Darwin Information Typing Architecture

Darwin Information Typing Architecture

The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an OASIS standard XML data model for authoring and publishing. Many third party tools support authoring, including Adobe FrameMaker, XMetaL, Arbortext, Quark XML Author, Oxygen XML Editor, easyDITA, and SDL Xopus. With the DITA Open Toolkit publishing system, DITA features single source publishing, inheritance, topic-based authoring, and content reuse.


Features and limitations

Topic orientation

DITA content is created as small topic items, rather than long books or chapters. A DITA map contains links to topics, organized in the sequence (which may be hierarchical) in which they are intended to appear in finished documents. A DITA map defines the table of contents for deliverables. Relationship tables in DITA maps can also specify which topics link to each other.

Modular topics can be reused in different deliverables. However, the strict topic-orientation of DITA makes it an awkward fit for content that contains lengthy narratives that do not lend themselves to being broken into small, standalone chunks. Experts stress the importance of content analysis in the early stages of implementing structured authoring.[1][2][3]

Content references

Fragments of content within topics (or less commonly, the topics themselves) can be reused through the use of content references (conref), a transclusion mechanism.

Conditional text

Conditional text allows filtering or styling content based on attributes for audience, platform, product, and other properties.


DITA includes extensive metadata elements and attributes, which make topics easier to find.

Information typing

DITA specifies three basic topic types: Task, Concept and Reference. Each of the three basic topic types is a specialization of a generic Topic type, which contains a title element, a prolog element for metadata, and a body element. The body element contains paragraph, table, and list elements, similar to HTML.

  1. A Task topic is intended for a procedure that describes how to accomplish a task. A Task topic lists a series of steps that users follow to produce an intended outcome. The steps are contained in a taskbody element, which is a specialization of the generic body element. The steps element is a specialization of an ordered list element.
  2. Concept information is more objective, containing definitions, rules, and guidelines.
  3. A Reference topic is for topics that describe command syntax, programming instructions, and other reference material, and usually contains detailed, factual material.


DITA allows adding new elements and attributes through specialization of base DITA elements and attributes. Through specialization, DITA can accommodate new topic types, element types, and attributes as needed for specific industries or companies. Specializations of DITA for specific industries, such as the semiconductor industry, are standardized through OASIS technical committees or subcommittees. A significant percentage[citation needed] of organizations using DITA also develop their own specializations.

The extensibility of DITA permits organizations to specialize DITA by defining specific information structures and still use standard tools to work with them. The ability to define company-specific information architectures enables companies to use DITA to enrich content with metadata that is meaningful to them, and to enforce company-specific rules on document structure.

Compatibility with non-DITA content

The element types and structures in DITA topics are similar to popular languages such as HTML. For example, a bulleted or numbered list can be copied and pasted directly from HTML to DITA.

DITA maps can include both DITA topics and non-DITA documents (such as HTML files and Microsoft Word documents) in document hierarchies. However, processors are generally limited in their ability to merge DITA and non-DITA content into consolidated printed documents.

Creating content in DITA

DITA map and topic documents are XML files. As with HTML, any images, video files, or other files that must appear in output are inserted via reference. Any XML editor can therefore be used to write DITA content, with the exception of editors that support only a limited set of XML schemas (such as XHTML editors). Various editing tools have been developed that provide specific features to support DITA, such as visualization of conrefs.

Publishing content written in DITA

DITA is conceived as an end-to-end architecture. In addition to indicating what elements, attributes, and rules are part of the DITA language, the DITA specification includes rules for publishing DITA content in print, HTML, online Help, and other formats.

For example, the DITA specification indicates that if the conref attribute of element A contains a path to element B, the contents of element B will display in the location of element A. DITA-compliant publishing solutions, known as DITA processors, must handle the conref attribute according to the specified behaviour. Rules also exist for processing other rich features such as conditional text, index markers, and topic-to-topic links. Applications that transform DITA content into other formats, and meet the DITA specification's requirements for interpreting DITA markup, are known as DITA processors.

Origin and name

Specialization (a form of inheritance) in Darwin Information Typing Architecture is in some ways analogous to the naturalist Charles Darwin's concept of evolutionary adaptation.

  • March 2001 Introduction by IBM of the core DTD and XML Schema
  • May 2002 Domain specialization added to topic specialization
  • April 2004 OASIS Technical Committee for DITA formed
  • February 2005 SourceForge begins DITA Open Toolkit support
  • June 2005 DITA v1.0 approved as an OASIS standard
  • August 2005 DITA Open Toolkit v1.1 is released
  • March 2006 OASIS launches DITA.XML.org
  • August 2007 DITA V1.1 is approved by OASIS, including Bookmap specialization
  • December 2010 DITA V1.2 is approved by OASIS, includes:
  • Indirect linking with keys
  • New content reuse features
  • Enhanced glossary support, including acronyms
  • New industry specializations (Training, Machinery)
  • New support for controlled values / taxonomies (Subject Scheme specialization)

See also



  1. ^ "Implementing DITA versus implementing custom XML architecture". Scriptorium Publishing Services, Inc. 2008. http://www.scriptorium.com/whitepapers/dita_assessment/dita_assessment4.html. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  2. ^ "Structure, DITA, and content other than technical documentation …". The Rockley Group. October 16, 2007. http://rockley.com/blog/?p=22. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  3. ^ "Survey on DITA Challenges". WritePoint Ltd.. January 18, 2010. http://writepoint.com/blog/?p=1011. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 

Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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