like that.

Microsoft's non-standard implementation of XSLT [2] is "out of the tarpit" Turing complete [3] because it lets you write handlers in JavaScript and other languages, to actually get some useful work done and call external librarys, without bending over backwards.

Of course Microsoft's non-standard extensions to XSLT aren't supported outside of Windows. But after using it, going back to plain XSLT was pretty frustrating to me, and in many cases it was easier just to forget about XSLT and write straight-up JavaScript code with XML parsing and XPath expressions.

There's nothing that XSLT can do that you can't easily implement in a JavaScript library. At this point it's better to start with JavaScript and forget about XSLT, instead trying to use XSLT, hitting a wall, realizing you want to ship on some platform other than Windows, then rewriting it all in Java, then realizing you want it to run in the browser, then rewriting it all in JavaScript, which you should have started with in the first place.

Another point for JavaScript: In the past decade, a whole hell of a lot more effort has been put into making JavaScript run fast, than making XSLT run fast.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Document_Style_Semantics_and_S...

[2] https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb986124.aspx

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_tarpit




Isn't standard XSLT Turing complete anyways?

Even XPath 3 is Turing complete


The point is that XSLT is deeply stuck in the "Turing Tarpet": "Beware of the Turing tar-pit in which everything is possible but nothing of interest is easy." -Alan Perlis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_tarpit

You would never want to write a JPEG decoder in XSLT, but the fact that it might be possible if you were willing to bend over backwards, write unmaintainable code that runs incredibly slowly and requires colossal amounts of memory, misses the point.

For getting real work done in the real world, where big companies have mountains of data to process, and are required to pay real money for electrical power and computing equipment, Microsoft decided to add the ability to call JavaScript, Visual Basic, and other scripts from XSLT templates.

Because it's just too hard to get anything of interest done in XSLT, and it's trivial and convenient in JavaScript, and there's probably already a library to do it.


"Because it's just too hard to get anything of interest done in XSLT"

I thought the point of XSLT wasn't really arbitrary processing but to transform XML into other formats (mostly, but not always, other forms of XML such as XSL-FO) - and it was reasonably good at that.


But who defines the line between "transform" and "arbitrary processing"? One language's transformation is another language's arbitrary processing. If XSLT doesn't know how to format dates for Eskimos, and I have an off-the-shelf JavaScript or .NET date formatting library that does, how does that make my requirements cross the line between "transformation" and "arbitrary processing"? It's a failure of XSLT to not offer Eskimo dates as a transformation (or a way to call a library that does that), not of me for requiring an Eskimo date transformation.

DSSSL was extensible in Scheme, so all transforms had access to arbitrary processing, by the standard.

XSLT was not extensible in any language, so Microsoft went ahead and made a non-standard extension that integrated JavaScript, Visual Basic, C#, and all other IScriptingEngine/.NET compatible languages, much in the same way standard HTML web browsers like Internet Explorer integrate scripting languages.

"The languages that you can use differ between the MSXML and .NET implementations. In MSXML (from version 2.0 on), you can use either VBScript or JavaScript. In .NET, however, you can use any .NET-supported language including C#, Visual Basic, JScript.NET, and even JScript, as before. The ability to use strongly typed languages like C# and Visual Basic .NET makes this an even more attractive opportunity." https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb986124.aspx

Lots of people got lots of work done with Microsoft's non-standard scriptable XSLT, because they believed it was just too hard to get anything of interest done in standard non-scriptable XSLT, but worth paying the price of being locked into Microsoft's ecosystem.

I think it's better to forget about XSLT entirely, because it's a long lost cause, weak and ineffective at what it was designed, and use JavaScript and libraries like XPath to transform XML (and that goes squared for JSON), to reap the advantages of the latest JavaScript engines and libraries.

If Jolt is meant to be a language-independent standard, there should be a definitive reference implementation in JavaScript.

(in reply to arethuza's reply:)

Yes, I'd rather have all the great things you can do in domain specific languages like XSLT (like XPath, CSS, RegEx, etc) packaged up into nice libraries I can call from JavaScript, instead of being big complex hybrid frameworks that call my little snippets of JavaScript, like Microsoft's extended XSLT.


Och yes - I was definitely not recommending preserving XSLT (or indeed a JSON based equivalent). I always found that special purpose languages like XSLT were quite good but that for most tasks general purpose programming languages were far better so - the times that recursive pattern matched templates in XSLT made sense were few and far between.


But it is not deeply in the tar-pit.

Here is an raytracer written in XQuery: https://dev.w3.org/cvsweb/2011/QT3-test-suite/app/Demos/rayt... (imported modules are in the directory above) looks quite maintainable to me.

XQuery is pretty much XPath-with-functions, and XPath 3 has anonymous functions, so you can directly translate it to XPath 3 by replacing `declare function foo(..` with `let $foo := function(...`

Once it is XPath, you can put everything in a xsl:value-of tag.


I'd prefer to be on a mountain top far away from any tarpit, than only partially submerged in a tarpit.

The mountain tops are modern JavaScript engines. How much work have Mozilla, Google, Apple, IBM and many other big organizations and excellent engineers poured into making XSLT run fast and efficiently in the last decade, compared to how much has been applied to JavaScript? Can you cite any interesting SIGPLAN articles about XSLT optimization? Have any commercial games shipped using a ray tracer implemented in XSLT?




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