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Learning and Using Jakarta Digester
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Summary of Standard Rules

Below are brief descriptions of all of the standard rules.


  • ObjectCreateRule: Creates an object of the specified class using its default constructor and pushes it onto the stack; it is popped when the element completes. The class to instantiate can be given through a class object or the fully-qualified class name.

  • FactoryCreateRule: Creates an object using a specified factory class and pushes it onto the stack. This can be useful for classes that do not provide a default constructor. The factory class must implement the org.apache.commons.digester.ObjectCreationFactory interface.

Property Setters

  • SetPropertiesRule: Sets one or several named properties in the top-level bean using the values of named XML element attributes. Attribute names and property names are passed to this rule in String[] arrays. (Typically used to handle XML constructs like <article page="10">.)

  • BeanPropertySetterRule: Sets a named property on the top-level bean to the character data enclosed by the current XML element. (Example: <page>10</page>.)

  • SetPropertyRule: Sets a property on the top-level bean. Both the property name, as well as the value to which this property will be set, are given as attributes to the current XML element. (Example: <article key="page" value="10" />.)

Parent/Child Management

  • SetNextRule: Pops the object on top of the stack and passes it to a named method on the object immediately below. Typically used to insert a completed bean into its parent.

  • SetTopRule: Passes the second-to-top object on the stack to the top-level object. This is useful if the child object exposes a setParent method, rather than the other way around.

  • SetRootRule: Calls a method on the object at the bottom of the stack, passing the object on top of the stack as argument.

Arbitrary Method Calls

  • CallMethodRule: Calls an arbitrary named method on the top-level bean. The method may take an arbitrary set of parameters. The values of the parameters are given by subsequent applications of the CallParamRule.

  • CallParamRule: Represents the value of a method parameter. The value of the parameter is either taken from a named XML element attribute, or from the raw character data enclosed by the current element. This rule requires that its position on the parameter list is specified by an integer index.

Specifying Rules in XML: Using the xmlrules Package

Related Reading

Programming Jakarta Struts
By Chuck Cavaness

So far, we have specified the patterns and rules programmatically at compile time. While conceptually simple and straightforward, this feels a bit odd: the entire framework is about recognizing and handling structure and data at run time, but here we go fixing the behavior at compile time! Large numbers of fixed strings in source code typically indicate that something is being configured (rather than programmed), which could be (and probably should be) done at run time instead.

The org.apache.commons.digester.xmlrules package addresses this issue. It provides the DigesterLoader class, which reads the pattern/rule-pairs from an XML document and returns a digester already configured accordingly. The XML document configuring the Digester must comply with the digester-rules.dtd, which is part of the xmlrules package.

Below is the contents of the configuration file (named rules.xml) for the example application. I want to point out several things here.

Patterns can be specified in two different ways: either as attributes to each XML element representing a rule, or using the <pattern> element. The pattern defined by the latter is valid for all contained rule elements. Both ways can be mixed, and <pattern> elements can be nested -- in either case, the pattern defined by the child element is appended to the pattern defined in the enclosing <pattern> element.

The <alias> element is used with the <set-properties-rule> to map an XML attribute to a bean property.

Finally, using the current release of the Digester package, it is not possible to specify the BeanPropertySetterRule in the configuration file. Instead, we are using the CallMethodRule to achieve the same effect, as explained above.

<?xml version="1.0"?>

   <object-create-rule pattern="catalog" classname="Catalog" />
   <set-properties-rule pattern="catalog" >
      <alias attr-name="library" prop-name="library" />

   <pattern value="catalog/book">
      <object-create-rule classname="Book" />
      <call-method-rule pattern="author" methodname="setAuthor"
	                paramcount="0" />
      <call-method-rule pattern="title" methodname="setTitle" 
	                paramcount="0" />
      <set-next-rule methodname="addBook" />

   <pattern value="catalog/magazine">
      <object-create-rule classname="Magazine" />

      <call-method-rule pattern="name" methodname="setName" paramcount="0" />

      <pattern value="article">
         <object-create-rule classname="Article" />
            <alias attr-name="page" prop-name="page" />
         <call-method-rule pattern="headline" methodname="setHeadline" 
		           paramcount="0" />
         <set-next-rule methodname="addArticle" />

      <set-next-rule methodname="addMagazine" /> 

Since all the actual work has now been delegated to the Digester and DigesterLoader classes, the driver class itself becomes trivially simple. To run it, specify the catalog document as the first command line argument, and the rules.xml file as the second. (Confusingly, the DigesterLoader will not read the rules.xml file from a File or an org.xml.sax.InputSource, but requires a URL -- the File reference in the code below is therefore transformed into an equivalent URL.)

import org.apache.commons.digester.*;
import org.apache.commons.digester.xmlrules.*;

import java.io.*;
import java.util.*;

public class XmlRulesDriver {
   public static void main( String[] args ) {
      try {

         File input = new File( args[0] );
         File rules = new File( args[1] );

         Digester digester = DigesterLoader.createDigester( rules.toURL() );

         Catalog catalog = (Catalog)digester.parse( input );
         System.out.println( catalog.toString() );
      } catch( Exception exc ) {


This concludes our brief overview of the Jakarta Commons Digester package. Of course, there is more. One topic ignored in this introduction are XML namespaces: Digester allows you to specify rules that only act on elements defined within a certain namespace.

We mentioned briefly the possibility of developing custom rules, by extending the Rule class. The Digester class exposes the customary push(), peek(), and pop() methods, giving the individual developer freedom to manipulate the parse stack directly.

Lastly, note that there is an additional package providing a Digester implementation which deals with RSS (Rich-Site-Summary)-formatted newsfeeds. The Javadoc tells the full story.


Philipp K. Janert is a software project consultant, server programmer, and architect.

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