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XML Schema learner

This software implements various state-of-the-art algorithms for algorithmic learning of XML Schema definitions and Document Type Definitions.

Given a set or a single XML instance it can algorithmically infer a schema which describes the XML instances. The resulting schemas are of high-quality and human readable.


To learn about the usage of the tool type:

$ ./schema-learn --help

To run the unit tests type:

$ phpunit tests/suite.php


On of the biggest issues existing tools (like trang) fight with is that learning human readable regular expressions for child patterns is nontrivial. Recently there have been some interesting new algorithms developed that allow us to infer sane, human-readable regular expressions -- these are implemented in XML-Schema-learner.

What do regular expressions have to do with XML schemas? Regular expressions don't only operate on bytes (or UTF-8 characters in PCRE), but also on other things, like XML elements. In DTDs, for example, specify which elements may occur in another element using regular expressions:

<!ELEMENT dl (dt|dd)+>

Here we have a regular expression (dt|dd)+ for the elements which may occur directly in dl. A regular expressions, like (dt, dd*)+, would for example mean, that there may be any non-zero number of dt elements, each followed by any number of dd elements.

An Example

An example XML file is provided as examples/multitype.xml:

$ cat examples/multitype.xml
        <item id="23">
            <name>Some stuff</name>
            <price currency="EUR">23.42</price>
        <item id="42">
            <name>Some other stuff</name>
            <price currency="EUR">42.23</price>
        <item id="23">
        <item id="42">

Let's see how we can generate a DTD from this sample:

$ ./schema-learn examples/multitype.xml
<!ELEMENT price (#PCDATA)>
<!ELEMENT item ( ( amount | ( name, price ) ) )>
<!ELEMENT sale ( item* )>
<!ELEMENT amount (#PCDATA)>
<!ELEMENT stock ( item* )>
<!ELEMENT shop ( ( sale, stock ) )>

<!ATTLIST price currency CDATA #REQUIRED>

You can see a human readable DTD schema for the XML above. For such trivial cases, all available tools will provide you with good results. But XML-Schema-learner should produce human-readable output even in more difficult cases, where other tools fail.

From DTDs to XML Schema

The difference between DTD and XML Schema is not just syntax. XML Schema has a richer syntax for regular expressions, but more importantly, it has a different typing mechanism that exceeds the capabilities of DTD. In XML Schema it is possible to have elements with the same name using a different type if they are located at different places in your XML tree.

See the <item> element above, which differs depending on the parent element. With XML Schema you can use two different types, making your schema a lot more specific. Additionally you can reuse the same type for elements with different names. So that, for example, <price> and <amount> could both refer to a type number.

The XML-Schema-learner can now learn schemas using the semantics of DTD and simply format them as XML Schema. But it can also learn full-blown XML Schema definitions. Here the situation gets a bit more complicated; this is described in the thesis "Algorithmic learning of XML Schema definitions from XML data" available from

It is not easy to decide if two slightly different types in different locations of the XML tree should be considered one type or two. Since you seldom have XML data expressing all allowed variants of your "virtual" schema you might not want to be too strict when making the decision.

There is no sane default, though, which is why the tool offers you several ways to configure the locality (how many parent elements should be taken into account to potentially tell different types apart) and different comparators for merging the types. For the simple example above just setting the locality to 1 works well, and results in a more specific schema, since the item types do not occur anywhere else in the tree and thus do not need merging at all:

./schema-learn -t xsd --locality 1 examples/multitype.xml
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<!-- ... -->
<complexType name="sale/item">
    <element name="name" type="string"/>
    <element name="price" type="item/price"/>
  <attribute name="id" type="string" use="required"/>
<!-- ... -->
<complexType name="stock/item">
  <element name="amount" type="string"/>
  <attribute name="id" type="string" use="required"/>
<!-- ... -->

As you can see two different types have been learned for the two different definitions of the <item> element.

To learn more about the comparators and how they affect the schema learning process, please read the aforementioned thesis, "Algorithmic learning of XML Schema definitions from XML data" available from

Further documentation of the algorithms and which algorithms fit which use cases is pending. The implementations refer to papers describing the algorithms in their respective documentation.


A makefile is provided for system installations. By default, the program will install to /usr/local:

$ make install

This can be changed by the PREFIX variable. A package manager might want to install directly into /usr:

$ make PREFIX=/usr install

DESTDIR is also supported; for more information see,



Algorithmic inferencing of XML Schema definitions and Document Type Definitions






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