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January 15, 2010

White paper on whitespace (and removing it)

When I first started importing DITA and other XML files into structured FrameMaker, I was surprised by the excessive whitespace that appeared in the files. Even more surprising (in FrameMaker 8.0) were the red comments displayed via the EDD that said that some whitespace was invalid (these no longer appear in FrameMaker 9).

The whitespace was visible because of an odd decision by Adobe to handle all XML whitespace as if it were significant. (XML divides the world into significant and insignificant whitespace; most XML tools treat whitespace as insignficant except where necessary…think <codeblock> elements). This approach to whitespace exists in both FrameMaker and InDesign.

At first I handled the whitespace on a case-by-case basis, removing it by hand or through regular expressions. Eventually, I realized this was a more serious problem and created an XSL transform to eliminate the white space as a part of preprocessing. By using XSL that was acceptable to Xalan (not that hard), the transform can be integrated into a FrameMaker structured application.

I figured this whitespace problem must be affecting (and frustrating) more than a few of you out there,
so I made the stylesheet available on the Scriptorium web site. I also wrote a white paper “Removing XML whitespace in structured FrameMaker documents” that describes describes the XSL that went into the stylesheet and how to integrate it with your FrameMaker structured applications.

The white paper is available on the Scriptorium web site. Information about how to download the stylesheet is in the white paper.

If the stylesheet and whitepaper are useful to you, let us know!