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XML framework


Castor XML is an XML data binding framework. Unlike the two main XML APIs, DOM (Document Object Model) and SAX (Simple API for XML) which deal with the structure of an XML document, Castor enables you to deal with the data defined in an XML document through an object model which represents that data.

Castor XML can marshal almost any “bean-like” Java Object to and from XML. In most cases the marshalling framework uses a set of ClassDescriptors and FieldDescriptors to describe how an Object should be marshalled and unmarshalled from XML.

For those not familiar with the terms “marshal” and “unmarshal”, it’s simply the act of converting a stream (sequence of bytes) of data to and from an Object. The act of “marshalling” consists of converting an Object to a stream, and “unmarshalling” from a stream to an Object.

Castor XML - The XML data binding framework

The XML data binding framework, as it’s name implies, is responsible for doing the conversion between Java and XML. The framework consists of two worker classes, org/exolab/castor/xml/Marshaller and org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller respectively, and a bootstrap class org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLContext used for configuration of the XML data binding framework and instantiation of the two worker objects.

Lets walk through a very simple example. Assume we have a simple Person class as follows:

 import java.util.Date;

 /** An simple person class */
 public class Person implements {

	 private String name = null;

	 private Date dob = null;

	 public Person() {

	 public Person(String name) { = name; 

	 public Date getDateOfBirth() { 
	 	return dob; 

	 public String getName() { 
	 	return name; 

	 public void setDateOfBirth(Date dob) { 
	 	this.dob = dob; 

	 public void setName(String name) { = name; 

To (un-)marshal data to and from XML, Castor XML can be used in one of three modes:

  • introspection mode
  • mapping mode
  • descriptor mode (aka generation mode)

The following sections discuss each of these modes at a high level.

Introspection mode

The introspection mode is the simplest mode to use from a user perspective, as it does not require any configuration from the user. As such, the user does not have to provide any mapping file(s), nor point Castor to any generated descriptor classes (as discussed in the ‘descriptor mode’ section).

In this mode, the user makes use of static methods on the org.exolab.castor.xml.Marshaller and org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller classes, providing all required data as parameters on these method calls.

To marshal an instance of the person class you simply call the org.exolab.castor.xml.Marshaller as follows:

// Create a new Person
Person person = new Person("Ryan 'Mad Dog' Madden");
person.setDateOfBirth(new Date(1955, 8, 15));

// Create a File to marshal to
writer = new FileWriter("test.xml");

// Marshal the person object
Marshaller.marshal(person, writer);         

This produces the XML shown in

               XML to written

To unmarshal an instance of the person class from XML, you simply call the org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller as follows:

// Create a Reader to the file to unmarshal from
reader = new FileReader("test.xml");

// Marshal the person object
Person person = (Person) Unmarshaller.unmarshal(Person.class, reader);

Marshalling and unmarshalling is basically that simple.


Note: The above example uses the static methods of the marshalling framework, and as such no Marshaller and/or Unmarshaller instances need to be created. A common mistake in this context when using a mapping file is to call the org.exolab.castor.xml.Marshaller or org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller as in the above example. This won’t work, as the mapping will be ignored.

In introspection mode , Castor XML uses Java reflection to establish the binding between the Java classes (and their properties) and the XML, following a set of (default) naming rules. Whilst it is possible to change to a different set of naming rules, there’s no way to override this (default) naming for individual artifacts. In such a case, a mapping file should be used.

Mapping mode

In mapping mode , the user provides Castor XML with a user-defined mapping (in form of a mapping file) that allows the (partial) definition of a customized mapping between Java classes (and their properties) and XML.

When you are using a mapping file, create an instance of the org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLContext class and use the org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLContext.addMapping(Mapping) method to provide Castor XML with one of more mapping files.

To start using Castor XML for marshalling and/or unmarshalling based upon your custom mapping, create instances of org.exolab.castor.xml.Marshaller and org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller as needed using one of the following methods:

Methods on XMLContext to create Un-/Marshaller objects
Method name Description
createMarshaller Creates a Marshaller instance.
createUnmarshaller Creates a Unmarshaller instance.

and call any of the non-static (un)marshal methods to trigger data binding in either way.

Below code shows a full example that demonstrates unmarshalling a Person instance from XML using a org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller instance as obtained from an XMLContext previously configured to your needs.

   import org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLContext; 
   import org.exolab.castor.mapping.Mapping; 
   import org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller;

   // Load Mapping
   Mapping mapping = new Mapping();

   // initialize and configure XMLContext
   XMLContext context = new XMLContext();

   // Create a Reader to the file to unmarshal from
   reader = new FileReader("test.xml");

   // Create a new Unmarshaller
   Unmarshaller unmarshaller = context.createUnmarshaller();

   // Unmarshal the person object
   Person person = (Person)

To marshal the very same Person instance to XML using a org.exolab.castor.xml.Marshaller obtained from the same org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLContext , use code as follows:

   import org.exolab.castor.xml.Marshaller;

   // create a Writer to the file to marshal to
   Writer writer = new FileWriter("out.xml");

   // create a new Marshaller
   Marshaller marshaller = context.createMarshaller();

   // marshal the person object

Please have a look at XML Mapping for a detailed discussion of the mapping file and its structure.

For more information on how to effectively deal with loading mapping file(s) especially in multi-threaded environments, please check the best practice section.

Sources and destinations

Castor supports multiple sources and destinations from which objects can be marshalled and unmarshalled:

Marshalling destinations.
Destination Description
marshal( The character stream.
marshal(org.xml.sax.DocumentHandler) The SAX document handler.
marshal(org.xml.sax.ContentHandler) The SAX content handler.
marshal(org.w3c.dom.Node) The DOM node to marshall object into.
marshal( The STaX cursor API.
marshal( The STaX iterator API.
marshal(javax.xml.transform.Result) javax.xml.transform.dom.DOMResult , javax.xml.transform.sax.SAXResult and are supported.
Unmarshalling sources
Source Description
unmarshal( A character stream.
unmarshal(org.xml.sax.InputSource) A SAX input source.
unmarshal(org.w3c.dom.Node) A W3C DOM node which will be used for unmarshalling.
unmarshal( A StAX cursor.
unmarshal( A StAX iterator.
unmarshal(javax.xml.transform.Source) Supports javax.xml.transform.dom.DOMSource , javax.xml.transform.sax.SAXSource and .

Castor 1.3.2 and 1.3.3 introduced support for the STaX API for both for marshalling and unmarshalling. The framework fully supports the STaX cursor and iterator API.

An example of marshalling using STaX:

// marshalling using STaX
StringWriter writer = new StringWriter();
XMLOutputFactory outputFactory = XMLOutputFactory.newInstance();
XMLStreamWriter xmlStreamWriter =


Also beginning from version 1.3.3, the framework has been modified to support Source and Result interfaces. Now it is possible to use SAXSource, DOMSource and StreamSource for unmarshalling and corresponding classes for marshalling.

Below an example of marshalling into Result:

// instance of object to be marshalled
Object obj = ...

// marshalling into DOM node
XMLContext xmlContext = ... // creates the xml context

// creates marshaller
Marshaller marshaller = xmlContext.createMarshaller();

// creates DOM factory
DocumentBuilderFactory factory = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance();
DocumentBuilder builder = factory.newDocumentBuilder();

// creates document
Document document = builder.newDocument();

// sets the DOM result for the marshaller
marshaller.setResult(new DOMResult(document));

// marshalls object

Another example of unmarshalling from Source:

// unmarshalling from SAX InputSource
XMLContext xmlContext = ... // creates the xml context

// creates unmarshaller
Unmarshaller unmarshaller = xmlContext.createUnmarshaller();

// creates SAX input source
InputSource inputSource = new InputSource(new StringReader(xml));

// creates instance of SAXSource
SAXSource saxSource = new SAXSource(inputSource);

// unmarshalls object 
Object result = unmarshaller.unmarshal(saxSource);

XMLContext - A consolidated way to bootstrap Castor

With Castor 1.1.2, the org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLContext class has been added to the Castor marshalling framework. This new class provides a bootstrap mechanism for Castor XML, and allows easy (and efficient) instantiation of org.exolab.castor.xml.Marshaller and org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller instances as needed.

As shown above, the org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLContext class offers various factory methods to obtain a new org.exolab.castor.xml.Marshaller , org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller .

When you need more than one org.exolab.castor.xml.Unmarshaller instance in your application, please call org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLContext.createUnmarshaller() as required. As all Unmarshaller instances are created from the very same XMLContext instance, overhead will be minimal. Please note, though, that use of one Unmarshaller instance is not thread-safe.

Using existing Classes/Objects

Castor can marshal “almost” any arbitrary Object to and from XML. When descriptors are not available for a specific Class, the marshaling framework uses reflection to gain information about the object.


Actually an in memory set of descriptors are created for the object and we will soon have a way for saving these descriptors as Java source, so that they may be modified and compiled with little effort.

If a set of descriptors exist for the classes, then Castor will use those to gain information about how to handle the marshaling.

There is one main restrictions to marshaling objects. These classes must have have a public default constructor (ie. a constructor with no arguments) and adequate “getter” and “setter” methods to be properly be marshaled and unmarshaled.

The example illustrated in the previous section demonstrates how to use the framework with existing classes.

Class Descriptors

Class descriptors provide the “Castor Framework” with necessary information so that the Class can be marshaled properly. The class descriptors can be shared between the JDO and XML frameworks.

Class descriptors contain a set of field descriptors.

XML Class descriptors provide the marshaling framework with the information it needs about a class in order to be marshaled to and from XML. The XMLClassDescriptor org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLClassDescriptor .

XML Class Descriptors are created in four main ways. Two of these are basically run-time, and the other two are compile time.

Compile-Time Descriptors

To use “compile-time” class descriptors, one can either implement the org.exolab.castor.xml.XMLClassDescriptor interface for each class which needs to be “described”, or have the Source Code Generator create the proper descriptors.

The main advantage of compile-time descriptors is that they are faster than the run-time approach.

Run-Time Descriptors

To use “run-time” class descriptors, one can either simply let Castor introspect the classes, a mapping file can be provided, or a combination of both “default introspection” and a specified mapping file may be used.

For “default introspection” to work the class being introspected must have adequate setter/getter methods for each field of the class that should be marshaled and unmarshaled. If no getter/setter methods exist, Castor can handle direct field access to public fields. It does not do both at the same time. So if the respective class has any getter/setter methods at all, then no direct field access will take place.

There is nothing to do to enable “default introspection”. If a descriptor cannot be found for a class, introspection occurs automatically.

Some behaviour of the introspector may be controlled by setting the appropriate properties in the file. Such behaviour consists of changing the naming conventions, and whether primitive types are treated as attributes or elements. See file for more information.

A mapping file may also be used to “describe” the classes which are to be marshaled. The mapping is loaded before any marshaling/unmarshaling takes place. See org.exolab.castor.mapping.Mapping

The main advantage of run-time descriptors is that it takes very little effort to get something working.