Explaining the name: SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)
SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics, an XML grammar for stylable graphics, usable as an XML namespace.
To be scalable means to increase or decrease uniformly. In terms of graphics, scalable means not being limited to a single, fixed, pixel size. On the Web, scalable means that a particular technology can grow to a large number of files, a large number of users, a wide variety of applications. SVG, being a graphics technology for the Web, is scalable in both senses of the word.
SVG graphics are scalable to different display resolutions, so that for example printed output uses the full resolution of the printer and can be displayed at the same size on screens of different resolutions. The same SVG graphic can be placed at different sizes on the same Web page, and re-used at different sizes on different pages.
SVG graphics can be magnified to see fine detail, or to aid those with low vision. SVG graphics are scalable because the same SVG content can be a stand-alone graphic or can be referenced or included inside other SVG graphics, thereby allowing a complex illustration to be built up in parts, perhaps by several people. The symbol, marker and font capabilities promote re-use of graphical components, maximize the advantages of HTTP caching and avoid the need for a centralized registry of approved symbols.
Vector graphics contain geometric objects such as lines and curves. This gives greater flexibility compared to raster-only formats (such as PNG and JPEG) which have to store information for every pixel of the graphic. Typically, vector formats can also integrate raster images and can combine them with vector information such as clipping paths to produce a complete illustration; SVG is no exception.
Since all modern displays are raster-oriented, the difference between raster-only and vector graphics comes down to where they are rasterized; client side in the case of vector graphics, as opposed to already rasterized on the server. SVG gives control over the rasterization process, for example to allow anti-aliased artwork without the ugly aliasing typical of low quality vector implementations. SVG also provides client-side raster filter effects, so that moving to a vector format does not mean the loss of popular effects such as soft drop shadows.
Most existing XML grammars represent either textual information, or represent raw data such as financial information. They typically provide only rudimentary graphical capabilities, often less capable than the HTML ‘img’ element. SVG fills a gap in the market by providing a rich, structured description of vector and mixed vector/raster graphics; it can be used stand-alone, or as an XML namespace with other grammars.
XML, a for structured information exchange, has become extremely popular and is both widely and reliably implemented. By being written in XML, SVG builds on this strong foundation and gains many advantages such as a sound basis for internationalization, powerful structuring capability, an object model, and so on. By building on existing, cleanly-implemented specifications, XML-based grammars are open to implementation without a huge reverse engineering effort.
It is certainly useful to have a stand-alone, SVG-only viewer. But SVG is also intended to be used as one component in a multi-namespace XML application. This multiplies the power of each of the namespaces used, to allow innovative new content to be created. For example, SVG graphics may be included in a document which uses any text-oriented XML namespace – including XHTML. A scientific document, for example, might also use MathML for mathematics in the document. The combination of SVG and SMIL leads to interesting, time based, graphically rich presentations.
SVG is a good, general-purpose component for any multi-namespace grammar that needs to use graphics.
The advantages of style sheets in terms of presentational control, flexibility, faster download and improved maintenance are now generally accepted, certainly for use with text. SVG extends this control to the realm of graphics. The combination of scripting, DOM and CSS is often termed “Dynamic HTML” and is widely used for animation, interactivity and presentational effects. SVG allows the same script-based manipulation of the document tree and the style sheet.