Big forms … small pipes?

I was intrigued by a post on FCW noting that the IRS (which has made great strides in e-filing of individuals’tax returns, with good results, nice TV adverts and pretty good PR) is pausing before continuing with company tax filing.
Like us in the UK, “the IRS has focused on using Extensible Markup Language to make it easier to file multiple returns and the many attachments that are often included in the returns. The tax-specific XML forms developed also will help to validate a lot of the information automatically, saving time for IRS employees. However, the IRS’ electronic filing infrastructure cannot yet support these large returns.”

I can understand this … XML is only a language and a particularly clumsy one at that. Take a text file of 1kb and parse it into XML and you’ll have a file of 5kb. So take a 36,000 page company tax return and think how big that file is going to be! Any bets on over 50MB? Moving such large files around the web is quite a challenge – both for the sender (let’s hope there’s a T1 there at least), but also the receiver (dealing with one at a time is usually an issue, but not nearly as bad as if you get 100 within a minute or so – a perfectly feasible scenario).

I know that we’ve struggled with this – how big do you build your system? How long do you wait for a file to arrive? Do you design the sending application so that it breaks the file into smaller pieces (easy if it’s your app, but takes longer if it’s a 3rd party app like, say, SAP or Oracle and likely even worse if it’s an inhouse app at the company concerned)? Do you put the attachments in as XML or binary (or PDF)? And so on. So, understand that problem!

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