Specialization (information design reuse)

Specialization is the process by which new designs are created based on existing designs, allowing new kinds of content to be processed using existing processing rules. One of the key characteristics of DITA specialization is inheritance, which allows you to create new information types from existing ones. With inheritance you can use a class attribute to map an existing parent element to the specialized element you want to create.

Specialization allows you to define new kinds of information (new structural types or new domains of information), while reusing as much of existing design and code as possible, and minimizing or eliminating the costs of interchange, migration, and maintenance.

There are two kinds of specialization hierarchy: one for structural types (with topic or map at the root) and one for domains (with elements in topic or map at their root). Structural types define topic or map structures, such as concept or task or reference, which often apply across subject areas (for example, a user interface task and a programming task may both consist of a series of steps). Domains define markup for a particular information domain or subject area, such as programming, or hardware. Each of them represent an "is a" hierarchy, in object-oriented terms, with each structural type or domain being a subclass of its parent. For example, a specialization of task is still a task, and a specialization of the user interface domain is still part of the user interface domain.

Suppose a product group identifies three main types of reference topic: messages, utilities, and APIs. They also identify three domains: networking, programming, and database. By creating a specialized topic type for each kind of reference information, and creating a domain type for each kind of subject, the product architect can ensure that each type of topic has the appropriate structures and content. In addition, the specialized topics make XML-aware search more useful, because users can make fine-grained distinctions. For example, a user could search for xyz only in messages or only in APIs, as well as searching for xyz across reference topics in general.

Rules govern how to specialize safely: Each new information type must map to an existing one, and new information types must be more restrictive than the existing one in the content that they allow. With such specialization, new information types can use generic processing streams for translation, print, and web publishing. Although a product group can override or extend these processes, they get the full range of existing processes by default, without any extra work or maintenance.

Related concepts
Content inventory
Content reuse
Content reference attribute