The beauty that is “xmllint”

Up until just recently I thought that there were no available xml validators available under GPL terms. Turns out the the XML Soft people have built a program named “xmllint” that will validate your xml based on a dtd you reference.

So I started looking into XML validation. Up until now it has always seemed like it would be more work than it was worth. Little did I know I would scarcely have to do a thing.

All you need to do to validate your xml is pass it into xmllint with the –valid flag. I believe xmllint is part of the libxml2 suite. It is by the same people. My gentoo machine already had it installed as did a RedHat machine that I use frequently.

Below is a sample XML document and the command line I used to validate it.

<!DOCTYPE article SYSTEM "/articles.dtd">

<p>This is a single paragraph article.</p>

Command line

xmllint --valid test.xml

Notice the “<!DOCTYPE” line? The second parameter is the name of the outermost tag for your document. In my case this was “article”. The “SYSTEM” means that we are validating against our own dtd rather than a well known dtd. The final parameter is a path to your dtd. Thats it

xmllint will return an exit code that tells you how it went. Zero means it worked, nonzero means there were errors. It will also output any errors to stderr. For my purposes I wanted to capture the errors and present them to a web client. Here is the php I used to make that happen.
$cmd="xmllint --valid --noout ".escapeshellarg($filename)." 2>&1";
exec($cmd, $output, $return_code);

There are a couple of items in the above example that I should probably explain now.

  • The –noout option tells xmllint not to output the contents of the file it validates.
  • The escapeshellarg() function is a php function that does its best to make your filenames safe for the command line. You should use EXTREME caution whenever dealing with anything you are going to run through exec().
  • The 2>&1 tells the shell to merge stdout and stderr into one stream. In this case we used it to capture stderr into our $output variable
  • The $output variable is a little quirky. It is returned as an array of lines.

Now that you have seen how easy it is to validate you XML documents, I hope you’ll take the time to validate your XML where appropriate. I know I will be.
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