Data Exchange Standards - the XDF proposal

Mauro Cavalcanti maurobio at IBASE.BR
Fri Nov 26 16:49:22 CST 1993

Jim Croft wrote:

>I would be interested in hearing if anyone has exchanged complex
>relational data between differennt databases, and if so how they did it
>and what formats were used.  Or if anyone knows of any workable standards
>or protocols for this task.

It is unfortunate that a very interesting work on data exchange and
standards for doing so has taken place at England, in the middle 80's,
but was almost unnoticed. I am talking about the "International Legume
Database and Information Service" (ILDIS), a project that started about
1985 at the Southampton University, under the coordination of Dr. Frank
A. Bisby. That project - which is yet underway - has the aim of organizing
a taxon-based database of all 20,000 world legume species, including
detailed information on taxonomy, geographic distribution, economic uses,
vernacular names, literatur, etc. Since its very beginning, the ILDIS project
had a great deal of care about data exchange. A well-designed piece of
software - the ALICE database system - was developed by Drs. Robert
Allkin (Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew) and Peter Winfield (Edinburgh).
That software, which has evolved to a general system for the management
of biodiversity databases, was accompanied by the development of a
standard format for the exchange of biological data, named XDF ("eXchange
Data Format"), designed by Allkin and Richard White (Southampton University).
A first version of XDF was presented at the 1989 meeting of the TDWG, but
has not yet officially accepted. However, it fullfils much of the
requirements for a standard format for exchanging biological data, and
is, above all, VERY FLEXIBLE (supporting not only the exchanging of
taxon-based, but also of specimen-based data). One of the most interesting
features of that format is that it would make possible not only the
exchange of data, but also of the entire data structure of the database
on which these data are stored.

At present, it seems that only ILDIS has used XDF for a real transfer of
data (importing the legume data records from the Missouri Botanical
Garden TROPICOS database). Allkin and White have recently published an
article on XDF, which may be read by anyone interested:

White, R.J. & Allkin, R. 1992. A language for the definition and exchange
of biological data sets. Mathl. Comput. Modelling, Vol. 16, No. 6/7,
pp. 199-223.

I have a copy of the full document presented at the TDWG meeting, if
anyone is interested. Or contact directly Dr. Allkin, at:
R.Allkin at (but I am not sure if he really uses eletronic mail!).

Prof. Mauro J. Cavalcanti            Phone     : 55 (021) 551-5542 ext 148
Departamento de Biologia Geral       Home phone: 55 (021) 594-4745
Centro de Ciencias Biologicas        E-mail    : maurobio at
Universidade Santa Ursula                        maurobio at
Rua Fernando Ferrari, 75 - Botafogo
22231-030, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, BRASIL

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