Network Working Group E. Wilde
Internet-Draft EMC
Intended status: Standards Track February 8, 2013
Expires: August 12, 2013

A Media Type for XML Patch Operations


The XML Patch media type "application/xml-patch+xml" defines an XML document structure for expressing a sequence of patch operations that are applied to an XML document. The XML Patch document format's foundations are defined in RFC 5261, this specification defines a document format and a media type registration, so that XML Patch documents can be labeled with a media type, for example in HTTP conversations.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The Extensible Markup Language (XML) [3] is a common format for the exchange and storage of structured data. HTTP PATCH [7] extends HTTP [6] with a method to perform partial modifications to resources. HTTP PATCH requires that patch documents are being sent along with the request, and it is therefore useful if there are standardized patch document formats (identified by media types) for popular media types.

The XML Patch media type "application/xml-patch+xml" is an XML document structure for expressing a sequence of operations to apply to a target XML document, suitable for use with the HTTP PATCH method. Servers can freely choose which patch formats they want to accept, and "application/xml-patch+xml" could be a simple default format that can be used unless a server decides to use a different (maybe more sophisticated) patch format for XML.

The format for patch documents is based on the XML Patch Framework defined in RFC 5261 [5]. While RFC 5261 does define a concrete syntax as well as the media type "application/patch-ops-error+xml" for error documents, it only defines XML Schema (XSD) [12] types for patch operations, and thus the concrete document format and the media type for patch operations are defined in an XSD defined in this specification.

2. IANA Considerations

The Internet media type [4] for an XML Patch Document is application/xml-patch+xml.

3. Patch Document Format

The XML patch document format is based on a simple schema that uses a "patch" element as the document element, and allows an arbitrary sequence of "add", "remove", and "replace" elements as the children of the document element. These children follow the semantics defined in RFC 5261, which means that each element is treated as an individual patch operation, and the result of each patch operation is a patched XML document that is the target XML document for the next patch operation.

The following example patch document uses the example from RFC 5261, and simply uses a "patch" element and a new XML namespace. It shows the general structure of an XML patch document, as well as an example for each operation.

<p:patch xmlns="urn:ietf:params:xml:ns:xxx" xmlns:y="urn:ietf:params:xml:ns:yyy"
    xmlns:p="urn:ietf:rfc:XXXX" xmlns:xsi=""
    xsi:schemaLocation="urn:ietf:rfc:XXXX patch-document-00.xsd">
    <p:add sel="doc/elem[@a='foo']">
        <!-- This is a new child -->
        <child id="ert4773">
    <p:replace sel="doc/note/text()">Patched doc</p:replace>
    <p:remove sel="*/elem[@a='bar']/y:child" ws="both"/>
    <p:add sel="*/elem[@a='bar']" type="@b">new attr</p:add>

As this example demonstrates, both the document element "patch" and the patch operation elements are in the same XML namespace. This is the result of RFC 5261 only defining types for the patch operation elements, which then can be reused in schemas to define concrete patch elements.

RFC 5261 defines an XML Schema (XSD) [12] for the patch operation types, which is included for reference in Appendix A. The normative version of this schema is the one given in RFC 5261. The following schema for the XML Patch media type is based on the types defined in RFC 5261, which are imported as "rfc5261.xsd" in the following schema. The schema defines a "patch" document element, and then allows an unlimited (and possibly empty) sequence of the "add", "remove", and "replace" operation elements, which are directly based on the respective types from the schema defined in RFC 5261.

<xs:schema targetNamespace="urn:ietf:rfc:XXXX"
    xmlns:xs="" elementFormDefault="qualified">
    <xs:import schemaLocation="rfc5261.xsd"/>
    <xs:element name="patch">
            <xs:choice minOccurs="0" maxOccurs="unbounded">
                <xs:element name="add" type="add"/>
                <xs:element name="remove" type="remove"/>
                <xs:element name="replace" type="replace"/>

4. Patch Examples

Since the semantics of the XML patch operations are defined by RFC 5261, please refer to the numerous examples in that specification for concrete XML patch document examples. Most importantly, the examples in RFC 5261 can be taken literally as examples for the XML Patch media type, as long as it is assumed that the XML namespace for the operation elements in these examples is the URI "urn:ietf:rfc:XXXX".

5. Security Considerations


6. Implementation Hints

This section is informative. It described some issues that might be interesting for implementors, but it might also be interesting for users of XML Patch that want to understand some of the differences between standard XPath 1.0 processing, and the processing model of RFC 5261.

6.1. Namespace Matching Rules

RFC 5261 defines standard rules for matching prefixed names in expressions: Any prefixes are interpreted according to the namespace bindings of the diff document (the document that the expression is applied against). This means that each prefixed name can be interpreted in the context of the diff document.

For unprefixed names in expressions, the rules depart from XPath 1.0 [10]. XPath 1.0 defines that unprefixed names in expressions match namespace-less names (i.e., there is no "default namespace" for names used in XPath 1.0 expressions). RFC 5261 requires, however, that unprefixed names in expressions must use the default namespace of the diff document (if there is one). This means that it is not possible to simply take a selector from a patch document and evaluate it in the context of the diff document according to the rules of XPath 1.0, because this would interpret unprefixed names incorrectly. As a consequence, it is not possible to simply take an XPath 1.0 processor and evaluate XMPL Patch selectors in the context of the diff document.

As an extension of XPath 1.0's simple model, XPath 2.0 [11] specifies different processing rules for unprefixed names: They are matched against the URI of the "default element/type namespace", which is defined as part of an expression's static context. In some XPath 2.0 applications this can be set; XSLT 2.0 for example has the ability to define an "xpath-default-namespace", which then will be used to match unprefixed names in expressions. Thus, by using an XPath 2.0 implementation that allows to set this URI, and setting it to the default namespace of the diff document (or leaving it undefined if there is no such default namespace), it is possible to use an out-of-the-box XPath 2.0 implementation for evaluating XML Patch selectors.

Please keep in mind, however, that evaluating selectors is only one part of applying patches. When it comes to applying the actual patch operations, neither XPath 1.0 nor XPath 2.0 are sufficient, because they are not preserving some of the information from the XML syntax (specifically: namespace declarations) that is required to correctly apply patch operations. The following section described this issue in more detail.

[[[ Currently, RFC 5261's section on namespace matching explains XPath 2.0's rules incorrectly <>. An erratum has been filed <> which, upon verification, will be linked to from here. ]]]

6.2. Patching Namespaces

One of the issues when patching namespaces based on XPath is that XPath exposes namespaces different than the XML 1.0 [9] syntax for XML Namespaces [8]. In the XML syntax, a namespace is declared with an attribute using the reserved name or prefix "xmlns", and this results in this namespace being available recursively through the document tree. In XPath, the namespace declaration is not exposed as an attribute (i.e., the attribute, although syntactically an XML attribute, is not accessible in XPath), but the namespace nodes are exposed recursively through the tree.

RFC 5261 uses the terms "namespace declaration" and "namespace" almost interchangeably, but it is important to keep in mind that the namespace declaration is an XML syntax construct that is unavailable in XPath, while the namespace itself is a logical construct that is not visible in the XML syntax, but a result of a namespace declaration. The intent of RFC 5261 is to patch namespaces as if namespace declarations were patched, and thus it only allows to patch namespace nodes on the element nodes where the namespace has been declared.

Patching namespaces in XML Patch is supposed to "emulate" the effect of actually changing the namespace declaration (which is why a namespace can only be patched at the element where it has been declared). Therefore, when patching a namespace, even though XPath's "namespace" axis is used, implementations have to make sure that not only the one selected namespace node is being patched, but that all namespaces nodes resulting from the namespace declaration of this namespace are patched accordingly.

This means that an implementation might have to descend into the tree, matching all namespace nodes with the selected prefix/URI pair recursively, until it encounters namespace declarations with the same prefix it is patching. Determining this requires access to the diff document beyond XPath, because in XPath itself namespace declarations are not represented, and thus such a recursive algorithm wouldn't know when to stop. Consider the following document:

<x xmlns:a="tag:42">
    <y xmlns:a="tag:42"/>

If this document is patched with a selector of /x/namespace::a, then only the namespace node on element x should be patched, even though the namespace node on element y has the same prefix/URI combination than the one on element x. Determining that the repeated namespace declaration was present at all on element y is impossible when using XPath alone, so implementations must have an alternative way to determine the difference between the document above, and this one:

<x xmlns:a="tag:42">

In this second example, patching with a selector of /x/namespace::a should indeed change the namespace nodes on elements x and y, because they both have been derived from the same namespace declaration.

The conclusion of these considerations is that for implementing XML Patch, access to the XML syntax (specifically: namespace declarations) is necessary. As a result, implementations attempting to exclusively use the XPath model for implementing XML Patch will fail to correctly address certain edge cases (as the one shown above).

[[[ Currently, RFC 5261's section on replacing namespaces mixes the terms "namespace declaration" and "namespace" <>. An erratum has been filed <> which, upon verification, will be linked to from here. ]]]

7. Change Log

Note to RFC Editor: Please remove this section before publication.

7.1. From -01 to -02

7.2. From -00 to -01

8. References

8.1. Normative References

[1] Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) Part One: Format of Internet Message Bodies", RFC 2045, November 1996.
[2] Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) Part Two: Media Types", RFC 2046, November 1996.
[3] Murata, M., St. Laurent, S. and D. Kohn, "XML Media Types", RFC 3023, January 2001.
[4] Freed, N., Klensin, J. and T. Hansen, "Media Type Specifications and Registration Procedures", BCP 13, RFC 6838, January 2013.
[5] Urpalainen, J., "An Extensible Markup Language (XML) Patch Operations Framework Utilizing XML Path Language (XPath) Selectors", RFC 5261, September 2008.

8.2. Non-Normative References

[6] Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H., Masinter, L., Leach, P. and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, June 1999.
[7] Dusseault, L. and J. Snell, "PATCH Method for HTTP", RFC 5789, March 2010.
[8] Hollander, D., Layman, A., Bray, T., Tobin, R. and H. Thompson, "Namespaces in XML 1.0 (Third Edition)", World Wide Web Consortium Recommendation REC-xml-names-20091208, December 2009.
[9] Sperberg-McQueen, C., Yergeau, F., Paoli, J., Maler, E. and T. Bray, "Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 (Fifth Edition)", World Wide Web Consortium Recommendation REC-xml-20081126, November 2008.
[10] DeRose, S. and J. Clark, "XML Path Language (XPath) Version 1.0", World Wide Web Consortium Recommendation REC-xpath-19991116, November 1999.
[11] Boag, S., Berglund, A., Kay, M., Simeon, J., Robie, J., Chamberlin, D. and M. Fernandez, "XML Path Language (XPath) 2.0 (Second Edition)", World Wide Web Consortium Recommendation REC-xpath20-20101214, December 2010.
[12] Thompson, H., Beech, D., Maloney, M. and N. Mendelsohn, "XML Schema Part 1: Structures Second Edition", World Wide Web Consortium Recommendation REC-xmlschema-1-20041028, October 2004.

Appendix A. XSD from RFC 5261

For reference, this section contains a copy of the XML Schema (XSD) [12] defining the add, replace, and remove types in RFC 5261 [5]. This section is informational only, and the definitive version of the schema is the one listed in RFC 5261.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE schema [
    <!ENTITY ncname "\i\c*">
    <!ENTITY qname  "(&ncname;:)?&ncname;">
    <!ENTITY aname  "@&qname;">
    <!ENTITY pos    "\[\d+\]">
    <!ENTITY attr   "\[&aname;='(.)*'\]|\[&aname;=&quot;(.)*&quot;\]">
    <!ENTITY valueq "\[(&qname;|\.)=&quot;(.)*&quot;\]">
    <!ENTITY value  "\[(&qname;|\.)='(.)*'\]|&valueq;">
    <!ENTITY cond   "&attr;|&value;|&pos;">
    <!ENTITY step   "(&qname;|\*)(&cond;)*">
    <!ENTITY piq    "processing-instruction\((&quot;&ncname;&quot;)\)">
    <!ENTITY pi     "processing-instruction\(('&ncname;')?\)|&piq;">
    <!ENTITY id     "id\(('&ncname;')?\)|id\((&quot;&ncname;&quot;)?\)">
    <!ENTITY com    "comment\(\)">
    <!ENTITY text   "text\(\)">
    <!ENTITY nspa   "namespace::&ncname;">
    <!ENTITY cnodes "(&text;(&pos;)?)|(&com;(&pos;)?)|((&pi;)(&pos;)?)">
    <!ENTITY child  "&cnodes;|&step;">
    <!ENTITY last   "(&child;|&aname;|&nspa;)">
    <xsd:simpleType name="xpath">
        <xsd:restriction base="xsd:string">
    <xsd:simpleType name="xpath-add">
        <xsd:restriction base="xsd:string">
    <xsd:simpleType name="pos">
        <xsd:restriction base="xsd:string">
            <xsd:enumeration value="before"/>
            <xsd:enumeration value="after"/>
            <xsd:enumeration value="prepend"/>
    <xsd:simpleType name="type">
        <xsd:restriction base="xsd:string">
            <xsd:pattern value="&aname;|&nspa;"/>
    <xsd:complexType name="add">
        <xsd:complexContent mixed="true">
            <xsd:restriction base="xsd:anyType">
                    <xsd:any processContents="lax" namespace="##any"
                        minOccurs="0" maxOccurs="unbounded"/>
                <xsd:attribute name="sel" type="xpath-add"
                <xsd:attribute name="pos" type="pos"/>
                <xsd:attribute name="type" type="type"/>
    <xsd:complexType name="replace">
        <xsd:complexContent mixed="true">
            <xsd:restriction base="xsd:anyType">
                    <xsd:any processContents="lax" namespace="##any"
                        minOccurs="0" maxOccurs="1"/>
                <xsd:attribute name="sel" type="xpath" use="required"/>
    <xsd:simpleType name="ws">
        <xsd:restriction base="xsd:string">
            <xsd:enumeration value="before"/>
            <xsd:enumeration value="after"/>
            <xsd:enumeration value="both"/>
    <xsd:complexType name="remove">
        <xsd:attribute name="sel" type="xpath" use="required"/>
        <xsd:attribute name="ws" type="ws"/>

Appendix B. ABNF for RFC 5261

RFC 5261 [5] does not contain an ABNF grammar for the allowed subset of XPath expressions, but includes an XSD-based grammar in its type definition for operation types (which is shown in Appendix A). In order to make implementation easier, this appendix contains an ABNF grammar that has been derived from the XSD expressions given in RFC 5261. In the following grammar, "xpath" is the definition for the allowed XPath expressions for remove and replace operations, and "xpath-add" is the definition for the allowed XPath expressions for add operations. The names of all grammar productions are the ones used in the XSD-based grammar of RFC 5261.

ncname     =  1*%x00-ffffffff
qname      =  [ ncname ":" ] ncname
aname      =  "@" qname
pos        =  "[" 1*DIGIT "]"
attr       =  ( "[" aname "='" 1*%x00-ffffffff "']" ) / ( "[" aname "=" DQUOTE 1*%x00-ffffffff DQUOTE "]" )
valueq     =  "[" ( qname / "." ) "=" DQUOTE 1*%x00-ffffffff DQUOTE "]"
value      =  ( "[" ( qname / "." ) "='" 1*%x00-ffffffff "']" ) / valueq
cond       =  attr / value / pos
step       =  ( qname / "*" ) 0*( cond )
piq        =  "processing-instruction(" [ DQUOTE ncname DQUOTE ] ")"
pi         =  ( "processing-instruction(" [ "'" ncname "'" ] ")" ) / piq
id         =  ( "id(" [ "'" ncname "'" ] ")" ) / ( "id(" [ DQUOTE ncname DQUOTE ] ")" )
com        =  "comment()"
text       =  "text()"
nspa       =  "namespace::" ncname
cnodes     =  ( text / com / pi ) [ pos ]
child      =  cnodes / step
last       =  child / aname / nspa
xpath      =  [ "/" ] ( ( id [ 0*( "/" step ) "/" last ] ) / ( 0*( step "/" ) last ) )
xpath-add  =  [ "/" ] ( ( id [ 0*( "/" step ) "/" child ] ) / ( 0*( step "/" ) child ) )

Appendix C. Acknowledgements

Thanks for comments and suggestions provided by Bas de Bakker.

Author's Address

Erik Wilde EMC EMail: