SAX Parser Example: A Look at the SAX Parser in Action

The Simple API for XML (SAX) Parser is an event-based parser used for processing XML documents. Unlike the DOM (Document Object Model) parser, which loads the entire XML document into memory, the SAX parser reads the XML document sequentially, firing events as it encounters elements, attributes, and other XML constructs. This event-driven approach makes the SAX parser more memory-efficient, especially when dealing large XML files.

In this article, we'll explore the SAX parser by walking through a practical example in Java. We'll create a simple XML file, implement a custom content handler, and parse the XML document using the SAX parser.

Setting Up the XML File

Let's start by creating a simple XML file named books.xml with the following content:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>



    <title>The Great Gatsby</title>

    <author>F. Scott Fitzgerald</author>




    <title>To Kill a Mockingbird</title>

    <author>Harper Lee</author>





    <author>George Orwell</author>




This XML file represents a bookstore with three books, each containing information about the title, author, and price.

Implementing the Content Handler

The SAX parser works by firing events as it encounters different elements and constructs in the XML document. To handle these events, we need to create a custom content handler that extends the DefaultHandler class from the org.xml.sax package.

Create a new Java file named with the following code:

import org.xml.sax.Attributes;

import org.xml.sax.SAXException;

import org.xml.sax.helpers.DefaultHandler;

public class BookstoreHandler extends DefaultHandler {

    private StringBuilder currentValue = new StringBuilder();

    private Book currentBook = null;


    public void startElement(String uri, String localName, String qName, Attributes attributes) throws SAXException {


        if (qName.equalsIgnoreCase("book")) {

            currentBook = new Book();




    public void endElement(String uri, String localName, String qName) throws SAXException {

        if (currentBook != null) {

            switch (qName) {

                case "title":



                case "author":



                case "price":



                case "book":


                    currentBook = null;






    public void characters(char[] ch, int start, int length) throws SAXException {

        currentValue.append(ch, start, length);



In this content handler, we override three methods:

  1. startElement(...): This method is called when the parser encounters the start of an element. In our case, we create a new Book object when the <book> element is encountered.
  2. endElement(...): This method is called when the parser encounters the end of an element. We use a switch statement to handle different elements and set the corresponding values (title, author, price) on the current Book object. When the </book> element is encountered, we print the Book object and reset the currentBook reference.
  3. characters(...): This method is called when the parser encounters character data between the start and end tags of an element. We append the character data to the currentValue StringBuilder.

Additionally, we have a Book class that represents a book with properties for title, author, and price.

Parsing the XML Document

With the content handler implemented, we can now parse the books.xml file using the SAX parser. Create a new Java file named with the following code:

import org.xml.sax.SAXException;

import org.xml.sax.XMLReader;

import org.xml.sax.helpers.XMLReaderFactory;


public class SAXParserExample {

    public static void main(String[] args) {

        try {

            // Create an XMLReader instance

            XMLReader reader = XMLReaderFactory.createXMLReader();

            // Set the content handler

            BookstoreHandler handler = new BookstoreHandler();


            // Parse the XML document


        } catch (SAXException | IOException e) {





In the main method, we perform the following steps:

  1. Create an XMLReader instance using XMLReaderFactory.createXMLReader().
  2. Create an instance of our custom BookstoreHandler class.
  3. Set the content handler on the XMLReader using reader.setContentHandler(handler).
  4. Parse the books.xml file using reader.parse("books.xml").

When you run the SAXParserExample class, you should see the following output:

Book{title='The Great Gatsby', author='F. Scott Fitzgerald', price=9.99}

Book{title='To Kill a Mockingbird', author='Harper Lee', price=7.99}

Book{title='1984', author='George Orwell', price=8.99}

This output confirms that the SAX parser successfully parsed the books.xml file, and our content handler correctly extracted and printed the book information.


What is the main advantage of using the SAX parser over the DOM parser?

The main advantage of the SAX parser is its memory efficiency. Unlike the DOM parser, which loads the entire XML document into memory, the SAX parser reads it sequentially and fires events as it encounters elements and constructs. This approach is particularly beneficial when working with large XML files, as it reduces the memory footprint and avoids potential out-of-memory issues.

Can the SAX parser modify the XML document?

No, the SAX parser is read-only. It is designed to read and process XML documents, but it cannot modify or write changes back to the original XML file. If you need to modify an XML document, you would need to use a separate XML writing or transformation mechanism, such as XSLT or a dedicated XML writing library.

How does the SAX parser handle errors or invalid XML?

The SAX parser provides error-handling mechanisms through the ErrorHandler interface. By implementing a custom ErrorHandler and setting it on the XMLReader, you can handle various errors and warnings that may occur during parsing. The ErrorHandler interface defines methods like warning, error, and fatal error that you can override to handle different levels of errors.

Can the SAX parser handle namespaces in XML documents?

Yes, the SAX parser supports namespaces in XML documents. When parsing an XML document with namespaces, the SAX parser provides namespace information through the startElement and endElement events. You can access the namespace URI, local name, and qualified name of the elements through the method parameters.

How does the SAX parser compare to other XML parsing approaches, such as StAX (Streaming API for XML)?

The SAX parser and StAX are both event-based XML parsing approaches, but their design and API differ. The SAX parser is a lower-level API that provides a more straightforward event-driven model. At the same time, StAX offers a higher-level, iterator-based API, allowing more control over the parsing process. StAX also supports features like pull parsing, where the application controls the parsing flow, and cursor-based processing, which can be more convenient in certain scenarios. The choice between SAX and StAX depends on the specific requirements of your application, such as performance, memory constraints, and developer familiarity.

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