Skip to main content

A Media Type for XML Patch Operations
RFC 7351

Document Type RFC - Informational (August 2014)
Was draft-wilde-xml-patch (individual)
Author Erik Wilde
Last updated 2014-08-13
RFC stream Independent Submission
IESG Responsible AD (None)
Send notices to (None)
RFC 7351
Independent Submission                                          E. Wilde
Request for Comments: 7351                                   UC Berkeley
Category: Informational                                      August 2014
ISSN: 2070-1721

                 A Media Type for XML Patch Operations


   The XML patch document format defines an XML document structure for
   expressing a sequence of patch operations to be applied to an XML
   document.  The XML patch document format builds on the foundations
   defined in RFC 5261.  This specification also provides the media type
   registration "application/xml-patch+xml", to allow the use of XML
   patch documents in, for example, HTTP conversations.

Status of This Memo

   This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
   published for informational purposes.

   This is a contribution to the RFC Series, independently of any other
   RFC stream.  The RFC Editor has chosen to publish this document at
   its discretion and makes no statement about its value for
   implementation or deployment.  Documents approved for publication by
   the RFC Editor are not a candidate for any level of Internet
   Standard; see Section 2 of RFC 5741.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2014 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 1]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Patch Documents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.1.  Patch Document Format . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.2.  Patch Examples  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   3.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   4.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   5.  Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   6.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     6.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     6.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   Appendix A.  Implementation Hints . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
     A.1.  Matching Namespaces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
     A.2.  Patching Namespaces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   Appendix B.  ABNF for RFC 5261  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12

1.  Introduction

   The Extensible Markup Language (XML) [RFC7303] is a common format for
   the exchange and storage of structured data.  HTTP PATCH [RFC5789]
   extends HTTP [RFC7231] with a method to perform partial modifications
   to resources.  HTTP PATCH requires that patch documents be sent along
   with the request, and it is therefore useful for there to be
   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 [RFC5261].  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)
   [W3C.REC-xmlschema-1-20041028] types for patch operations.  The
   concrete document format and the media type for patch operations are
   defined in an XSD defined in this specification.

   This specification relies on RFC 5261 but also requires that errata
   reported to date are taken into account.  The main reason for the
   errata is the problematic ways in which RFC 5261 relies on XML Path
   Language (XPath) as the expression language for selecting the
   location of a patch, while at the same time XPath's data model does

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 2]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

   not contain sufficient information to determine whether such a
   selector indeed can be used for a patch operation or should result in
   an error.  Specifically, the problem occurs with namespaces, where
   XPath does not expose namespace declaration attributes, while the
   patch model needs them to determine whether or not a namespace patch
   is allowed.  Appendix A contains more information about the general
   problem and errata reports.

2.  Patch Documents

   The following sections describe and illustrate the XML patch document

2.1.  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 simple example patch document contains a single patch
   operation.  This operation adds a new attribute called
   "new-attribute" to the document element of the target XML document.
   An XML patch document always uses a "patch" element in the
   "urn:ietf:rfc:7351" namespace as the document element that contains
   zero or more patch operation elements, which are also in the
   "urn:ietf:rfc:7351" namespace.

   <p:patch xmlns:p="urn:ietf:rfc:7351">
       <p:add sel="*" type="@new-attribute">value</p:add>

   The following more complex example patch document uses the example
   from RFC 5261, Section A.18 (but changing the example namespaces to URIs); it uses the same "patch" element and XML namespace
   as shown in the simpler example.  It shows the general structure of
   an XML patch document with multiple operations, as well as an example
   of each operation.

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 3]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

   <p:patch xmlns=""
       <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 XSD [W3C.REC-xmlschema-1-20041028] for the patch
   operation types.  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:7351"
       <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"/>

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 4]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

2.2.  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
   more XML patch document examples.  All the examples in RFC 5261 can
   be taken as examples for the XML patch media type, when looking at
   them with two minor changes in mind.

   The two differences are that XML patch documents always use the
   "patch" element as the document element and that both the "patch"
   element and the individual operation elements in XML patch documents
   have to be in the XML namespace with the URI "urn:ietf:rfc:7351".

   For example, consider the patch example in RFC 5261, Appendix A.1,
   "Adding an Element".  In this example, the patch is applied to the
   following XML document:

   <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
       <note>This is a sample document</note>

   The patch example is based on the following patch document (with the
   element and namespace changes described above):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<p:patch xmlns:p="urn:ietf:rfc:7351">
    <p:add sel="doc"><foo id="ert4773">This is a new child</foo></p:add>

   Applying the patch results in the following XML document:

   <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
       <note>This is a sample document</note>
   <foo id="ert4773">This is a new child</foo></doc>

3.  IANA Considerations

   The Internet media type [RFC6838] for an XML patch document is

      Type name: application

      Subtype name: xml-patch+xml

      Required parameters: none

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 5]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

      Optional parameters:

         charset: Same as charset parameter for the media type
         "application/xml" as specified in RFC 7303 [RFC7303].

      Encoding considerations: Same as encoding considerations of media
      type "application/xml" as specified in RFC 7303 [RFC7303].

      Security considerations: This media type has all of the security
      considerations described in RFC 7303 [RFC7303], RFC 5261
      [RFC5261], and RFC 3470 [RFC3470], plus those listed in Section 4.

      Interoperability considerations: N/A

      Published specification: RFC 7351

      Applications that use this media type: Applications that
      manipulate XML documents.

      Additional information:

         Magic number(s): N/A

         File extension(s): XML documents often use ".xml" as the file
         extension, and this media type does not propose a specific
         extension other than this generic one.

         Macintosh file type code(s): TEXT

      Person & email address to contact for further information: Erik
      Wilde <>

      Intended usage: COMMON

      Restrictions on usage: none

      Author: Erik Wilde <>

      Change controller: IETF

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 6]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

4.  Security Considerations

   The security considerations from RFC 5261 [RFC5261] apply to the
   application/xml-patch+xml media type.

   In addition, parsing XML may entail including information from
   external sources through XML's mechanism of external entities.
   Implementations, therefore, should be aware of the fact that standard
   parsers may resolve external entities and thus include external
   information as a result of applying patch operations to an XML

5.  Acknowledgements

   Thanks for comments and suggestions provided by Bas de Bakker, Tony
   Hansen, Bjoern Hoehrmann, and Julian Reschke.

6.  References

6.1.  Normative References

   [RFC3470]  Hollenbeck, S., Rose, M., and L. Masinter, "Guidelines for
              the Use of Extensible Markup Language (XML)
              within IETF Protocols", BCP 70, RFC 3470, January 2003.

   [RFC5234]  Crocker, D. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax
              Specifications: ABNF", STD 68, RFC 5234, January 2008.

   [RFC5261]  Urpalainen, J., "An Extensible Markup Language (XML) Patch
              Operations Framework Utilizing XML Path Language (XPath)
              Selectors", RFC 5261, September 2008.

   [RFC6838]  Freed, N., Klensin, J., and T. Hansen, "Media Type
              Specifications and Registration Procedures", BCP 13, RFC
              6838, January 2013.

   [RFC7303]  Thompson, H. and C. Lilley, "XML Media Types", RFC 7303,
              July 2014.

6.2.  Informative References

   [Err3477]  RFC Errata, "Errata ID 3477", RFC 5261.

   [Err3478]  RFC Errata, "Errata ID 3478", RFC 5261.

   [RFC5789]  Dusseault, L. and J. Snell, "PATCH Method for HTTP", RFC
              5789, March 2010.

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 7]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

   [RFC7231]  Fielding, R. and J. Reschke, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol
              (HTTP/1.1): Semantics and Content", RFC 7231, June 2014.

              Robie, J., Wood, L., Champion, M., Hegaret, P., Nicol, G.,
              Le Hors, A., and S. Byrne, "Document Object Model (DOM)
              Level 3 Core Specification", World Wide Web Consortium
              Recommendation REC-DOM-Level-3-Core-20040407, April 2004,

              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,

              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,

              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,

              DeRose, S. and J. Clark, "XML Path Language (XPath)
              Version 1.0", World Wide Web Consortium Recommendation
              REC-xpath-19991116, November 1999,

              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,

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 8]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

Appendix A.  Implementation Hints

   This section is informative.  It describes some issues that might be
   interesting for implementers, 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
   selectors in RFC 5261.

   Specifically, the issues described in the following two sections have
   been identified as technical issues with RFC 5261 and have been filed
   as errata.  Implementers interested in using XML patch are encouraged
   to take those errata into account when implementing XML patch
   documents.  The issue about "Matching Namespaces" described in
   Appendix A.1 has been filed as RFC Errata ID 3477 [Err3477].  The
   issue about "Patching Namespaces" described in Appendix A.2 has been
   filed as RFC Errata ID 3478 [Err3478].

A.1.  Matching Namespaces

   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
   [W3C.REC-xpath-19991116].  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 XML patch
   selectors in the context of the diff document.

   As an extension of XPath 1.0's simple model, XPath 2.0
   [W3C.REC-xpath20-20101214] 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; XSL
   Transformations (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 one to set this URI, and setting it to the
   default namespace of the diff document (or leaving it undefined if

Wilde                         Informational                     [Page 9]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

   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
   operation, neither XPath 1.0 nor XPath 2.0 are sufficient because
   they do not preserve some of the information from the XML syntax
   (specifically namespace declarations) that is required to correctly
   apply patch operations.  The following section describes this issue
   in more detail.

   Please note that [RFC5261], Section 4.2.2 on namespace matching
   explains XPath 2.0's rules incorrectly.  For this reason, RFC Errata
   ID 3477 is available for Section 4.2.2 of RFC 5261.

A.2.  Patching Namespaces

   One of the issues when patching namespaces based on XPath is that
   XPath exposes namespaces differently than the XML 1.0
   [W3C.REC-xml-20081126] syntax for XML namespaces
   [W3C.REC-xml-names-20091208].  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
   resulting 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; thus, it only allows patching
   namespace nodes on the element nodes where the namespace has been

   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 single selected namespace node is being patched but that all
   namespaces nodes resulting from the namespace declaration of this
   namespace are also patched accordingly.

Wilde                         Informational                    [Page 10]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

   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 leaf elements or 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; 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
   as the one on element x.  However, determining that the repeated
   namespace declaration was present at all on element y is impossible
   when using XPath alone, which means that 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 closer to the XML syntax (specifically access to
   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 (such as the
   one shown above).

   Note that XPath's specific limitations do not mean that it is
   impossible to use XML technologies other than XPath.  The Document
   Object Model (DOM) [W3C.REC-DOM-Level-3-Core-20040407], for example,
   does expose namespace declaration attributes as regular attributes in
   the document tree; thus, they could be used to differentiate between
   the two variants shown above.

   Please note that RFC 5261, Section 4.4.3 (on replacing namespaces)
   mixes the terms "namespace declaration" and "namespace".  For this
   reason, RFC Errata ID 3478 is available for Section 4.4.3 of RFC

Wilde                         Informational                    [Page 11]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

Appendix B.  ABNF for RFC 5261

   RFC 5261 [RFC5261] 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.  In order to make implementation
   easier, this appendix contains an ABNF grammar that has been derived
   from the XSD expressions 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

Wilde                         Informational                    [Page 12]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

anychar    =  %x00-ffffffff
ncname     =  1*%x00-ffffffff
qname      =  [ ncname ":" ] ncname
aname      =  "@" qname
pos        =  "[" 1*DIGIT "]"
attr       =  ( "[" aname "='" 0*anychar "']" ) /
              ( "[" aname "=" DQUOTE 0*anychar DQUOTE "]" )
valueq     =  "[" ( qname / "." ) "=" DQUOTE 0*anychar DQUOTE "]"
value      =  ( "[" ( qname / "." ) "='" 0*anychar "']" ) / valueq
cond       =  attr / value / pos
step       =  ( qname / "*" ) 0*cond
piq        =  %x70.72.6f.
              ; "processing-instruction", case-sensitive
              "(" [ DQUOTE ncname DQUOTE ] ")"
pi         =  ( %x70.72.6f.
              ; "processing-instruction", case-sensitive
              "(" [ "'" ncname "'" ] ")" ) / piq
id         =  ( %x69.64 ; "id", case-sensitive
              "(" [ "'" ncname "'" ] ")" ) /
              ( %x69.64 ; "id", case-sensitive
              "(" [ DQUOTE ncname DQUOTE ] ")" )
com        =  %x63.6f.6d.6d.65.6e.74 ; "comment", case-sensitive
text       =  %x74.65.78.74 ; "text", case-sensitive
nspa       =  %x6e.61.6d. ; "namespace", case-sensitive
              "::" 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 ) )

   Please note that the "ncname" production listed above does not fully
   capture the constraints of the original XSD-based definition, where
   it is defined as "\i\c*".  DIGIT and DQUOTE are defined by the ABNF
   specification [RFC5234].

Wilde                         Informational                    [Page 13]
RFC 7351                        XML Patch                    August 2014

Author's Address

   Erik Wilde
   UC Berkeley


Wilde                         Informational                    [Page 14]