XMLUnit Java User's Guide

Tim Bacon

Stefan Bodewig

Revision History
Revision 1.0January 2003 Tim
Documentation for XMLUnit Java 1.0
Revision 1.1April 2007 
Documentation for XMLUnit Java 1.1
Revision 1.2June 2008 
Documentation for XMLUnit Java 1.2
Revision 1.3September 2009 
Documentation for XMLUnit Java 1.3
Revision 1.4February 2013 
Documentation for XMLUnit Java 1.4
Revision 1.5September 2013 
Documentation for XMLUnit Java 1.5
Revision 1.6December 2014 
Documentation for XMLUnit Java 1.6

Table of Contents

1. A Tour of XMLUnit
1.1. What is XMLUnit?
1.2. Quick tour
1.3. Glossary
1.4. Configuring XMLUnit
1.5. Writing XML comparison tests
1.6. Comparing XML Transformations
1.7. Validation Tests
1.8. XPath Tests
1.9. Testing by Tree Walking
2. Using XMLUnit
2.1. Requirements
2.2. Basic Usage
2.3. Using XMLUnit With JUnit 3.x
2.4. Common Configuration Options
2.5. Providing Input to XMLUnit
3. Comparing Pieces of XML
3.1. The Difference Engine
3.2. ComparisonController
3.3. DifferenceListener
3.4. ElementQualifier
3.5. Diff and DetailedDiff
3.6. MatchTracker
3.7. JUnit 3.x Convenience Methods
3.8. Configuration Options
4. Validating XML Documents
4.1. The Validator Class
4.2. JUnit 3.x Convenience Methods
4.3. Configuration Options
4.4. JAXP 1.3 Validation
5. XPath Tests
5.1. XPath Engines
5.2. Using XML Namespaces in XPath Selectors
5.3. JUnit 3.x Convenience Methods
5.4. Configuration Options
6. DOM Tree Walking
6.1. DocumentTraversal
6.2. NodeTest
6.3. NodeTester
6.4. JUnit 3.x Convenience Methods
6.5. Configuration Options
A. Changes
A.1. Changes from XMLUnit 1.0 to 1.1
A.1.1. Breaking Changes
A.1.2. New Features
A.1.3. Important Bug Fixes
A.2. Changes from XMLUnit 1.1 to 1.2
A.2.1. Breaking Changes
A.2.2. New Features
A.2.3. Important Bug Fixes
A.3. Changes from XMLUnit 1.2 to 1.3
A.3.1. Breaking Changes
A.3.2. New Features
A.3.3. Important Bug Fixes
A.4. Changes from XMLUnit 1.3 to 1.4
A.4.1. Breaking Changes
A.4.2. New Features
A.4.3. Important Bug Fixes
A.5. Changes from XMLUnit 1.4 to 1.5
A.5.1. Breaking Changes
A.5.2. New Features
A.5.3. Important Bug Fixes
A.6. Changes from XMLUnit 1.5 to 1.6
A.6.1. Breaking Changes
A.6.2. New Features
A.6.3. Important Bug Fixes

1. A Tour of XMLUnit

This first section contains a tour through XMLUnit's features, the next sections will cover them in more detail.

Note that it has a strong focus on using the XMLTestCase class which is one option to use XMLUnit, but not the only one. XMLUnit's features can be fully used without any dependency on JUnit at all.

1.1. What is XMLUnit?

XMLUnit enables JUnit-style assertions to be made about the content and structure of XML[1]. It is an open source project hosted at http://xmlunit.sourceforge.net/ that grew out of a need to test a system that generated and received custom XML messages. The problem that we faced was how to verify that the system generated the correct message from a known set of inputs. Obviously we could use a DTD or a schema to validate the message output, but this approach wouldn't allow us to distinguish between valid XML with correct content (e.g. element <foo>bar</foo>) and valid XML with incorrect content (e.g. element <foo>baz</foo>). What we really wanted was an assertXMLEqual() method, so we could compare the message that we expected the system to generate and the message that the system actually generated. And that was the beginning of XMLUnit.

1.2. Quick tour

XMLUnit provides a single JUnit extension class, XMLTestCase, and a set of supporting classes that allow assertions to be made about:

  • The differences between two pieces of XML (via Diff and DetailedDiff classes)
  • The validity of a piece of XML (via Validator class)
  • The outcome of transforming a piece of XML using XSLT (via Transform class)
  • The evaluation of an XPath expression on a piece of XML (via classes implementing the XpathEngine interface)
  • Individual nodes in a piece of XML that are exposed by DOM Traversal (via NodeTest class)

XMLUnit can also treat HTML content, even badly-formed HTML, as valid XML to allow these assertions to be made about web pages (via the HTMLDocumentBuilder class).

1.3. Glossary

As with many projects some words in XMLUnit have particular meanings so here is a quick overview. A piece of XML is a DOM Document, a String containing marked-up content, or a Source or Reader that allows access to marked-up content within some resource. XMLUnit compares the expected control XML to some actual test XML. The comparison can reveal that two pieces of XML are identical, similar or different. The unit of measurement used by the comparison is a difference, and differences can be either recoverable or unrecoverable. Two pieces of XML are identical if there are no differences between them, similar if there are only recoverable differences between them, and different if there are any unrecoverable differences between them.

1.4. Configuring XMLUnit

There are many Java XML parsers available, and XMLUnit should work with any JAXP compliant parser library, such as Xerces-J [2] from the Apache Software Foundation. To use the XSLT and XPath features of XMLUnit a Trax (the XSLT portion of JAXP) compliant transformation engine is required, such as Xalan-J[3], from the Apache Software Foundation. To configure XMLUnit to use a specific parser and transformation engine set three System properties before any tests are run, e.g.

Example 1. Configuring JAXP via System Properties


You may want to read Section 2.4.1, “JAXP” for more details - in particular if you are using Java 1.4 or later.

Alternatively there are static methods on the XMLUnit class that can be called directly. The advantage of this approach is that you can specify a different parser class for control and test XML and change the current parser class at any time in your tests, should you need to make assertions about the compatibility of different parsers.

Example 2. Configuring JAXP via XMLUnit class


1.5. Writing XML comparison tests

Let's say we have two pieces of XML that we wish to compare and assert that they are equal. We could write a simple test class like this:

Example 3. A simple comparison test

public class MyXMLTestCase extends XMLTestCase {
    public MyXMLTestCase(String name) {

    public void testForEquality() throws Exception {
        String myControlXML = "<msg><uuid>0x00435A8C</uuid></msg>";
        String myTestXML = "<msg><localId>2376</localId></msg>";
        assertXMLEqual("Comparing test xml to control xml",
                       myControlXML, myTestXML);

The assertXMLEqual test will pass if the control and test XML are either similar or identical. Obviously in this case the pieces of XML are different and the test will fail. The failure message indicates both what the difference is and the XPath locations of the nodes that were being compared:

Comparing test xml to control xml
[different] Expected element tag name 'uuid' but was 'localId' - comparing <uuid...> at /msg[1]/uuid[1] to <localId...> at /msg[1]/localId[1]

When comparing pieces of XML, the XMLTestCase actually creates an instance of the Diff class. The Diff class stores the result of an XML comparison and makes it available through the methods similar() and identical(). The assertXMLEqual() method tests the value of Diff.similar() and the assertXMLIdentical() method tests the value of Diff.identical().

It is easy to create a Diff instance directly without using the XMLTestCase class as below:

Example 4. Creating a Diff instance

public void testXMLIdentical()throws Exception {
    String myControlXML =
    String myTestXML =
    Diff myDiff = new Diff(myControlXML, myTestXML);
    assertTrue("XML similar " + myDiff.toString(),
    assertTrue("XML identical " + myDiff.toString(),

This test fails as two pieces of XML are similar but not identical if their nodes occur in a different sequence. The failure message reported by JUnit from the call to myDiff.toString() looks like this:

[not identical] Expected sequence of child nodes '0' but was '1' - comparing <int...> at /struct[1]/int[1] to <int...> at /struct[1]/int[1]

For efficiency reasons a Diff stops the comparison process as soon as the first difference is found. To get all the differences between two pieces of XML an instance of the DetailedDiff class, a subclass of Diff, is required. Note that a DetailedDiff is constructed using an existing Diff instance.

Consider this test that uses a DetailedDiff:

Example 5. Using DetailedDiff

public void testAllDifferences() throws Exception {
    String myControlXML = "<news><item id=\"1\">War</item>"
        + "<item id=\"2\">Plague</item>"
        + "<item id=\"3\">Famine</item></news>";
    String myTestXML = "<news><item id=\"1\">Peace</item>"
        + "<item id=\"2\">Health</item>"
        + "<item id=\"3\">Plenty</item></news>";
    DetailedDiff myDiff = new DetailedDiff(new Diff(myControlXML, myTestXML));
    List allDifferences = myDiff.getAllDifferences();
    assertEquals(myDiff.toString(), 2, allDifferences.size());

This test fails with the message below as each of the 3 news items differs between the control and test XML:

[different] Expected text value 'War' but was 'Peace' - comparing <item...>War</item> at /news[1]/item[1]/text()[1] to <item...>Peace</item> at /news[1]/item[1]/text()[1]
[different] Expected text value 'Plague' but was 'Health' - comparing <item...>Plague</item> at /news[1]/item[2]/text()[1] to <item...>Health</item> at /news[1]/item[2]/text()[1]
[different] Expected text value 'Famine' but was 'Plenty' - comparing <item...>Famine</item> at /news[1]/item[3]/text()[1] to <item...>Plenty</item> at /news[1]/item[3]/text()[1]
expected <2> but was <3>

The List returned from the getAllDifferences() method contains Difference instances. These instances describe both the type[4] of difference found between a control node and test node and the NodeDetail of those nodes (including the XPath location of each node). Difference instances are passed at runtime in notification events to a registered DifferenceListener, an interface whose default implementation is provided by the Diff class.

However it is possible to override this default behaviour by implementing the interface in your own class. The IgnoreTextAndAttributeValuesDifferenceListener class is an example of how to implement a custom DifferenceListener. It allows an XML comparison to be made that ignores differences in the values of text and attribute nodes, for example when comparing a skeleton or outline piece of XML to some generated XML.

The following test illustrates the use of a custom DifferenceListener:

Example 6. Using a custom DifferenceListener

public void testCompareToSkeletonXML() throws Exception {
    String myControlXML = "<location><street-address>22 any street</street-address><postcode>XY00 99Z</postcode></location>";
    String myTestXML = "<location><street-address>20 east cheap</street-address><postcode>EC3M 1EB</postcode></location>";
    DifferenceListener myDifferenceListener = new IgnoreTextAndAttributeValuesDifferenceListener();
    Diff myDiff = new Diff(myControlXML, myTestXML);
    assertTrue("test XML matches control skeleton XML",

The DifferenceEngine class generates the events that are passed to a DifferenceListener implementation as two pieces of XML are compared. Using recursion it navigates through the nodes in the control XML DOM, and determines which node in the test XML DOM qualifies for comparison to the current control node. The qualifying test node will match the control node's node type, as well as the node name and namespace (if defined for the control node).

However when the control node is an Element, it is less straightforward to determine which test Element qualifies for comparison as the parent node may contain repeated child Elements with the same name and namespace. So for Element nodes, an instance of the ElementQualifier interface is used determine whether a given test Element node qualifies for comparison with a control Element node. This separates the decision about whether two Elements should be compared from the decision about whether those two Elements are considered similar. By default an ElementNameQualifier class is used that compares the nth child <abc> test element to the nth child <abc> control element, i.e. the sequence of the child elements in the test XML is important. However this default behaviour can be overridden using an ElementNameAndTextQualifier or ElementNameAndAttributesQualifier.

The test below demonstrates the use of a custom ElementQualifier:

Example 7. Using a custom ElementQualifier

public void testRepeatedChildElements() throws Exception {
    String myControlXML = "<suite>"
        + "<test status=\"pass\">FirstTestCase</test>"
        + "<test status=\"pass\">SecondTestCase</test></suite>";
    String myTestXML = "<suite>"
        + "<test status=\"pass\">SecondTestCase</test>"
        + "<test status=\"pass\">FirstTestCase</test></suite>";
    assertXMLNotEqual("Repeated child elements in different sequence order are not equal by default",
                      myControlXML, myTestXML);
    Diff myDiff = new Diff(myControlXML, myTestXML);
    myDiff.overrideElementQualifier(new ElementNameAndTextQualifier());
    assertXMLEqual("But they are equal when an ElementQualifier controls which test element is compared with each control element",
                    myDiff, true);

Note: calling toString on an instance of Diff or DetailedDiff will perform the comparision and cache its result immediately. If you change the DifferenceListener or ElementQualifier after calling toString it won't have any effect.

1.6. Comparing XML Transformations

XMLUnit can test XSLT transformations at a high level using the Transform class that wraps an javax.xml.transform.Transformer instance. Knowing the input XML, input stylesheet and expected output XML we can assert that the output of the transformation matches the expected output as follows:

Example 8. Testing the Result of a Transformation

public void testXSLTransformation() throws Exception {
    String myInputXML = "...";
    File myStylesheetFile = new File("...");
    Transform myTransform = new Transform(myInputXML, myStylesheetFile);
    String myExpectedOutputXML = "...";
    Diff myDiff = new Diff(myExpectedOutputXML, myTransform);
    assertTrue("XSL transformation worked as expected", myDiff.similar());

The getResultString() and getResultDocument() methods of the Transform class can be used to access the result of the XSLT transformation programmatically if required, for example as below:

Example 9. Using Transform programmatically

public void testAnotherXSLTransformation() throws Exception {
    File myInputXMLFile = new File("...");
    File myStylesheetFile = new File("...");
    Transform myTransform = new Transform(
        new StreamSource(myInputXMLFile),
        new StreamSource(myStylesheetFile));
    Document myExpectedOutputXML =
                             new FileReader("..."));
    Diff myDiff = new Diff(myExpectedOutputXML,
    assertTrue("XSL transformation worked as expected", myDiff.similar());

1.7. Validation Tests

XML parsers that validate a piece of XML against a DTD are common, however they rely on a DTD reference being present in the XML, and they can only validate against a single DTD. When writing a system that exchanges XML messages with third parties there are times when you would like to validate the XML against a DTD that is not available to the recipient of the message and so cannot be referenced in the message itself. XMLUnit provides a Validator class for this purpose.

Example 10. Validating Against a DTD

public void testValidation() throws Exception {
    // As the document is parsed it is validated against its referenced DTD
    Document myTestDocument = XMLUnit.buildTestDocument("...");
    String mySystemId = "...";
    String myDTDUrl = new File("...").toURL().toExternalForm();
    Validator myValidator = new Validator(myTestDocument, mySystemId,
    assertTrue("test document validates against unreferenced DTD",

Starting with XMLUnit 1.1, the Validator class can also validate against one or more XML Schema definitions. See Section 4.1.2, “XML Schema Validation” for details.

XMLUnit 1.2 introduces a new Validator class that relies on JAXP 1.3's javax.xml.validation package. This Validator can validate against W3C XML Schema, but may support different Schema languages like RELAX NG if your JAXP implementation supports it. See Section 4.4, “JAXP 1.3 Validation” for details.

1.8. XPath Tests

One of the strengths of XML is the ability to programmatically extract specific parts of a document using XPath expressions. The XMLTestCase class offers a number of XPath related assertion methods, as demonstrated in this test:

Example 11. Using XPath Tests

public void testXPaths() throws Exception {
    String mySolarSystemXML = "<solar-system>"
        + "<planet name='Earth' position='3' supportsLife='yes'/>"
        + "<planet name='Venus' position='4'/></solar-system>";
    assertXpathExists("//planet[@name='Earth']", mySolarSystemXML);
    assertXpathNotExists("//star[@name='alpha centauri']",
                      "//planet[@position='3']", mySolarSystemXML);

When an XPath expression is evaluated against a piece of XML a NodeList is created that contains the matching Nodes. The methods in the previous test assertXpathExists, assertXpathNotExists, assertXpathsEqual, and assertXpathsNotEqual use these NodeLists. However, the contents of a NodeList can be flattened (or String-ified) to a single value, and XMLUnit also allows assertions to be made about this single value, as in this test[5]:

Example 12. Testing XPath Values

public void testXPathValues() throws Exception {
    String myJavaFlavours = "<java-flavours>"
        + "<jvm current='some platforms'>1.1.x</jvm>"
        + "<jvm current='no'>1.2.x</jvm>"
        + "<jvm current='yes'>1.3.x</jvm>"
        + "<jvm current='yes' latest='yes'>1.4.x</jvm></javaflavours>";
    assertXpathEvaluatesTo("2", "count(//jvm[@current='yes'])",
    assertXpathValuesEqual("//jvm[4]/@latest", "//jvm[4]/@current",
                              "//jvm[3]/@current", myJavaFlavours);

XPaths are especially useful where a document is made up largely of known, unchanging content with only a small amount of changing content created by the system. One of the main areas where constant "boilerplate" markup is combined with system generated markup is of course in web applications. The power of XPath expressions can make testing web page output quite trivial, and XMLUnit supplies a means of converting even very badly formed HTML into XML to aid this approach to testing.

The HTMLDocumentBuilder class uses the Swing HTML parser to convert marked-up content to Sax events. The TolerantSaxDocumentBuilder class handles the Sax events to build up a DOM document in a tolerant fashion i.e. without mandating that opened elements are closed. (In a purely XML world this class would have no purpose as there are plenty of Sax event handlers that can build DOM documents from well formed content). The test below illustrates how the use of these classes:

Example 13. Working with non well-formed HTML

public void testXpathsInHTML() throws Exception {
    String someBadlyFormedHTML = "<html><title>Ugh</title>"
        + "<body><h1>Heading<ul>"
        + "<li id='1'>Item One<li id='2'>Item Two";
    TolerantSaxDocumentBuilder tolerantSaxDocumentBuilder =
        new TolerantSaxDocumentBuilder(XMLUnit.getTestParser());
    HTMLDocumentBuilder htmlDocumentBuilder =
        new HTMLDocumentBuilder(tolerantSaxDocumentBuilder);
    Document wellFormedDocument =
    assertXpathEvaluatesTo("Item One", "/html/body//li[@id='1']",

One of the key points about using XPaths with HTML content is that extracting values in tests requires the values to be identifiable. (This is just another way of saying that testing HTML is easier when it is written to be testable.) In the previous example id attributes were used to identify the list item values that needed to be testable, however class attributes or span and div tags can also be used to identify specific content for testing.

1.9. Testing by Tree Walking

The DOM specification allows a Document to optionally implement the DocumentTraversal interface. This interface allows an application to iterate over the Nodes contained in a Document, or to "walk the DOM tree". The XMLUnit NodeTest class and NodeTester interface make use of DocumentTraversal to expose individual Nodes in tests: the former handles the mechanics of iteration, and the latter allows custom test strategies to be implemented. A sample test strategy is supplied by the CountingNodeTester class that counts the nodes presented to it and compares the actual count to an expected count. The test below illustrates its use:

Example 14. Using CountingNodeTester

public void testCountingNodeTester() throws Exception {
    String testXML = "<fibonacci><val>1</val><val>2</val><val>3</val>"
        + "<val>5</val><val>9</val></fibonacci>";
    CountingNodeTester countingNodeTester = new CountingNodeTester(4);
    assertNodeTestPasses(testXML, countingNodeTester, Node.TEXT_NODE);

This test fails as there are 5 text nodes, and JUnit supplies the following message:

Expected node test to pass, but it failed! Counted 5 node(s) but
expected 4

Note that if your DOM implementation does not support the DocumentTraversal interface then XMLUnit will throw an IllegalArgumentException informing you that you cannot use the NodeTest or NodeTester classes. Unfortunately even if your DOM implementation does support DocumentTraversal, attributes are not exposed by iteration: however they can be examined from the Element node that contains them.

While the previous test could have been easily performed using XPath, there are times when Node iteration is more powerful. In general, this is true when there are programmatic relationships between nodes that can be more easily tested iteratively. The following test uses a custom NodeTester class to illustrate the potential:

Example 15. Using a Custom NodeTester

public void testCustomNodeTester() throws Exception {
    String testXML = "<fibonacci><val>1</val><val>2</val><val>3</val>"
        + "<val>5</val><val>9</val></fibonacci>";
    NodeTest nodeTest = new NodeTest(testXML);
    assertNodeTestPasses(nodeTest, new FibonacciNodeTester(),
                         new short[] {Node.TEXT_NODE,

private class FibonacciNodeTester extends AbstractNodeTester {
    private int nextVal = 1, lastVal = 1, priorVal = 0;

    public void testText(Text text) throws NodeTestException {
        int val = Integer.parseInt(text.getData());
        if (nextVal != val) {
            throw new NodeTestException("Incorrect value", text);
        nextVal = val + lastVal;
        priorVal = lastVal;
        lastVal = val;

    public void testElement(Element element) throws NodeTestException {
        String name = element.getLocalName();
        if ("fibonacci".equals(name) || "val".equals(name)) {
        throw new NodeTestException("Unexpected element", element);

    public void noMoreNodes(NodeTest nodeTest) throws NodeTestException {

The test fails because the XML contains the wrong value for the last number in the sequence:

Expected node test to pass, but it failed! Incorrect value [#text: 9]

[1] For more information on JUnit see http://www.junit.org

[4] A full set of prototype Difference instances - one for each type of difference - is defined using final static fields in the DifferenceConstants class.

[5] Each of the assertXpath...() methods uses an implementation of the XpathEngine interface to evaluate an XPath expression.