Regular readers of my tips will recognize the name Altova--the company that's behind the truly great XMLSpy, StyleVision, and Authentic products (plus a suite product that includes the first two products just mentioned, plus the focus of this tip--namely MapForce). I've been digging into the third member of its triumvirate of premier offerings, and have been pretty impressed with what this MapForce is and what it can do.
Simply put, MapForce is a powerful data mapping tool that has two primary functions.
- First, it can map between pairs of data representations automatically and as completely as available data allows. Thus data that comes from any combination of inputs that include XML documents, databases, flat files, or EDI (Electronic Data Interchange, and ANSI standard format developed for data exchange) can map to any or all of the same kind of outputs, providing those who use MapForce understand and use its capabilities to map the right inputs to the right outputs, and so forth.
- Second, it can be used with formal descriptions of input and output formats to generate code in XSLT 1.0 or 2.0, XQuery, C++, Java, or C# that will automate any and all such transforms in the future. This means it can be used to generate custom or general transform services between specific sets of inputs and outputs as needed.
Altova makes much of how this capability permits companies and organizations to automate business processes, terminology that's somewhat maligned by overuse and overzealous application. What's really going on here is that MapForce can be used to stand between an organization's own internal, canonical forms of data representation and map that data into forms that match the precise data format needs of business partners, vendors or suppliers, customers, regulators or government agencies, and so forth.
MapForce supports a visual design GUI that lets developers define mappings between content models by dragging connections between matching elements in source and target sets, and then inserting transforms called "data processing rules" to map from one representation to the other. A built-in viewing tool requires only a single mouse click to preview outputs of such transforms, to speed up design and test phases in data mapping projects.
This is an interesting, highly capable, and useful product that most companies or organizations of any size will find it worthwhile to check out. MapForce comes in Professional and Enterprise forms, but only the Enterprise form supports mappings that include flat files, EDI, and databases as well as XML formats (and hence, will probably be of greatest interest to potential users). Licenses for the Enterprise edition start at $599 per seat, with prices declining as the number of seats goes up. As an XML developer tool, it's a real nonpareil.
Ed Tittel is a full-time writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT Certification and information security topics. E-mail Ed at email@example.com with comments, questions, or suggested topics or tools for review.