Implementing custom types within JAXB

With JAXB it does a pretty good job in mapping between XML and Java Objects. In normal use this is fine but what happens when you need to use a custom data type for an attribute? Well JAXB supports this in binding so this article will describe this.

The originating issue that’s caused this article to be written cropped up at work earlier today where we had an issue with currency values. Over time the various programmers had naturally used a Java double to represent them but problems started to appear when some testers started to use amounts equivalent to €1.2 Billion and things started to fall apart.

Now obviously it’s bad practice to use double for monetary values (we’ve all done it at some point) due to the fact that specific values cannot be represented accurately (eg 39.995 is represented as 39.9949989[1]), it gets worse when dealing with large values. With large amounts you start to loose precision at the milli and penny levels, so adding 1¢ to the amount will fail because the double cannot handle it because of rounding errors.

So the solution is to use BigDecimal as it has arbitrary precision. With JAXB this is not a problem as it supports BigDecimal when defining an attribute with type xsd:decimal – as long as you own the xsd then it’s simply a case of changing it from xsd:double. The problem is when you don’t own the xsd, i.e. it’s an external specification. In this case you cannot change it as you would break other implementations. This is exactly where JAXB bindings[2] come into play.

Changing the object used in an attribute

In this first example taken from my xmpp project we have a series of xsd files and a single xjb file containing the bindings.

From client.xsd which defines the “jabber:client” namespace[3]:

<xs:element name=’message’>



          <xs:choice minOccurs=’0′ maxOccurs=’unbounded’>

            <xs:element ref=’subject’/>

            <xs:element ref=’body’/>

            <xs:element ref=’thread’/>


          <xs:any namespace=’##other’ minOccurs=’0′ maxOccurs=’unbounded’/>

          <xs:element ref=’error’ minOccurs=’0’/>


        <xs:attribute name=’from’ type=’xs:string’ use=’optional’/>

        <xs:attribute name=’id’ type=’xs:NMTOKEN’ use=’optional’/>

        <xs:attribute name=’to’ type=’xs:string’ use=’optional’/>

       <xs:attribute ref=’xml:lang’ use=’optional’/>



Now here the from and to attributes represent not just a string but a Jabber IDentifier JID which within the project is represented by the class This class ensures it’s both syntactically correct and provides access to the various components within the JID.

For JAXB to use this JID class instead of String we can either add the bindings into the original xsd or into a separate xjb file. I prefer the latter as it keeps the originals untouched so that if someone updates them then the bindings are not lost:

So to add the bindings for JID into the above message element we have the following bindings.xjb file:

<?xml version=’1.0′ encoding=’UTF-8′?>






   <bindings schemaLocation=”client.xsd” node=”/xsd:schema/xsd:element[@name=’message’]/xsd:complexType/xsd:attribute[@name=’from’]”>



                <javaType name=”” parseMethod=”” printMethod=”” />




    <bindings schemaLocation=”client.xsd” node=”/xsd:schema/xsd:element[@name=’message’]/xsd:complexType/xsd:attribute[@name=’to’]”>



                <javaType name=”” parseMethod=”” printMethod=”” />





Here we define the attributes we want to change using an XPath expression and then the object we want to bind to that attribute. We also provide two methods to parse the attribute from a String to the object and to print it (from the object to a String). In this case those two methods are provided by the JID class itself but they don’t have to be.

Implementing the parse and print methods

The main things to watch out with the parse and print methods is that they have to be public static and they must handle null values. If the attribute is not present or should be a default value then they will be passed nulls:

From (abridged):

    public static JID parse( final String jid )


        return jid == null ? null : new JID( jid );


    public static String print( final JID jid )


        return jid == null ? null : jid.toString();


Back to the currency issue

Now with the currency issue which initially started off this rambling, there’s one more complication. In the specific DB the currency values are not actually stored as floats but in a custom SQL Type which I’ll call Money to protect the innocent. On the Java side there’s a similar object which uses a BigDecimal for the storage but also handles things like null’s etc. Anyhow in this case all that is required is to add a parse and print method into that class and add the equivalent bindings to the xjb file.


  1. Round and Round on the Daily WTF 
  2. Customising JAXB Bindings on
  3. jabber-client.xsd on

Author: petermount1

Prolific Open Source developer who also works in the online gaming industry during the day. Develops in Java, Go, Python & any other language as necessary. Still develops on retro machines like BBC Micro & Amiga A1200

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