pugixml 1.5 manual | Overview | Installation | Document: Object model · Loading · Accessing · Modifying · Saving | XPath | API Reference | Table of Contents

Document object model

Tree structure
C++ interface
Unicode interface
Thread-safety guarantees
Exception guarantees
Memory management
Custom memory allocation/deallocation functions
Memory consumption tuning
Document memory management internals

pugixml stores XML data in DOM-like way: the entire XML document (both document structure and element data) is stored in memory as a tree. The tree can be loaded from a character stream (file, string, C++ I/O stream), then traversed with the special API or XPath expressions. The whole tree is mutable: both node structure and node/attribute data can be changed at any time. Finally, the result of document transformations can be saved to a character stream (file, C++ I/O stream or custom transport).

The XML document is represented with a tree data structure. The root of the tree is the document itself, which corresponds to C++ type xml_document. Document has one or more child nodes, which correspond to C++ type xml_node. Nodes have different types; depending on a type, a node can have a collection of child nodes, a collection of attributes, which correspond to C++ type xml_attribute, and some additional data (i.e. name).

The tree nodes can be of one of the following types (which together form the enumeration xml_node_type):

  • Document node (node_document) - this is the root of the tree, which consists of several child nodes. This node corresponds to xml_document class; note that xml_document is a sub-class of xml_node, so the entire node interface is also available. However, document node is special in several ways, which are covered below. There can be only one document node in the tree; document node does not have any XML representation.

  • Element/tag node (node_element) - this is the most common type of node, which represents XML elements. Element nodes have a name, a collection of attributes and a collection of child nodes (both of which may be empty). The attribute is a simple name/value pair. The example XML representation of element nodes is as follows:
<node attr="value"><child/></node>

There are two element nodes here: one has name "node", single attribute "attr" and single child "child", another has name "child" and does not have any attributes or child nodes.

  • Plain character data nodes (node_pcdata) represent plain text in XML. PCDATA nodes have a value, but do not have a name or children/attributes. Note that plain character data is not a part of the element node but instead has its own node; an element node can have several child PCDATA nodes. The example XML representation of text nodes is as follows:
<node> text1 <child/> text2 </node>

Here "node" element has three children, two of which are PCDATA nodes with values " text1 " and " text2 ".

  • Character data nodes (node_cdata) represent text in XML that is quoted in a special way. CDATA nodes do not differ from PCDATA nodes except in XML representation - the above text example looks like this with CDATA:
<node> <![CDATA[[text1]]> <child/> <![CDATA[[text2]]> </node>

CDATA nodes make it easy to include non-escaped <, & and > characters in plain text. CDATA value can not contain the character sequence ]]>, since it is used to determine the end of node contents.

  • Comment nodes (node_comment) represent comments in XML. Comment nodes have a value, but do not have a name or children/attributes. The example XML representation of a comment node is as follows:
<!-- comment text -->

Here the comment node has value "comment text". By default comment nodes are treated as non-essential part of XML markup and are not loaded during XML parsing. You can override this behavior with parse_comments flag.

  • Processing instruction node (node_pi) represent processing instructions (PI) in XML. PI nodes have a name and an optional value, but do not have children/attributes. The example XML representation of a PI node is as follows:
<?name value?>

Here the name (also called PI target) is "name", and the value is "value". By default PI nodes are treated as non-essential part of XML markup and are not loaded during XML parsing. You can override this behavior with parse_pi flag.

  • Declaration node (node_declaration) represents document declarations in XML. Declaration nodes have a name ("xml") and an optional collection of attributes, but do not have value or children. There can be only one declaration node in a document; moreover, it should be the topmost node (its parent should be the document). The example XML representation of a declaration node is as follows:
<?xml version="1.0"?>

Here the node has name "xml" and a single attribute with name "version" and value "1.0". By default declaration nodes are treated as non-essential part of XML markup and are not loaded during XML parsing. You can override this behavior with parse_declaration flag. Also, by default a dummy declaration is output when XML document is saved unless there is already a declaration in the document; you can disable this with format_no_declaration flag.

  • Document type declaration node (node_doctype) represents document type declarations in XML. Document type declaration nodes have a value, which corresponds to the entire document type contents; no additional nodes are created for inner elements like <!ENTITY>. There can be only one document type declaration node in a document; moreover, it should be the topmost node (its parent should be the document). The example XML representation of a document type declaration node is as follows:
<!DOCTYPE greeting [ <!ELEMENT greeting (#PCDATA)> ]>

Here the node has value "greeting [ <!ELEMENT greeting (#PCDATA)> ]". By default document type declaration nodes are treated as non-essential part of XML markup and are not loaded during XML parsing. You can override this behavior with parse_doctype flag.

Finally, here is a complete example of XML document and the corresponding tree representation (samples/tree.xml):

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<mesh name="mesh_root">
    <!-- here is a mesh node -->
    some text
    some more text
    <node attr1="value1" attr2="value2" />
    <node attr1="value2">
<?include somedata?>


[Note] Note

All pugixml classes and functions are located in the pugi namespace; you have to either use explicit name qualification (i.e. pugi::xml_node), or to gain access to relevant symbols via using directive (i.e. using pugi::xml_node; or using namespace pugi;). The namespace will be omitted from all declarations in this documentation hereafter; all code examples will use fully qualified names.

Despite the fact that there are several node types, there are only three C++ classes representing the tree (xml_document, xml_node, xml_attribute); some operations on xml_node are only valid for certain node types. The classes are described below.

xml_document is the owner of the entire document structure; it is a non-copyable class. The interface of xml_document consists of loading functions (see Loading document), saving functions (see Saving document) and the entire interface of xml_node, which allows for document inspection and/or modification. Note that while xml_document is a sub-class of xml_node, xml_node is not a polymorphic type; the inheritance is present only to simplify usage. Alternatively you can use the document_element function to get the element node that's the immediate child of the document.

Default constructor of xml_document initializes the document to the tree with only a root node (document node). You can then populate it with data using either tree modification functions or loading functions; all loading functions destroy the previous tree with all occupied memory, which puts existing node/attribute handles for this document to invalid state. If you want to destroy the previous tree, you can use the xml_document::reset function; it destroys the tree and replaces it with either an empty one or a copy of the specified document. Destructor of xml_document also destroys the tree, thus the lifetime of the document object should exceed the lifetimes of any node/attribute handles that point to the tree.

[Caution] Caution

While technically node/attribute handles can be alive when the tree they're referring to is destroyed, calling any member function for these handles results in undefined behavior. Thus it is recommended to make sure that the document is destroyed only after all references to its nodes/attributes are destroyed.

xml_node is the handle to document node; it can point to any node in the document, including the document node itself. There is a common interface for nodes of all types; the actual node type can be queried via the xml_node::type() method. Note that xml_node is only a handle to the actual node, not the node itself - you can have several xml_node handles pointing to the same underlying object. Destroying xml_node handle does not destroy the node and does not remove it from the tree. The size of xml_node is equal to that of a pointer, so it is nothing more than a lightweight wrapper around a pointer; you can safely pass or return xml_node objects by value without additional overhead.

There is a special value of xml_node type, known as null node or empty node (such nodes have type node_null). It does not correspond to any node in any document, and thus resembles null pointer. However, all operations are defined on empty nodes; generally the operations don't do anything and return empty nodes/attributes or empty strings as their result (see documentation for specific functions for more detailed information). This is useful for chaining calls; i.e. you can get the grandparent of a node like so: node.parent().parent(); if a node is a null node or it does not have a parent, the first parent() call returns null node; the second parent() call then also returns null node, which makes error handling easier.

xml_attribute is the handle to an XML attribute; it has the same semantics as xml_node, i.e. there can be several xml_attribute handles pointing to the same underlying object and there is a special null attribute value, which propagates to function results.

Both xml_node and xml_attribute have the default constructor which initializes them to null objects.

xml_node and xml_attribute try to behave like pointers, that is, they can be compared with other objects of the same type, making it possible to use them as keys in associative containers. All handles to the same underlying object are equal, and any two handles to different underlying objects are not equal. Null handles only compare as equal to themselves. The result of relational comparison can not be reliably determined from the order of nodes in file or in any other way. Do not use relational comparison operators except for search optimization (i.e. associative container keys).

If you want to use xml_node or xml_attribute objects as keys in hash-based associative containers, you can use the hash_value member functions. They return the hash values that are guaranteed to be the same for all handles to the same underlying object. The hash value for null handles is 0.

Finally handles can be implicitly cast to boolean-like objects, so that you can test if the node/attribute is empty with the following code: if (node) { ... } or if (!node) { ... } else { ... }. Alternatively you can check if a given xml_node/xml_attribute handle is null by calling the following methods:

bool xml_attribute::empty() const;
bool xml_node::empty() const;

Nodes and attributes do not exist without a document tree, so you can't create them without adding them to some document. Once underlying node/attribute objects are destroyed, the handles to those objects become invalid. While this means that destruction of the entire tree invalidates all node/attribute handles, it also means that destroying a subtree (by calling xml_node::remove_child) or removing an attribute invalidates the corresponding handles. There is no way to check handle validity; you have to ensure correctness through external mechanisms.

There are two choices of interface and internal representation when configuring pugixml: you can either choose the UTF-8 (also called char) interface or UTF-16/32 (also called wchar_t) one. The choice is controlled via PUGIXML_WCHAR_MODE define; you can set it via pugiconfig.hpp or via preprocessor options, as discussed in Additional configuration options. If this define is set, the wchar_t interface is used; otherwise (by default) the char interface is used. The exact wide character encoding is assumed to be either UTF-16 or UTF-32 and is determined based on the size of wchar_t type.

[Note] Note

If the size of wchar_t is 2, pugixml assumes UTF-16 encoding instead of UCS-2, which means that some characters are represented as two code points.

All tree functions that work with strings work with either C-style null terminated strings or STL strings of the selected character type. For example, node name accessors look like this in char mode:

const char* xml_node::name() const;
bool xml_node::set_name(const char* value);

and like this in wchar_t mode:

const wchar_t* xml_node::name() const;
bool xml_node::set_name(const wchar_t* value);

There is a special type, pugi::char_t, that is defined as the character type and depends on the library configuration; it will be also used in the documentation hereafter. There is also a type pugi::string_t, which is defined as the STL string of the character type; it corresponds to std::string in char mode and to std::wstring in wchar_t mode.

In addition to the interface, the internal implementation changes to store XML data as pugi::char_t; this means that these two modes have different memory usage characteristics. The conversion to pugi::char_t upon document loading and from pugi::char_t upon document saving happen automatically, which also carries minor performance penalty. The general advice however is to select the character mode based on usage scenario, i.e. if UTF-8 is inconvenient to process and most of your XML data is non-ASCII, wchar_t mode is probably a better choice.

There are cases when you'll have to convert string data between UTF-8 and wchar_t encodings; the following helper functions are provided for such purposes:

std::string as_utf8(const wchar_t* str);
std::wstring as_wide(const char* str);

Both functions accept a null-terminated string as an argument str, and return the converted string. as_utf8 performs conversion from UTF-16/32 to UTF-8; as_wide performs conversion from UTF-8 to UTF-16/32. Invalid UTF sequences are silently discarded upon conversion. str has to be a valid string; passing null pointer results in undefined behavior. There are also two overloads with the same semantics which accept a string as an argument:

std::string as_utf8(const std::wstring& str);
std::wstring as_wide(const std::string& str);
[Note] Note

Most examples in this documentation assume char interface and therefore will not compile with PUGIXML_WCHAR_MODE. This is done to simplify the documentation; usually the only changes you'll have to make is to pass wchar_t string literals, i.e. instead of

pugi::xml_node node = doc.child("bookstore").find_child_by_attribute("book", "id", "12345");

you'll have to do

pugi::xml_node node = doc.child(L"bookstore").find_child_by_attribute(L"book", L"id", L"12345");

Almost all functions in pugixml have the following thread-safety guarantees:

  • it is safe to call free (non-member) functions from multiple threads
  • it is safe to perform concurrent read-only accesses to the same tree (all constant member functions do not modify the tree)
  • it is safe to perform concurrent read/write accesses, if there is only one read or write access to the single tree at a time

Concurrent modification and traversing of a single tree requires synchronization, for example via reader-writer lock. Modification includes altering document structure and altering individual node/attribute data, i.e. changing names/values.

The only exception is set_memory_management_functions; it modifies global variables and as such is not thread-safe. Its usage policy has more restrictions, see Custom memory allocation/deallocation functions.

With the exception of XPath, pugixml itself does not throw any exceptions. Additionally, most pugixml functions have a no-throw exception guarantee.

This is not applicable to functions that operate on STL strings or IOstreams; such functions have either strong guarantee (functions that operate on strings) or basic guarantee (functions that operate on streams). Also functions that call user-defined callbacks (i.e. xml_node::traverse or xml_node::find_node) do not provide any exception guarantees beyond the ones provided by the callback.

If exception handling is not disabled with PUGIXML_NO_EXCEPTIONS define, XPath functions may throw xpath_exception on parsing errors; also, XPath functions may throw std::bad_alloc in low memory conditions. Still, XPath functions provide strong exception guarantee.

pugixml requests the memory needed for document storage in big chunks, and allocates document data inside those chunks. This section discusses replacing functions used for chunk allocation and internal memory management implementation.

All memory for tree structure, tree data and XPath objects is allocated via globally specified functions, which default to malloc/free. You can set your own allocation functions with set_memory_management function. The function interfaces are the same as that of malloc/free:

typedef void* (*allocation_function)(size_t size);
typedef void (*deallocation_function)(void* ptr);

You can use the following accessor functions to change or get current memory management functions:

void set_memory_management_functions(allocation_function allocate, deallocation_function deallocate);
allocation_function get_memory_allocation_function();
deallocation_function get_memory_deallocation_function();

Allocation function is called with the size (in bytes) as an argument and should return a pointer to a memory block with alignment that is suitable for storage of primitive types (usually a maximum of void* and double types alignment is sufficient) and size that is greater than or equal to the requested one. If the allocation fails, the function has to return null pointer (throwing an exception from allocation function results in undefined behavior).

Deallocation function is called with the pointer that was returned by some call to allocation function; it is never called with a null pointer. If memory management functions are not thread-safe, library thread safety is not guaranteed.

This is a simple example of custom memory management (samples/custom_memory_management.cpp):

void* custom_allocate(size_t size)
    return new (std::nothrow) char[size];

void custom_deallocate(void* ptr)
    delete[] static_cast<char*>(ptr);

pugi::set_memory_management_functions(custom_allocate, custom_deallocate);

When setting new memory management functions, care must be taken to make sure that there are no live pugixml objects. Otherwise when the objects are destroyed, the new deallocation function will be called with the memory obtained by the old allocation function, resulting in undefined behavior.

There are several important buffering optimizations in pugixml that rely on predefined constants. These constants have default values that were tuned for common usage patterns; for some applications, changing these constants might improve memory consumption or increase performance. Changing these constants is not recommended unless their default values result in visible problems.

These constants can be tuned via configuration defines, as discussed in Additional configuration options; it is recommended to set them in pugiconfig.hpp.

  • PUGIXML_MEMORY_PAGE_SIZE controls the page size for document memory allocation. Memory for node/attribute objects is allocated in pages of the specified size. The default size is 32 Kb; for some applications the size is too large (i.e. embedded systems with little heap space or applications that keep lots of XML documents in memory). A minimum size of 1 Kb is recommended.

  • PUGIXML_MEMORY_OUTPUT_STACK controls the cumulative stack space required to output the node. Any output operation (i.e. saving a subtree to file) uses an internal buffering scheme for performance reasons. The default size is 10 Kb; if you're using node output from threads with little stack space, decreasing this value can prevent stack overflows. A minimum size of 1 Kb is recommended.

  • PUGIXML_MEMORY_XPATH_PAGE_SIZE controls the page size for XPath memory allocation. Memory for XPath query objects as well as internal memory for XPath evaluation is allocated in pages of the specified size. The default size is 4 Kb; if you have a lot of resident XPath query objects, you might need to decrease the size to improve memory consumption. A minimum size of 256 bytes is recommended.

Constructing a document object using the default constructor does not result in any allocations; document node is stored inside the xml_document object.

When the document is loaded from file/buffer, unless an inplace loading function is used (see Loading document from memory), a complete copy of character stream is made; all names/values of nodes and attributes are allocated in this buffer. This buffer is allocated via a single large allocation and is only freed when document memory is reclaimed (i.e. if the xml_document object is destroyed or if another document is loaded in the same object). Also when loading from file or stream, an additional large allocation may be performed if encoding conversion is required; a temporary buffer is allocated, and it is freed before load function returns.

All additional memory, such as memory for document structure (node/attribute objects) and memory for node/attribute names/values is allocated in pages on the order of 32 kilobytes; actual objects are allocated inside the pages using a memory management scheme optimized for fast allocation/deallocation of many small objects. Because of the scheme specifics, the pages are only destroyed if all objects inside them are destroyed; also, generally destroying an object does not mean that subsequent object creation will reuse the same memory. This means that it is possible to devise a usage scheme which will lead to higher memory usage than expected; one example is adding a lot of nodes, and them removing all even numbered ones; not a single page is reclaimed in the process. However this is an example specifically crafted to produce unsatisfying behavior; in all practical usage scenarios the memory consumption is less than that of a general-purpose allocator because allocation meta-data is very small in size.

pugixml 1.5 manual | Overview | Installation | Document: Object model · Loading · Accessing · Modifying · Saving | XPath | API Reference | Table of Contents