PortaBase XML Format

Starting with version 1.5, PortaBase can export the entire content of a database file to an XML file (including views, filters, sortings, etc.) It can also import data from XML files in the same format. Furthermore, PortaBase files can be exported to XML and created from XML via command-line options to the portabase program, so it is possible to write scripts that can read and create PortaBase files. This allows you to manipulate PortaBase data files in a broad variety of ways, including:

  • Conversion of exported XML files to HTML, using styles and formatting of your choice. Two examples using XSLT are portabase_view.xslt (which shows the rows and columns present in the current filter and view at time of export) and portabase_format.xslt (which shows the full structure of the database file, useful for understanding the format and debugging problems).
  • Manipulation of exported files using any tool or language capable of parsing XML. Possible examples include a Java program using iText to generate a PDF file, or a Python script that adds entries from a contact database to the KDE addressbook.
  • Edit the exported data (and filters, views,...) by hand in a text editor (or using a script, etc.) and create a new PortaBase file based on the results.
  • Use a program to automatically generate PortaBase files, maybe based on information from a central database or a web site. For example, you could write a program scheduled to run each night which would query databases or web sites for updated information, create a PortaBase file containing the results, and ftp or email that file to someplace you can access from your Maemo handheld device.


The XML format used by PortaBase is defined in portabase.rng. This is a schema file using RelaxNG, a schema language similar to but better than the W3C's XML Schema language; for more information, see the RelaxNG home page. It's a fairly literal representation of the MetaKit views used internally to store the data (documented here), with a few exceptions:

  • The leading underscores of all view and column names are omitted, i.e. columns instead of _columns.
  • Information kept purely for performance benefits (like the floating point data columns for Decimal fields) or as implementation details (like data row ID numbers) is not included.
  • The <data> section uses one-letter element and attribute names since these are repeated many, many times in any file of respectable size. This helps keep the XML files from getting ridiculously large.
  • Columns and rows not shown in the current view and filter at the time of export are marked with h="y" attributes (short for hidden="yes"). This is purely for the convenience of external tools (like the above XSLT files) so that you don't need to recreate the filter and view logic just to show the current appearance. This also means that if you want the smallest XML file possible, you should switch to the "All Columns" view and the "All Rows" filter before exporting.
  • <d> (date) and <t> (time) elements are exported with an "s" attribute containing the string representation of the date or time, using the preferences in place when the file was exported. Again, purely for the convenience of processing tools.
  • Rows are added to the file in the current sorting order (if any) instead of the order in which they appear in the data file. This is more meaningful, and (like the "h" attribute) helps reproduce the current appearance without reimplementing the application logic.


There's a pretty wide variety of XSLT processors out there that you can use to apply the stylesheets mentioned above to PortaBase XML files. I've been using xsltproc, the command-line front end to libxslt (http://xmlsoft.org/XSLT/); it's free, really fast (being written in C), seems to be pretty feature-complete, and is available for Linux, Windows, etc.


PortaBase 1.9

  • Added <p> element as a possible child of <r>.

PortaBase 1.8

  • Added optional <calcs> and <calcnodes> elements.

PortaBase 1.6

  • Added optional <vsort> and <vfilter> elements.

PortaBase 1.5

  • First PortaBase version to support XML export; thus <gversion> in a valid PortaBase XML file will never be less than 7.

Request for Feedback

  • If you can think of any improvements to this format that make it useful for other purposes without overly complicating it, please let me know.
  • If you develop a tool (Python script, XSLT file, Java program, etc.) for manipulating this format that you think other people might find useful, please email me about it so I can add it to this page.