Client-side development environment

Scenario: XSLT deployment in a browser/server scenario with XSLT transformations performed on the browser (JavaScript or with <?xsl-stylesheet ?>)

Potential tools:

  • Saxon is great for off-line testing (primarily while developing small bits of code or trying new programming techniques). It cannot fetch the information from the server, so you have to provide test data in local XML files
  • Firefox is the best tool if you want to test client-server integration and use <?xsl-stylesheet ?> approach as it can recover from XSLT errors (which IE can't). However, it doesn't detect all errors, so the stylesheets working with Firefox might break in IE (but not due to an IE bug)
  • IE is a nightmare when using <?xsl-stylesheet ?> directive. Whenever something breaks (error in stylesheet or even server-side error resulting in HTML response instead of XML response), its cache gets messed up and you have to restart the browser to continue the tests. I therefore use IE only in the final tests to verify that my XSLT has no weird errors not detected by Firefox.
  • The best testing mechanism is probable the manual (JavaScript) client-side transformation. You can do it in IE or Firefox; in this case I would prefer IE, as it has better XSLT error reporting (MSXML is not that bad :).

Example: Use XSLT transformation in browser

Several readers were asking for an code sample that performs XSLT transformation in the browser, so here it is :) To start with, you should use a wrapper library to isolate yourself from browser version/platform inconsistencies. I'm using Sarissa to deal with XML, XSLT and HttpRequest and X library to deal with DHTML-related functions.

The most common XSLT-related operation that you do in your browser is this:

  • Download XML document from the web server using XMLHttpRequest;
  • Transform the XML into application-specific HTML markup with an XSLT transformation;
  • Insert the resulting HTML markup into the web page.

Sarissa library has a function (Sarissa.updateContentFromURI) that does almost exactly what you need to get there, so you only need to perform the following steps:

  • Load the XSLT stylesheet as XML document (sync load is easier to do).
  • Import the loaded XML document into an XSL processor (special object that can perform the XSLT transformations).
  • Call the updateContentFromURI function.

The resulting code is very simple:

// load XSLT stylesheet, done only once.
var xsl = loadURI("moveRoutes_lists.xsl");
if (!xsl) throw("Cannot load XSL stylesheet");

var xform = new XSLTProcessor();

// the following call transforms a remote XML document
// into HTML fragment and inserts it into the target
// element
Sarissa.updateContentFromURI(remoteURI, xGetElementById(targetElement),xform);


  • sarissa.js as well as sarissa_dhtml.js libraries have to be included in the source document.
  • xGetElementById function is part of the X library.
  • loadURI function is documented here.

JavaScript progressive enhancement in practice

In the JavaScript Progressive Enhancement in Practice article I'm describing the progressive enhancement philosophy and techniques through a simple example: frequently asked questions page.