Darwin Information Typing Architecture

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The Darwin Information Typing Architecture ( DITA ) is a document format similar to the well-known DocBook . DITA is developed as a free architecture by the company IBM and the organization OASIS and is available free of charge as a document type definition (DTD). DITA is based on XML : In contrast to DocBook, there is no SGML -based document type definition (DTD) for DITA .

According to the official definition from the architecture specification (hereinafter in German translation), DITA

“... an architecture to create topic-oriented, information-typed content in the form of a single source, which can be reused in a variety of ways. DITA is also an architecture to create new information types and to describe new information domains based on existing types and domains. This allows groups of users to create very specific, targeted document type definitions using a process called specialization that still maintains common output transformations and styling guidelines for more general types and domains. "


The name Darwin Information Typing Architecture comes about as follows:

  • Darwin - Charles Darwin was the inspiration for this architecture. As the founder of the theory of evolution , he particularly studied heredity . Extension through inheritance is one of the most important features of DITA.
  • Information Typing - Information is typed in DITA. This guarantees a high level of reuse.
  • Architecture - DITA is an architecture. It is not just a DTD, but also contains rules for creating information units. In addition, it is constantly being developed and can be expanded within certain limits.

DITA is an XML-based architecture for the creation, distribution and reuse of technical information. The architecture consists of a number of design rules that allow “typed” information modules to be created on the level of so-called “topics”.

The aim of DITA is to support the "unique transclusion mechanism" (see also " Transclusion "), which is specified as part of a DTD processing rule : One element

“Can replace itself with another element of the same type, which is either in the current topic or in a separate topic that uses the same content models. DITA's transclusion mechanism is similar to the SGML-conref mechanism, which uses an empty element as a reference to another, non-empty element. However, DITA requires at least a minimal content model for the referencing element and performs checks during processing to ensure that the replacing element is valid in its new context. This mechanism goes beyond the standard XInclude mechanism, as content can only be inserted if it is equivalent: if the types of the reusing (referencing) and reused (referenced) element differ, the content reference is not resolved. DITA's transclusion mechanism also goes beyond the standard entity reuse mechanism, as the reused content can reside in an XML file with a DTD. The end result is that recycled content is validated at the time of creation rather than at the time of reuse, and problems are found at their source. "


In the 1990s, the IBM company created its own complex SGML -DTDs (including IBMIDDoc ) for the documentation of its numerous products. During the further development, the task arose of designing a new standard for technical documentation, which should above all support a high degree of reuse. IBMIDDoc or other XML -DTD such as DocBook , TEI or XHTML were examined. As a result, it was decided to develop a new document format with DITA.

On May 3, 2005, DITA 1.0 was adopted as the OASIS standard.

On August 13, 2007, DITA 1.1 was adopted as the OASIS standard.

On December 1, 2010, the DITA specification 1.2 was adopted as the OASIS standard with numerous innovations; it contains u. a. three different architectures as well as new "domains" and "topics" (see below).

Features and backgrounds

DITA is primarily characterized by the following properties:

  • Topic focus - DITA's highest level of abstraction is the “Topic”. Further structures that are located above a topic are more likely to be information that belongs to the process of such a topic. For example, it could be navigating a help page. Furthermore, topics are no longer nested. The “Sections”, which provide the topics with content, are ideal for organizing topics.
  • Reuse - One goal of DITA is to reduce redundancy and thus the need to copy information. Information can be used in several places, but the content only exists once.


  • Topic: A topic is a unit of information that is determined by its title and content. This unit must be short enough to cover a single topic or answer a single question. However, it must also be sufficient enough to be able to stand meaningfully on its own and to be developed further on its own.
  • Map: Maps are documents in which individual references to topics are meaningfully collected and organized. They thus form the logical unit and bracket over certain topics. They can also serve as an outline or table of contents for DITA results and thus as “build manifests” for complete DITA projects.
  • Specialization: The specialization allows the definition of new “information types” (“structural types” or “new domains of information”). However, the majority of the information should be reused so that the costs for replacement, migration and maintenance can be minimized.
  • Integration: Each specialization has its own design module. These modules can in turn generate other document types in a combined form. The process of creating new types of documents by combining different modules is called "integration".
  • Adaptation: In the event that only the work result (“output”) is required in different forms, an adaptation of DITA can be used. This adapts the output without impairing portability and exchange.

Advantages over and comparison with DocBook

Compared to DocBook, DITA is considered to be easier to learn. While DocBook is intended more as a template for complex books and documentation in book format, DITA aims to map technical information as “topics” that can be used in various contexts. DITA also uses many elements from HTML .

Here is a comparison:

Advantage of DITA over DocBook

  • DocBook is primarily intended for the creation and delivery of books, while DITA, on the other hand, focuses on the creation and delivery of "Topics". However, these topics can then be transferred to books as a collection or linked and thus serve as help information, websites or, for example, as summaries for PDAs .
  • DocBook is strictly hierarchical and does not provide any mechanisms to separate content from context. DITA is much more flexible and can group context-dependent information in different documents. DITA can store topics with any level of a defined structure.
  • DocBook is a set of elements and attributes. DITA is expandable and can be adapted to individual needs and requirements: Specialization rules define the structure of individual information types that can use the existing standard elements.

Advantage of DocBook over DITA

  • DocBook has been actively expanded and constantly updated for more than ten years.
  • DocBook is documented in detail and has been successfully tested in many practical cases. Help from the large DocBook community is available everywhere.
  • DocBook already supports a variety of target formats such as Eclipse, EPUB , FO , HTML, HTMLHelp , Javahelp, Manpages , Webhelp and XHTML with the "DocBook stylesheets" .
  • From version 5 DocBook provides an topicelement.
  • From version 5.1 (under development) there will be an assemblyelement (similar to a map in DITA) that improves recycling.


<topic id="maintaining" xml:lang="en-us">
      You maintain your solution to ensure that all components are operating at maximum efficiency.
         Maintenance is a task that you perform along with configuration to get the most from your solution.

See also

  • mumasy , a VDMA- standardized XML schema for technical documentation


  • Sissi Closs : Single Source Publishing. Topic-oriented structuring and DITA . Developer Press, 2007 ISBN 978-3-935042-98-7
  • Johannes Hentrich: DITA - The new standard for technical documentation . XLcontent-Verlag, 2008, ISBN 978-3-9811430-0-3
  • Jennifer Linton, Kylene Bruski: Introduction to DITA: A User Guide to the Darwin Information Typing Architecture. Comtech Services, Colorado 2006

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b DITA Architectural Specification , Chapter 2, An Introduction to DITA.
  2. according to Namahn, 2001 ( Memento from May 12, 2005 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF)