version 6.4.3


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What is SAXON?
Technical Support
Historical Note
Conditions of Use
Changes in this release
Using XSL Stylesheets
XSL Elements
XPath Expression syntax
Pattern syntax
Standards Conformance
SAXON Extensions
Extensibility mechanisms
Java API Overview
Sample applications
DTD Generator
Future enhancement suggestions

Please note: a copy of the documentation on this site is also included in the download file. On occasions the on-line version may be more up-to-date. The download file also includes full API documentation, which is not present on the web site: see the doc/api directory.

For comprehensive information about using XSLT
see my book
XSLT Programmers Reference
Second edition now available!
Published by Wrox Press

Release 6.4.3 is an error clearance release

What is SAXON?

The SAXON package is a collection of tools for processing XML documents. The main components are:

So you can use SAXON by writing XSL stylesheets, by writing Java applications, or by any combination of the two.

If you are only interested in running the XSLT interpreter, on a Windows platform, try Instant SAXON. At 400 Kb, this is a much smaller download; it excludes source code and API documentation.

SAXON provides a set of services that are particularly useful when converting XML data into other formats. The output format may be XML, or HTML, or some other format such as comma separated values, EDI messages, or data in a relational database.

SAXON implements the XSLT 1.0 recommendation, including XPath 1.0, in its entirety. SAXON also provides some XSLT 1.1 features, in particular:

In addition, Saxon provides an extensive library of extension elements and extension functions, all implemented in conformance with the XSLT 1.0 standard to ensure that portable stylesheets can be written. These include the EXSLT extension libraries common, sets, math, dates-and-times, and functions. Many of these extensions were pioneered in Saxon and have since become available in other products.

Saxon also includes a number of powerful extension functions that go beyond EXSLT. Most of these rely on the concept of "stored expressions" as an additional data-type: this allows an XPath expression to be constructed at run-time from a string, and allows an expression to be passed as an argument to a function (which in effect provides higher-order functions). This allows:

As a Java class library, SAXON gives you the ability to use the XSL rule-based approach to document processing, but with the flexibility of the full Java language. You can declare handler classes to match particular patterns in the document, and can process arbitrary sets of nodes selected using XPath expressions. This provides a high-level query capability which you can mix with purely navigational access.

Historical Note

SAXON is essentially a one-man project: I have done almost all the development myself, except for a small number of routines which I "borrowed" from other open source products, and a few add-ons contributed by users.

I originally wrote SAXON to support an internal project in ICL, and ICL continued to sponsor development of SAXON until my departure from the company in January 2001. However, it has never been a supported ICL product. My new employers, Software AG, are continuing to sponsor the development of SAXON, but again without making it a corporate product. There is no remaining connection with ICL, other than the fact the the Saxon web site is hosted by iclway, which is a consumer ISP operated by ICL. As always, the software is available entirely without support or warranty, and with no commitments to any future releases.

The name SAXON was chosen because originally it was a layer on top of SAX. Also, it uses the Ælfred parser (among others); Ælfred of course was a Saxon king...

I have been asked to point out that the product has no connection with a company called SAXON Software.

Please read the Conditions of Use.

Technical Support

Saxon comes with no warranty and no formal technical support service.

If you have questions, however, you can usually get an answer by raising them on the Saxon discussion list at http://lists.sourceforge.net/lists/listinfo/saxon-help.

Once registered, you can post messages to saxon-help@lists.sourceforge.net.

If you hit something that looks like a bug, please check the known errors on the Saxon project pages at SourceForge. Also check the list archives.

If the query relates to the XSLT/XPath language rather than Saxon itself, it is better to use the XSL-list: check first that the query isn't already covered in the FAQ. Another useful site for XSLT information is www.xslinfo.com


Existing users please see the file changes.html for details of incompatible changes in this release.

The full SAXON distribution includes source and object code, documentation, and sample applications.

Object code is issued as a JAR file, saxon.jar, which you must include on your class path.

Saxon includes a built-in XML parser, but you can use it with a different XML parser if you wish. To do this from the command line, specify the required parser using the -x or -y options; from the Java API, set the name of the parser class as an attribute of the TransformerFactory object. Saxon no longer uses the ParserManager.properties file used with previous releases.

User documentation, covering both the XSLT and Java interfaces, is included in the download in the form of extensive javadoc specifications. Be sure to read the package summaries, which give an overview in the form of a user guide. In addition there is an introductory overview.


The following software must be installed separately, it is not included with the SAXON download.

SAXON comes with a bundled XML parser, a modified copy of the Ælfred parser, adapted to notify comments to the application. SAXON has been tested successfully in the past with Xerces, Lark, SUN Project X, Crimson, Oracle XML, xerces, xml4j, and xp. Use of a SAX2-compliant parser is preferred, as SAX1 does not allow XML comments to be passed to the application. However, SAXON works with either. All the relevant classes must be installed on your Java CLASSPATH.

An interactive debugger for Saxon has been written by Edwin Glaser. It is still at an early stage of development. The software can be downloaded from http://tbug.sourceforge.net. It is issued in tar/gzip format, but it can be unpacked on a Windows machine using WinZIP.

Because Saxon is run from the command line, you might find it useful (under Microsoft Windows) to have a text editor with better command-line support than the standard DOS window. I use Programmer's File Editor (PFE), a free product available from a number of download sites, for example softseek.com, and also UltraEdit, shareware available from www.ultraedit.com


An index of all currently-available versions of Saxon is on the home page at http://saxon.sourceforge.net/

Michael H. Kay
13 July 2001

Personal home page: http://users.iclway.co.uk/mhkay