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Cocoon Core 2.2

Creating a Generator

Creating a Generator

One of the most common types of components to create in Cocoon is to create a Generator. Whether you realize it or not, every time you write an XSP page, you are creating a Generator. XSP pages do a number of things for you, but there is a considerable amount of overhead involved with compiling and debugging. After all, when your XSP page isn't rendering like you expect and the XML is well-formed, where do you turn? You can examine the Java code that is generated from the XSP, but that can have its own set of challenges. I had a perfectly valid Java source file generated for Java 5's javac program, but it wouldn't compile in Cocoon. Why? The default compiler included with Cocoon doesn't support Java 5.

Sometimes our needs are so simple and so narrowly defined that it would be much easier for us to create our Generator right in our own IDE using all of the creature features that are included. Eclipse and IDEA are both wonderfully rich environments to develop Java code. Generators are much simpler beasts than your transformers and your serializers, so it makes creating them directly even more enticing. Cocoon does have some wonderful generators like the JXTemplateGenerator and others, but we are going to delve into the world of creating our own.

How the Sitemap Treats a Generator

In the eyes of the Sitemap, all XML pipelines start with the Generator. By definition, a Generator is the first XMLProducer in the pipeline. It is the source of all SAX events that the pipeline handles. It is also a SitemapModelComponent, so it must follow those contracts as well. Lastly, it can be a CacheableProcessingComponent satisfying those contracts as well. As usual, the order of contracts honored starts with the SitemapModelComponent, then the CacheableProcessingComponent contracts, and lastly the XMLProducer contracts. If the results of the Generator can be cached, Cocoon will attempt use the cache and bypass the Generator altogether if possible. The Caching mechanism can take the place of the Generator because it can recreate a SAX stream on demand as an XMLProducer.

In the big scheme of things, the Sitemap will setup() the Generator, and then assemble the XML pipeline. After Cocoon assembles the pipeline, chaining all XMLProducers to XMLConsumers (remember that an XMLPipe is both), Cocoon will call the generate() method on the Generator. That is the signal to start producing results, so send out the SAX events and have fun.

Building our Own Generator

We are going to keep things easy for our generator. As usual, we will make the results cacheable because that is just good policy. In the spirit of trying to be useful, as well as trying to keep things manageably simple, let's create a BeanGenerator. The XML generated will be very simple, utilizing the JavaBean contracts and creating an element for each property, and embedding the value of the property within that element. There won't be any attributes, and the namespace will match the the JavaBean's fully qualified class name. If a property has something other than a primitive type, a String or an equivalent (like Integer and Boolean) as its value, that object will be treated as a Bean.

To realize these requirements we have to find a bean, and then "render it". In this case the XML rendering of the bean will be recursive. The general approach will use Java's reflection mechanisms, and only worry about properties. There will be a certain amount of risk involved with a complex bean that includes references to other beans in that if you have two beans referring to each other you will have an infinite loop. Detecting these is outside the scope of what we are trying to do, and that is generally bad design anyway so we won't worry too much about it. Yes there is overhead with the beans Introspector but we are writing for the general case.

To set up our generator, we need to use a serializer that shows us what the results are, so we will set up our sitemap to use our generator like this:

<map:match pattern="bean/*.xml">
  <map:generate type="bean" src="{1}"/>
  <map:serialize type="xml"/>

Even though it is generally bad design to have a static anything in a Cocoon application we are going to use a helper class called "BeanPool" with the get() and put() methods that are familiar from the HashMap. So that it is easier for you to change the behavior of the BeanGenerator, we will provide a nice protected method called findBean() which is meant to be overridden with something more robust.

The Skeleton

Our skeleton code will look like this:

import org.apache.avalon.framework.parameters.Parameters;
import org.apache.cocoon.ProcessingException;
import org.apache.cocoon.ResourceNotFoundException;
import org.apache.cocoon.caching.CacheableProcessingComponent;
import org.apache.cocoon.environment.SourceResolver;
import org.apache.cocoon.generation.AbstractGenerator;
import org.apache.excalibur.source.SourceValidity;
import org.apache.excalibur.source.NOPValidity;
import org.xml.sax.Attributes;
import org.xml.sax.SAXException;
import org.xml.sax.helpers.AttributesImpl;

import java.beans.Introspector;
import java.beans.BeanInfo;
import java.beans.PropertyDescriptor;
import java.lang.reflect.Method;
import java.io.IOException;
import java.io.Serializable;

public class BeanGenerator extends AbstractGenerator implements CacheableProcessingComponent
    private static final Attributes ATTR = new AttributesImpl();
    private Object m_bean;

    protected Object findBean(String key)
        // replace this with something more robust.
        return BeanPool.get(key);

    public void setup( SourceResolver sourceResolver, Map model, String src, Parameters params )
        throws IOException, ProcessingException, SAXException
        // ... skip setup code for now

    public void generate() throws IOException, SAXException, ProcessingException
        // ... skip generate code for now

    // ... skip other methods later.

As you can see, we have our simplified findBean() method which can be replaced with something more robust later. All you need to do to populate the BeanPool is to call the BeanPool.put(String key, Object bean) method from somewhere else.

Setting up to Generate

Before we can generate anything let's start with the setup() code:

    super.setup( sourceResolver, model, src, params );
    m_bean = findBean(src);

    if ( null == m_bean )
        throw new ResourceNotFoundException(String.format("Could not find bean: %s", source));

What we did is call the setup method from AbstractGenerator which populates some class fields for us (like the source field), then we tried to find the bean using the key provided. If the bean is null, then we follow the principle of least surprise and throw the ResourceNotFoundException so the Sitemap knows that we simply don't have the bean available instead of generating some lame 500 server error. That's all we have to do to set up this particular Generator. Oh, and since we do have the m_bean field populated we do want to clean up after ourselves properly. Let's add the recycle() method from Recyclable so that we don't give an old result when a bean can't be found:

   public void recycle()
      m_bean = null;

The Caching Clues

We are going to make the caching for the BeanGenerator really simple. Ideally we would have something that listens for changes and invalidates the SourceValidity if there is a change to the bean we are rendering. Unfortunately that is outside our scope, and we will set up the key so that it never expires unless it is done manually. Since we are using the source property from the Sitemap as our key, let's just use that as our cache key:

    public Serializable getKey()
        return source;

And lastly, our brain-dead validity implementation:

    public SourceValidity getValidity()
        return NOPValidity.SHARED_INSTANCE;

Using this approach is a bit naive in the sense that it is very possible that the beans will have changed. We could use an ExpiresValidity instead to make things a bit more resilient to change, but that is an excersize for you, dear reader.

Generating Output

Now that we have our bean, we are ready to generate our output. The AbstractXMLProducer base class (AbstractGenerator inherits from that) stores the target in a class field named contentHandler. Simple enough. We'll start by implementing the generate() method, but we already know we need to handle beans differently than the standard String and primitive types. So let's stub out the method we will use for recursive serialization. Here we go:

    public void generate()

        renderBean(source, m_bean);


All we did was call the start and end document for the whole XML Document. That is enough for a basic XML document with no content. The renderBean() method is where the magic happens:

    public void renderBean(String root, Object bean)
        String namespace = String.format( "java:%s", bean.getClass().getName() );
        qName = String.format( "%s:%s", root,root );

        contentHandler.startPrefixMapping( root, namespace );
        contentHandler.startElement( namespace, root, qName, ATTR );

        BeanInfo info = Introspector.getBeanInfo(bean.getClass());
        PropertyDescriptor[] descriptors = info.getPropertyDescriptors();

        for ( PropertyDescriptor property : descriptors )
            renderProperty( namespace, root, property );

        contentHandler.endElement( namespace, root, qName );
        contentHandler.endNamespace( root );

So far we created the root element and started iterating over the properties. Our root element consists of a namespace a name and a qName. Our implementation is using the source for the initial root element so as long as we never have any special characters like a colon (':') we should be OK. Without going through the individual properties, a java.awt.Dimension object with a source of "dim" will be redered like this:

<dim:dim xmlns:dim="java:java.awt.Dimension"/>

Now for the properties:

    private void renderProperty( String namespace, String root, PropertyDescriptor property )
        Method reader = property.getReadMethod();
        Class<?> type = property.getPropertyType();

        // only output if there is something to read, and it is not an indexed type
        if ( null != reader && null != type )
            String name = property.getName();
            String qName = String.format( "%s:%s", root,name );
            Object value = reader.invoke( m_bean );

            contentHandler.startElement( namespace, name, qName, ATTR );

            if ( isBean(type) )
                renderBean( name, value )
            else if ( null != value )
                char[] chars = String.valueOf(value).toCharArray();
                contentHandler.characters(chars, 0, chars.length);

            contentHandler.endElement( namespace, name, qName );

This method is a little more complex in that we have to figure out if the property is readable, and is a type we can handle. In this case, we don't read indexed properties (if you want to support that, you'll have to extend this code to do that), and we don't read any properties where there is no read method. We use the property name for the elements surrouding the property values. We get the value, and then we call the start and end elements for the property. Inside of the calls, we determine if the item is a bean, and if so we render the bean using the renderBean method (the recursive aspect); otherwise we render the content as text as long as it is not null. Once the isBean() method is implemented, our Dimension example above will produce the following result:

<dim:dim xmlns:dim="java:java.awt.Dimension">

Ok, now for the last method to determine if a value is a bean or not:

    private boolean isBean(Class<?> klass)
        if ( Boolean.TYPE.equals( klass ) ) return false;
        if ( Byte.TYPE.equals( klass ) ) return false;
        if ( Character.TYPE.equals( klass ) ) return false;
        if ( Double.TYPE.equals( klass ) ) return false;
        if ( Float.TYPE.equals( klass ) ) return false;
        if ( Integer.TYPE.equals( klass ) ) return false;
        if ( Long.TYPE.equals( klass ) ) return false;
        if ( Short.TYPE.equals( klass ) ) return false;
        if ( java.util.Date.class.equals( klass ) ) return false; // treat dates as value objects
        if ( klass.getName().startsWith( "java.lang" ) ) return false;

        return true;

The isBean() method will treat all primitives, Strings, Dates, and anything in "java.lang" as value objects. This captures the boxed versions of primitives as well as the unboxed versions. Everything else is treated as a bean.


Generators aren't too difficult to write, but the tricky parts are there due to namespaces. As long as you are familiar with the SAX API you should not have any problems. The complexity in our generator is really from the reflection logic used to discover how to render an object. You might ask why we didn't use the XMLEncoder in the java.beans package. The answer has to do with the fact that the facility is based on IO streams, and can't be easily adapted to XML streams. At any rate, we have something that can work with a wide range of classes. Our XML is easy to understand. Here is a snippet from a more complex example:

<line:line xmlns:line="java:com.mycompany.shapes.Line">
  <line:name>This line has a name</line:name>
    <topLeft:topLeft xmlns:topLeft="java:java.awt.Point">
    <bottomRight:bottomRight xmlns:bottomRight="java:java.awt.Point">

Our theoretical line object contained a name and two java.awt.Point objects which in turn had an x and a y property. It is easier to understand when you have domain specific beans that are backed to a database. Nevertheless, we have a generator that satisfies a general purpose and can be extended later on to support our needs as they change.