XML and Java - Parsing XML using Java Tutorial

Parsing XML
If you are a beginner to XML using Java then this is the perfect sample to parse a XML file create Java Objects and manipulate them.

The idea here is to parse the employees.xml file with content as below

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
  <Employee type="permanent">
  <Employee type="contract">
  <Employee type="permanent">

From the parsed content create a list of Employee objects and print it to the console. The output would be something like

Employee Details - Name:Seagull, Type:permanent, Id:3674, Age:34.
Employee Details - Name:Robin, Type:contract, Id:3675, Age:25.
Employee Details - Name:Crow, Type:permanent, Id:3676, Age:28.
We will start with a DOM parser to parse the xml file, create Employee value objects and add them to a list. To ensure we parsed the file correctly let's iterate through the list and print the employees data to the console. Later we will see how to implement the same using SAX parser.
In a real world situation you might get a xml file from a third party vendor which you need to parse and update your database.

Using DOM
    This program DomParserExample.java uses DOM API.

The steps are

  • Get a document builder using document builder factory and parse the xml file to create a DOM object
  • Get a list of employee elements from the DOM
  • For each employee element get the id, name, age and type. Create an employee value object and add it to the list.
  • At the end iterate through the list and print the employees to verify we parsed it right.

a) Getting a document builder

	private void parseXmlFile(){
		//get the factory
		DocumentBuilderFactory dbf = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance();

		try {

			//Using factory get an instance of document builder
			DocumentBuilder db = dbf.newDocumentBuilder();

			//parse using builder to get DOM representation of the XML file
			dom = db.parse("employees.xml");

		}catch(ParserConfigurationException pce) {
		}catch(SAXException se) {
		}catch(IOException ioe) {

b) Get a list of employee elements
Get the rootElement from the DOM object.From the root element get all employee elements. Iterate through each employee element to load the data.

	private void parseDocument(){
		//get the root element
		Element docEle = dom.getDocumentElement();

		//get a nodelist of 
		NodeList nl = docEle.getElementsByTagName("Employee");
		if(nl != null && nl.getLength() > 0) {
			for(int i = 0 ; i < nl.getLength();i++) {

				//get the employee element
				Element el = (Element)nl.item(i);

				//get the Employee object
				Employee e = getEmployee(el);

				//add it to list

c) Reading in data from each employee.

	 * I take an employee element and read the values in, create
	 * an Employee object and return it
	private Employee getEmployee(Element empEl) {

		//for each <employee> element get text or int values of
		//name ,id, age and name
		String name = getTextValue(empEl,"Name");
		int id = getIntValue(empEl,"Id");
		int age = getIntValue(empEl,"Age");

		String type = empEl.getAttribute("type");

		//Create a new Employee with the value read from the xml nodes
		Employee e = new Employee(name,id,age,type);

		return e;

	 * I take a xml element and the tag name, look for the tag and get
	 * the text content
	 * i.e for <employee><name>John</name></employee> xml snippet if
	 * the Element points to employee node and tagName is 'name' I will return John
	private String getTextValue(Element ele, String tagName) {
		String textVal = null;
		NodeList nl = ele.getElementsByTagName(tagName);
		if(nl != null && nl.getLength() > 0) {
			Element el = (Element)nl.item(0);
			textVal = el.getFirstChild().getNodeValue();

		return textVal;

	 * Calls getTextValue and returns a int value
	private int getIntValue(Element ele, String tagName) {
		//in production application you would catch the exception
		return Integer.parseInt(getTextValue(ele,tagName));

d) Iterating and printing.

	private void printData(){

		System.out.println("No of Employees '" + myEmpls.size() + "'.");

		Iterator it = myEmpls.iterator();
		while(it.hasNext()) {

Using SAX
This program SAXParserExample.java parses a XML document and prints it on the console.
Sax parsing is event based modelling.When a Sax parser parses a XML document and every time it encounters a tag it calls the corresponding tag handler methods

when it encounters a Start Tag it calls this method
    public void startElement(String uri,..

when it encounters a End Tag it calls this method
    public void endElement(String uri,...

Like the dom example this program also parses the xml file, creates a list of employees and prints it to the console. The steps involved are

  • Create a Sax parser and parse the xml
  • In the event handler create the employee object
  • Print out the data
Basically the class extends DefaultHandler to listen for call back events. And we register this handler with the Sax parser to notify us of call back events. We are only interested in start event, end event and character event.
In start event if the element is employee we create a new instant of employee object and if the element is Name/Id/Age we initialize the character buffer to get the text value.
In end event if the node is employee then we know we are at the end of the employee node and we add the Employee object to the list.If it is any other node like Name/Id/Age we call the corresponding methods like setName/SetId/setAge on the Employee object.
In character event we store the data in a temp string variable.

a) Create a Sax Parser and parse the xml

	private void parseDocument() {

		//get a factory
		SAXParserFactory spf = SAXParserFactory.newInstance();
		try {

			//get a new instance of parser
			SAXParser sp = spf.newSAXParser();

			//parse the file and also register this class for call backs
			sp.parse("employees.xml", this);

		}catch(SAXException se) {
		}catch(ParserConfigurationException pce) {
		}catch (IOException ie) {

b) In the event handlers create the Employee object and call the corresponding setter methods.

	//Event Handlers
	public void startElement(String uri, String localName, String qName,
		Attributes attributes) throws SAXException {
		tempVal = "";
		if(qName.equalsIgnoreCase("Employee")) {
			//create a new instance of employee
			tempEmp = new Employee();

	public void characters(char[] ch, int start, int length) throws SAXException {
		tempVal = new String(ch,start,length);

	public void endElement(String uri, String localName,
		String qName) throws SAXException {

		if(qName.equalsIgnoreCase("Employee")) {
			//add it to the list

		}else if (qName.equalsIgnoreCase("Name")) {
		}else if (qName.equalsIgnoreCase("Id")) {
		}else if (qName.equalsIgnoreCase("Age")) {


c) Iterating and printing.

	private void printData(){

		System.out.println("No of Employees '" + myEmpls.size() + "'.");

		Iterator it = myEmpls.iterator();
		while(it.hasNext()) {

Generating XML
    The previous programs illustrated how to parse an existing XML file using both SAX and DOM Parsers.
But generating a XML file from scratch is a different story, for instance you might like to generate a xml file for the data extracted from a database.To keep the example simple this program XMLCreatorExample.java generates XML from a list preloaded with hard coded data. The output will be book.xml file with the following content.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <Book Subject="Java 1.5">
        <Author>Kathy Sierra .. etc</Author>
        <Title>Head First Java</Title>
    <Book Subject="Java Architect">
        <Author>Kathy Sierra .. etc</Author>
        <Title>Head First Design Patterns</Title>

The steps involved are
  • Load Data
  • Get an instance of Document object using document builder factory
  • Create the root element Books
  • For each item in the list create a Book element and attach it to Books element
  • Serialize DOM to FileOutputStream to generate the xml file "book.xml".

a) Load Data.

	 * Add a list of books to the list
	 * In a production system you might populate the list from a DB
	private void loadData(){

		myData.add(new Book("Head First Java",
			"Kathy Sierra .. etc","Java 1.5"));

		myData.add(new Book("Head First Design Patterns",
			"Kathy Sierra .. etc","Java Architect"));

c) Getting an instance of DOM.

	 * Using JAXP in implementation independent manner create a document object
	 * using which we create a xml tree in memory
	private void createDocument() {

		//get an instance of factory
		DocumentBuilderFactory dbf = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance();
		try {
		//get an instance of builder
		DocumentBuilder db = dbf.newDocumentBuilder();

		//create an instance of DOM
		dom = db.newDocument();

		}catch(ParserConfigurationException pce) {
			//dump it
			System.out.println("Error while trying to instantiate DocumentBuilder " + pce);


c) Create the root element Books.

	 * The real workhorse which creates the XML structure
	private void createDOMTree(){

		//create the root element 

		Element rootEle = dom.createElement("Books");

		//No enhanced for
		Iterator it  = myData.iterator();
		while(it.hasNext()) {
			Book b = (Book)it.next();
			//For each Book object  create 
 element and attach it to root
			Element bookEle = createBookElement(b);


d) Creating a book element.

	 * Helper method which creates a XML element 

	 * @param b The book for which we need to create an xml representation
	 * @return XML element snippet representing a book
	private Element createBookElement(Book b){

		Element bookEle = dom.createElement("Book");
		bookEle.setAttribute("Subject", b.getSubject());

		//create author element and author text node and attach it to bookElement
		Element authEle = dom.createElement("Author");
		Text authText = dom.createTextNode(b.getAuthor());

		//create title element and title text node and attach it to bookElement
		Element titleEle = dom.createElement("Title");
		Text titleText = dom.createTextNode(b.getTitle());

		return bookEle;


e) Serialize DOM to FileOutputStream to generate the xml file "book.xml".

	 * This method uses Xerces specific classes
	 * prints the XML document to file.
	private void printToFile(){

			OutputFormat format = new OutputFormat(dom);

			//to generate output to console use this serializer
			//XMLSerializer serializer = new XMLSerializer(System.out, format);

			//to generate a file output use fileoutputstream instead of system.out
			XMLSerializer serializer = new XMLSerializer(
			new FileOutputStream(new File("book.xml")), format);


		} catch(IOException ie) {

The Xerces internal classes OutputFormat and XMLSerializer are in different packages.

In JDK 1.5 with built in Xerces parser they are under

In Xerces 2.7.1 which we are using to run these examples they are under
We are using Xerces 2.7.1 with JDK 1.4 and JDK 1.3 as the default parser with JDK 1.4 is Crimson and there is no built in parser with JDK 1.3.
Also please remember it is not advisable to use parser implementation specific classes like OutputFormat and XMLSerializer as they are only available in Xerces and if you switch to another parser in the future you may have to rewrite.

Instructions to run these programs

The instructions to compile and run these programs varies based on the JDK that you are using. This is due to the way the XML parser is bundled with various Java distributions.These instructions are for Windows OS.For Unix or Linux OS you just need to change the folder paths accordingly.

Using JDK 1.5

Xerces parser is bundled with the JDK 1.5 distribution.So you need not download the parser separately.

Running DOMParserExample

  1. Download DomParserExample.java, Employee.java, employees.xml to c:\xercesTest
  2. Go to command prompt and type
    cd c:\xercesTest
  3. To compile, type
    javac -classpath . DomParserExample.java
  4. To run, type
    java -classpath . DomParserExample
Running SAXParserExample
  1. Download SAXParserExample.java, Employee.java, employees.xml to c:\xercesTest
  2. Go to command prompt and type
    cd c:\xercesTest
  3. To compile, type
    javac -classpath . SAXParserExample.java
  4. To run,type
    java -classpath . SAXParserExample
Running XMLCreatorExample
  1. Download XMLCreatorExample.java, Book.java to c:\xercesTest
  2. Go to command prompt and type
    cd c:\xercesTest
  3. To compile, type
    javac -classpath . XMLCreatorExample.java
  4. To run, type
    java -classpath . XMLCreatorExample


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