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How do most companies define and manage message format specifications? Is it common for companies to create custom tools for creating and working with these documents?

At work we have a lot of systems that communicate via UDP messages. Each system has its own Interface Control Document (in Word or in HTML) which describes its message scheme. The documents have descriptions of each message along with its fields, and usage notes.

We're looking to standardize the format of these ICDs and write some tools that help create them. I was thinking we should create an ICD schema, and define the ICDs in some data-interchange format (XML, JSON, protobuf). Then we could create parsers that generate human-readable documentation (HTML, PDF), or even message parsing code (where useful and appropriate).

I don't want to reinvent the wheel, and I don't want to get too carried away. Does the above proposal sound reasonable?

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After being 'blessed' with a few ICDs in Word I am also looking for something like that. –  MaR Mar 13 '12 at 13:58
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Sounds reasonable - I've seen a few message formats specified in XML, although that spec doesn't generally have the detailed comments necessary for good documentation. It's fairly straightforward to generate code from it too.

I haven't seen anything more general or standardized (and naturally no two of these specs use the same schema), so I don't think you're reinventing the wheel.

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