AxKit - an XML Application Server for Apache


AxKit provides the user with an application development environment for mod_perl, using XML, Stylesheets and a few other tricks. See for details.


In httpd.conf:

    # we add custom configuration directives
    # so this *must* be in httpd.conf *outside* of
    # all run time configuration blocks (e.g. <Location>)
    PerlModule AxKit

Then in any Apache configuration section (Files, Location, Directory, .htaccess):

    # Install AxKit main parts
    SetHandler AxKit
    # Setup style type mappings
    AxAddStyleMap text/xsl Apache::AxKit::Language::Sablot
    AxAddStyleMap application/x-xpathscript \
    # Optionally set a hard coded cache directory
    # make sure this is writable by nobody
    AxCacheDir /opt/axkit/cachedir
    # turn on debugging (1 - 10)
    AxDebugLevel 5

Now simply create xml files with stylesheet declarations:

    <?xml version="1.0"?>
    <?xml-stylesheet href="test.xsl" type="text/xsl"?>
        This is my test XML file.

And for the above, create a stylesheet in the same directory as the file called ``test.xsl'' that compiles the XML into something usable by the browser. If you wish to use other languages than XSLT, you can, provided a module exists for that language. AxKit does not internally have a built-in XSLT interpreter, instead it relies on interfaces to other Perl modules. We currently have interfaces in the core package to XML::Sablotron, XML::LibXSLT, and XML::XSLT.


AxKit installs a number of new first class configuration directives for you to use in Apache's httpd.conf or .htaccess files. These provide very fine grained control over how AxKit performs transformations and sends its output to the user.

Each directive below is listed along with how to use that directive.


This option takes a single argument, and sets the directory that the cache module stores its files in. These files are an MD5 hash of the file name and some other information. Make sure the directory you specify is writable by either the nobody user or the nobody group (or whatever user your Apache servers run as). It is probably best to not make these directories world writable!

    AxCacheDir /tmp/axkit_cache


Turn off caching. This is a FLAG option - On or Off. Default is ``Off''. When this flag is set, AxKit will send out Pragma: no-cache headers.

    AxNoCache On


If present this makes AxKit send output to Apache's error log. The valid range is 0-10, with 10 producing more output. We recommend not to use this option on a live server.

    AxDebugLevel 5


With this option you advise AxKit to store the result of each transformation request in a special directory for debugging. This directory must exist and must be writeable by the httpd. The files are stored with their full uri, replacing slashes with '|', and appending a number indicating the transformation step. '.0' is the xml after the first transformation.

    AxTraceIntermediate /tmp/axkit-trace


With this option you advise AxKit to tidy up debug dumps like XSP scripts or the XML files generated by AxTraceIntermediate. Be aware that this can slow down requests considerably, but often it is much easier to spot errors with this enabled.

    AxDebugTidy On


This FLAG option says whether to maintain a stack trace with every exception. This is slightly inefficient, as it has to call caller() several times for every exception thrown, but it can give better debugging information.

    AxStackTrace On


This option is a FLAG, it is either On, or Off (default is Off). When AxKit declines to process a URI, it gives a reason. Normally this reason is not sent to the log, however if AxLogDeclines is set, the reason is logged. This is useful in figuring out why a particular file is not being processed by AxKit.

If this option is set, the reason is logged regardless of the AxDebugLevel, however if AxDebugLevel is 4 or higher, the file and line number of where the DECLINE occured is logged, but not necessarily the reason.

    AxLogDeclines On


Setting this to a module, will load that module and execute the handler method of the module before any AxKit processing is done.

This allows you to setup things like sessions, do authentication, or other actions that require no XML output, before the actual XML processing stage of AxKit.

    AxAddPlugin MyAuthHandler
There is also a companion option, B<AxResetPlugins>, because
plugin lists persist and get merged into directories, so if you
want to start completely fresh, use the following:
    AxAddPlugin MyFreshPlugin

Note: as with other options that take a module, prefixing with a ``+'' sign will pre-load the module at compile time.


This allows you to use the Compress::Zlib module to gzip output to browsers that support gzip compressed pages. It uses the Accept-Encoding HTTP header and some information about User agents who can support this option but don't correctly send the Accept-Encoding header. This option allows either On or Off values (default being Off). This is very much worth using on sites with mostly static pages because it reduces outgoing bandwidth significantly.

    AxGzipOutput On


This option enables output character set translation. The default method is to detect the appropriate character set from the user agent's Accept-Charset HTTP header, but you can also hard-code an output character set using AxOutputCharset (see below).

    AxTranslateOutput On


Fix the output character set, rather than using either UTF-8 or the user's preference from the Accept-Charset HTTP header. If this option is present, all output will occur in the chosen character set. The conversion uses the iconv library, which is part of GNU glibc and/or most modern Unixes. It is recommended to not use this option if you can avoid it. This option is only enable if you also enable AxTranslateOutput.

    AxOutputCharset iso-8859-1


This directive specifies the character encoding used outside of AxKit. Internally, AxKit strictly uses UTF-8 (remember that when you write Taglibs!), but file names on the file system and URIs requested by browsers may use a different encoding, e.g. ISO-8859-15 for most of Europe.

This is a server-global directive, so only use it within <VirtualHost ...> containers or on the root level. As a side effect, this option allows you to work with non-ASCII chars in URLs even outside of AxKit. Some Browsers may send URLs in their local charset although the link was encoded in UTF-8, and others always send UTF-8 encoded URLs, regardless of link encoding. If you set this option, AxKit will intercept each request and check if the URL came encoded in UTF-8. If so, AxKit transforms it to the character encoding specified here before Apache gets to resolve the request, so Apache will find the file, even if it is a non-AxKit file.

Note: This does not effect the _contents_ of documents, they have their own encoding specifier (in the <?xml ...?> line). For now, it only affects file names and URL processing.

    AxExternalEncoding ISO-8859-1


Output transformers are applied just before output is sent to the browser. This directive adds a transformer to the list of transformers to be applied to the output.

    AxAddOutputTransformer  MyModule::Transformer

The transformer is a subroutine that accepts a line to process and returns the transformed line.

    package MyModule;
    sub Transformer {
      my $line = shift;
      return $line;

An output transformer could be used to add dynamic output to a cached page (such as the date and time, or a customer name).


Reset the list of output transformers from the current directory level down.

   # This directive takes no arguments


If an error occurs during processing that throws an exception, the exception handler will try and find an ErrorStylesheet to use to process XML of the following format:

        <msg>Something bad happened</msg>
            <bt level="0">

There may potentially be multiple bt tags. If an exception occurs when the error stylesheet is transforming the above XML, then a SERVER ERROR will occur and an error written in the Apache error log.

    AxErrorStylesheet text/xsl /stylesheets/error.xsl


XSP supports two types of tag libraries. The simplest type to understand is merely an XSLT or XPathScript (or other transformation language) stylesheet that transforms custom tags into the ``raw'' XSP tag form. However there is another kind, that is faster, and these taglibs transform the custom tags into pure code which then gets compiled. These taglibs must be loaded into the server using the AxAddXSPTaglib configuration directive.

    # load the ESQL taglib and Util taglib
    AxAddXSPTaglib AxKit::XSP::ESQL
    AxAddXSPTaglib AxKit::XSP::Util

If you prefix the module name with a + sign, it will be pre-loaded on server startup (assuming that the config directive is in a httpd.conf, rather than a .htaccess file).


Turn off parsing and overriding stylesheet selection for XML files containing an xml-stylesheet processing instruction at the start of the file. This is a FLAG option - On or Off. The default value is ``Off''.

  AxIgnoreStylePI On


Enable this option to allow AxKit to process directories. Creates an XML document with the contents of the requested directory. Look at sample output to discover that the format is straightforward and easy to understand.

  AxHandleDirs On

A DTD for the output of AxHandleDirs is at


A default stylesheet title to use. This is useful when a single XML resource maps to multiple choice stylesheets. One possible way to use this is to symlink the same file in different directories with .htaccess files specifying different AxStyle directives.

    AxStyle "My custom style"


Very similar to the previous directive, this sets the media type. It is most useful in a .htaccess file where you might have an entire directory for the media ``handheld''.

    AxMedia tv


This is one of the more important directives. It is responsible for mapping module stylesheet MIME types to stylesheet processor modules (the reason we do this is to make it easy to switch out different modules for the same functionality, for example different XSLT processors).

    AxAddStyleMap text/xsl Apache::AxKit::Language::Sablot
    AxAddStyleMap application/x-xpathscript \
    AxAddStyleMap application/x-xsp \

If you prefix the module name with a + sign, it will be pre-loaded on server startup (assuming that the config directive is in a httpd.conf, rather than a .htaccess file).


Since the style map will continue deep into your directory tree, it may occasionally be useful to reset the style map, for example if you want a directory processed by a different XSLT engine.

    # option takes no arguments.


There are several directives specifically designed to allow you to build a flexible sitemap that specifies how XML files get processed on your system.

Note: <?xml-stylesheet?> directives in your XML files override these directives unless you enable the AxIgnoreStylePI option listed above.


This directive maps all XML files to a particular stylesheet to be processed with. You can do this in a <Files> directive if you need to do it by file extension, or on a file-by-file basis:

    <Files *.dkb>
    AxAddProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/docbook.xsl

Multiple directives for the same set of files make for a chained set of stylesheet processing instructions, where the output of one processing stage goes into the input of the next. This is especially useful for XSP processing, where the output of the XSP processor will likely not be HTML (or WAP or whatever your chosen output format is):

    <Files *.xsp>
    # use "." to indicate that XSP gets processed by itself.
    AxAddProcessor application/x-xsp .
    AxAddProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/to_html.xsl


This allows you to map all XML files conforming to a particular XML public identifier in the document's DOCTYPE declaration, to the specified stylesheet(s):

    AxAddDocTypeProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/docbook.xsl \
            "-//OASIS//DTD DocBook XML V4.1.2//EN"


This allows you to map all XML files that specify the given DTD file or URI in the SYSTEM identifier to be mapped to the specified stylesheet(s):

    AxAddDTDProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/docbook.xsl \


This allows you to map all XML files that have the given root element to be mapped to the specified stylesheet(s):

    AxAddRootProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/book.xsl book

Namespaces are fully supported via the following syntax:

    AxAddRootProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/homepage.xsl \

This syntax was taken from James Clark's Introduction to Namespaces article.


This allows you to use a Perl regular expression to match against the URI of the file in question:

    AxAddURIProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/book.xsl \


This allows you to reset the processor mappings at from the current directory level down.


From this directory down you can completely redefine how certain types of files get processed by AxKit.


This is a configuration directive block. It allows you to have finer grained control over the mappings, by specifying that the mappings (which have to be specified using the Add*Processor directives above) contained within the block are only relevant when the requested media type is as specified in the block parameters:

    <AxMediaType screen>
    AxAddProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/webpage_screen.xsl
    <AxMediaType handheld>
    AxAddProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/webpage_wap.xsl
    <AxMediaType tv>
    AxAddProcessor text/xsl /stylesheets/webpage_tv.xsl


This configuration directive block is very similar to the above, only it specifies alternate stylesheets by name, which can be then requested via a StyleChooser:

    <AxMediaType screen>
        <AxStyleName #default>
            AxAddProcessor text/xsl /styles/webpage_screen.xsl
        <AxStyleName printable>
            AxAddProcessor text/xsl /styles/webpage_printable.xsl

This and the above directive block can be nested, and can also be contained within <Files> directives to give you even more control over how your XML is transformed.


There are some configuration directives that are specifically reserved for customising how AxKit works. These directives allow you to specify a new class to replace the one being used for certain operations.

These directives all take as a single argument, the name of a module to load in place of the default. They are:


The ConfigReader module returns information about various configuration options. Currently it takes most of its information from the above mentioned configuration directives, or from PerlSetVar.

The Provider modules are the means by which AxKit gets its resources from. ContentProviders deliver up the document to be processed, while StyleProviders are used to get the data for any stylesheets that will be applied. The default Provider for each simply picks up files from the filesystem, but alternate providers could pull the information from a DBMS, or perhaps create some XML structure for directories. There currently exists one alternate Provider module, which allows AxKit to work as a recipient for Apache::Filter output. This module is Apache::AxKit::Provider::Filter.

The Cache module is responsible for storing cache data for later retrieval.

Implementing these is non trivial, and it is highly recommended to join the AxKit-devel mailing list before venturing to do so, and to also consult the source for the current default modules. Details of joining the mailing list are at


There are currently some incompatibilities between the versions of expat loaded by Apache when compiled with RULE_EXPAT=yes (which is a default, unfortunately), and XML::Parser's copy of expat. This can cause sporadic segmentation faults in Apache's httpd processes. The solution is to recompile Apache with RULE_EXPAT=no (later Apache's have implemented this as --disable-rule=expat). If you have a recent mod_perl and use mod_perl's Makefile.PL DO_HTTPD=1 to compile Apache for you, this option will be enabled automatically for you.


For more documentation on things like XPathScript, XSP and XSLT, and a quick getting started guide, please visit our community web site at


the Apache::AxKit::Plugins::Fragment manpage, the Apache::AxKit::Plugins::Passthru manpage, the Apache::AxKit::StyleChooser::QueryString manpage, the Apache::AxKit::StyleChooser::UserAgent manpage, the Apache::AxKit::StyleChooser::PathInfo manpage, the Apache::AxKit::StyleChooser::FileSuffix manpage, the Apache::AxKit::StyleChooser::Cookie manpage, the Apache::AxKit::MediaChooser::WAPCheck manpage, the Apache::AxKit::Provider manpage, the Apache::AxKit::Provider::Filter manpage, the Apache::AxKit::Provider::File manpage, the Apache::AxKit::Provider::Scalar manpage