Conditions, filtering, variants and ditaval

Many confusing terms are used to describe different parts of the conditional publishing process. Understanding the terms is key to understanding the concepts.

Different technologies, and different authoring tools, use the terms conditions, conditional publishing, variables, variants, flagging, profiling, and filtering in different ways.

DITA has built-in features to enable some content to be excluded or highlighted during the publishing process. These features are standard metadata attributes that can be applied to most DITA elements, and a ditaval standard used to define how attributes are handled during publishing.

For example, the same topic might appear in an administrator manual and a consumer manual, but some paragraphs may only apply to the administrator. If those paragraphs are identified with an audience attribute of administrator, they can be conditionally excluded from the output if an exclude rule is defined in the ditaval file used for publishing.

In DITA, conditional publishing describes the process where the metadata and ditaval features are used together. Content identified with metadata attributes can be either excluded or flagged (highlighted in some way). Excluding content is commonly referred to as filtering.

The term variable is sometimes used within DITA authoring teams to describe a word, phrase or block of text that is managed in one place, usually through the content reference (conref) or key reference (keyref) feature. The term variants is not so commonly used, but may refer to two or more slightly different renditions of the same source topic.

Profiling is sometimes used to describe the technique of filtering the content displayed in a DITA editor based on the metadata attributes. (Not many DITA editors support profiling.)