There are two current versions of XML. The first (XML 1.0) was initially defined in 1998. It has undergone minor revisions since then, without being given a new version number, and is currently in its fifth edition, as published on November 26, 2008. It is widely implemented and still recommended for general use.

The second (XML 1.1) was initially published on February 4, 2004, the same day as XML 1.0 Third Edition, and is currently in its second edition, as published on August 16, 2006. It contains features (some contentious) that are intended to make XML easier to use in certain cases. The main changes are to enable the use of line-ending characters used on EBCDIC platforms, and the use of scripts and characters absent from Unicode 3.2. XML 1.1 is not very widely implemented and is recommended for use only by those who need its unique features.

Prior to its fifth edition release, XML 1.0 differed from XML 1.1 in having stricter requirements for characters available for use in element and attribute names and unique identifiers: in the first four editions of XML 1.0 the characters were exclusively enumerated using a specific version of the Unicode standard (Unicode 2.0 to Unicode 3.2.) The fifth edition substitutes the mechanism of XML 1.1, which is more future-proof but reduces redundancy. The approach taken in the fifth edition of XML 1.0 and in all editions of XML 1.1 is that only certain characters are forbidden in names, and everything else is allowed, in order to accommodate the use of suitable name characters in future versions of Unicode. In the fifth edition, XML names may contain characters in the Balinese, Cham, or Phoenician scripts among many others which have been added to Unicode since Unicode 3.2.

Almost any Unicode code point can be used in the character data and attribute values of an XML 1.0 or 1.1 document, even if the character corresponding to the code point is not defined in the current version of Unicode. In character data and attribute values, XML 1.1 allows the use of more control characters than XML 1.0, but, for “robustness”, most of the control characters introduced in XML 1.1 must be expressed as numeric character references (and #x7F through #x9F, which had been allowed in XML 1.0, are in XML 1.1 even required to be expressed as numeric character references). Among the supported control characters in XML 1.1 are two line break codes that must be treated as whitespace. Whitespace characters are the only control codes that can be written directly.

There has been discussion of an XML 2.0, although no organization has announced plans for work on such a project. XML-SW (SW for skunkworks), written by one of the original developers of XML, contains some proposals for what an XML 2.0 might look like: elimination of DTDs from syntax, integration of namespaces, XML Base and XML Information Set (infoset) into the base standard.

The World Wide Web Consortium also has an XML Binary Characterization Working Group doing preliminary research into use cases and properties for a binary encoding of the XML infoset. The working group is not chartered to produce any official standards. Since XML is by definition text-based, ITU-T and ISO are using the name Fast Infoset for their own binary infoset to avoid confusion (see ITU-T Rec. X.891 | ISO/IEC 24824-1).

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