Compiler design
Comment design
Unparsed entities
If design
Choose|When|Otherwise design
Include|Import design
Variable|Param design
Internal DOM
Translet & TrAX
XPath Predicates
Xsltc Iterators
Xsltc Native API
Xsltc TrAX API
Performance Hints

This document describes the function of XSLTC's node iterators. It also describes the NodeIterator interface and some implementations of this interface are described in detail:

Node Iterator Function

Node iterators have several functions in XSLTC. The most obvious is acting as a placeholder for node-sets. Node iterators also act as a link between the translet and the DOM(s), they can act as filters (implementing predicates), they contain the functionality necessary to cover all XPath axes and they even serve as a front-end to XSLTC's node-indexing mechanism (for the id() and key() functions).

Node Iterator Interface

The node iterator interface is defined in org.apache.xalan.xsltc.NodeIterator.

The most basic operations in the NodeIterator interface are for setting the iterators start-node. The "start-node" is an index into the DOM. This index, and the axis of the iterator, determine the node-set that the iterator contains. The axis is programmed into the various node iterator implementations, while the start-node can be set by calling:

    public NodeIterator setStartNode(int node);

Once the start node is set the node-set can be traversed by a sequence of calls to:

    public int next();

This method will return the constant NodeIterator.END when the whole node-set has been returned. The iterator can be reset to the start of the node-set by calling:

    public NodeIterator reset();

Two additional methods are provided to set the position within the node-set. The first method below will mark the current node in the node-set, while the second will (at any point) set the iterators position back to that node.

    public void setMark();
    public void gotoMark();

Every node iterator implements two functions that make up the functionality behind XPath's getPosition() and getLast() functions.

    public int getPosition();
    public int getLast();

The getLast() function returns the number of nodes in the set, while the getPosition() returns the current position within the node-set. The value returned by getPosition() for the first node in the set is always 1 (one), and the value returned for the last node in the set is always the same value as is returned by getLast().

All node iterators that implement an XPath axis will return the node-set in the natural order of the axis. For example, the iterator implementing the ancestor axis will return nodes in reverse document order (bottom to top), while the iterator implementing the descendant will return nodes in document order. The node iterator interface has a method that can be used to determine if an iterator returns nodes in reverse document order:

    public boolean isReverse();

Two methods are provided for when node iterators are encapsulated inside a variable or parameter. To understand the purpose behind these two methods we should have a look at a sample XML document and stylesheet first:

    <?xml version="1.0"?>

    <xsl:stylesheet version="1.0" xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform">

        <xsl:template match="foo">
            <xsl:variable name="my-nodes" select="//foo/bar/baz"/>
            <xsl:for-each select="bar">
                <xsl:for-each select="baz">
                    <xsl:value-of select="."/>
                <xsl:for-each select="$my-nodes">
                    <xsl:value-of select="."/>


Now, there are three iterators at work here. The first iterator is the one that is wrapped inside the variable my-nodes - this iterator contains all <baz/> elements in the document. The second iterator contains all <bar> elements under the current element (this is the iterator used by the outer for-each loop). The third and last iterator is the one used by the first of the inner for-each loops. When the outer loop is run the first time, this third iterator will be initialized to contain the first two <baz> elements under the context node (the first <bar> element). Iterators are by default restarted from the current node when used inside a for-each loop like this. But what about the iterator inside the variable my-nodes? The variable should keep its assigned value, no matter what the context node is. In able to prevent the iterator from being reset, we must use a mechanism to block calls to the setStartNode() method. This is done in three steps:

  • The iterator is created and initialized when the variable gets assigned its value (node-set).
  • When the variable is read, the iterator is copied (cloned). The original iterator inside the variable is never used directly. This is to make sure that the iterator inside the variable is always in its original state when read.
  • The iterator clone is marked as not restartable to prevent it from being restarted when used to iterate the <xsl:for-each> element loop.

These are the two methods used for the three steps above:

    public NodeIterator cloneIterator();
    public void setRestartable(boolean isRestartable);

Special care must be taken when implementing these methods in some iterators. The StepIterator class is the best example of this. This iterator wraps two other iterators; one of which is used to generate start-nodes for the other - so one of the encapsulated node iterators must always remain restartable - even when used inside variables. The StepIterator class is described in detail later in this document.

Node Iterator Base Class

A node iterator base class is provided to contain some common functionality. The base class implements the node iterator interface, and has a few additional methods:

    public NodeIterator includeSelf();
    protected final int returnNode(final int node);
    protected final NodeIterator resetPosition();

The includeSelf() is used with certain axis iterators that implement both the ancestor and ancestor-or-self axis and similar. One common implementation is used for these axes and this method is used to signal that the "self" node should also be included in the node-set.

The returnNode() method is called by the implementation of the next() method. returnNode() increments an internal node counter/cursor that keeps track of the current position within the node set. This counter/cursor is then used by the getPosition() implementation to return the current position. The node cursor can be reset by calling resetPosition(). This method is normally called by an iterator's reset() method.

Node Iterator Implementation Details
Axis iterators

All axis iterators are implemented as inner classes of the internal DOM implementation org.apache.xalan.xsltc.dom.DOMImpl. In this way all axis iterator classes have direct access to the internal node type- and navigation arrays of the DOM:

    private short[]   _type;          // Node types
    private short[]   _namespace;     // Namespace URI types
    private short[]   _prefix;        // Namespace prefix types

    private int[]     _parent;        // Index of a node's parent
    private int[]     _nextSibling;   // Index of a node's next sibling node
    private int[]     _offsetOrChild; // Index of an elements first child node
    private int[]     _lengthOrAttr;  // Index of an elements first attribute node

The axis iterators can be instanciated by calling either of these two methods of the DOM:

    public NodeIterator getAxisIterator(final int axis);
    public NodeIterator getTypedAxisIterator(final int axis, final int type);


The StepIterator is used to chain other iterators. A very basic example is this XPath expression:

    <xsl:for-each select="foo/bar">

To generate the appropriate node-set for this loop we need three iterators. The compiler will generate code that first creates a typed axis iterator; the axis will be child and the type will be that assigned to <foo> elements. Then a second typed axis iterator will be created; this also a child -iterator, but this one with the type assigned to <bar> elements. The third iterator is a step iterator that encapsulates the two axis iterators. The step iterator is the initialized with the context node.

The step iterator will use the first axis iterator to generate start-nodes for the second axis iterator. In plain english this means that the step iterator will scan all foo elements for any bar child elements. When a StepIterator is initialized with a start-node it passes the start node to the setStartNode() method of its source -iterator (left). It then calls next() on that iterator to get the start-node for the iterator iterator (right):

    // Set start node for left-hand iterator...
    // ... and get start node for right-hand iterator from left-hand,

The step iterator will keep returning nodes from its right iterator until it runs out of nodes. Then a new start-node is retrieved by again calling next() on the source -iterator. This is why the right-hand iterator always has to be restartable - even if the step iterator is placed inside a variable or parameter. This becomes even more complicated for step iterators that encapsulate other step iterators. We'll make our previous example a bit more interesting:

    <xsl:for-each select="foo/bar[@name='cat and cage']/baz">

This will result in an iterator-tree similar to this:


Figure 1: Stacked step iterators

The "foo" iterator is used to supply the second step iterator with start nodes. The second step iterator will pass these start nodes to the "bar" iterator, which will be used to get the start nodes for the third step iterator, and so on....

Iterators for Filtering/Predicates

The org.apache.xalan.xsltc.dom package contains a few iterators that are used to implement predicates and filters. Such iterators are normally placed on top of another iterator, and return only those nodes that match a specific node value, position, etc. These iterators include:

  • NthIterator
  • NodeValueIterator
  • FilteredStepIterator
  • CurrentNodeListIterator

The last one is the most interesting. This iterator is used to implement chained predicates, such as:

    <xsl:value-of select="foo[@blob='boo'][2]">

The first predicate reduces the node set from containing all <foo> elements, to containing only those elements that have a "blob" attribute with the value 'boo'. The CurrentNodeListIterator is used to contain this reduced node-set. The iterator is constructed by passing it a source iterator (in this case an iterator that contains all <foo> elements) and a filter that implements the predicate (@blob = 'boo').


The sorting iterator is one of the main functional components behind the implementation of the <xsl:sort> element. This element, including the sorting iterator, is described in detail in the <xsl:sort> design document.


The singleton iterator is a wrapper for a single node. The node passed in to the setStartNode() method is the only node that will be returned by the next() method. The singleton iterator is used mainly for node to node-set type conversions.


The union iterator is used to contain unions of node-sets contained in other iterators. Some of the methods in this iterator are unnecessary comlicated. The next() method contains an algorithm for ensuring that the union node-set is returned in document order. We might be better off by simply wrapping the union iterator inside a duplicate filter iterator, but there could be some performance implications. Worth checking.


This is not just an node iterator. An index used for keys and ids will return a set of nodes that are contained within the named index and that share a certain property. The KeyIndex implements the node iterator interface, so that these nodes can be returned and handled just like any other node set. See the design document for <xsl:key>, key() and id() for further details.

Copyright © 2004 The Apache Software Foundation. All Rights Reserved.