Calling specifications

Calling XML services

GeoNetwork provides access to its functions through the use of XML services. These services are much like HTML addresses but return XML instead of HTML. The advantage of using XML, is that XML services can be used in machine-to-machine interfaces. As an example, consider the service - Site Information ( you might have an application which can use this service to get information about GeoNetwork users and metadata schemas in XML. The user information returned by this service could then be used by your application to decide how to authenticate with GeoNetwork so that metadata records from a particular metadata schema could be retrieved from other GeoNetwork XML services and processed by your application.

As a general rule, XML services provided by GeoNetwork usually have a xml. prefix in their address. To keep things simple and uniform, GeoNetwork XML services accept XML documents (or convert parameters to XML documents) and return information, status and errors as XML documents (except for a few services that relate to file download and must return binary data).


Each service accepts a set of parameters, which must be embedded in the request. A service can be called using different HTTP methods, depending on the structure of its request:

  • GET The parameters are sent as part of the URL address. On the server side, these parameters are grouped into a flat XML document with one root and several simple children. A service can be called this way only if the parameters it accepts are not structured. An example of such a request and the parameters encoded in XML is:
Url Request:

    <any />
  • POST There are 3 variants of this method:
    1. ENCODED The request has one of the following content types: application/x-www-form-urlencoded or multipart/form-data. The first case is very common when sending web forms while the second one is used to send binary data (usually files) to the server. In these cases, the parameters are not structured so the rules of the GET method applies. Even if the second case could be used to send XML documents, this possibility is not considered on the server side.
    2. XML The content type is application/xml. This is the common case when the client is not a browser but a specialised client. The request is a pure XML document in string form, encoded using the encoding specified into the prologue of the XML document. Using this form, any type of request can be made (structured or not) so any service can be called.
    3. SOAP The content type is application/soap+xml. SOAP is a simple protocol used to access objects and services using XML. Clients that use this protocol can embed XML requests into a SOAP structure. On the server side, GeoNetwork will remove the SOAP structure and feed the content to the service. Its response will be embedded again into a SOAP structure and sent back to the caller. It makes sense to use this protocol if it is the only protocol understood by the client.


The response of an XML service always has a content type of application/xml (the only exception are those services which return binary data). The document encoding is the one specified in the document prologue which is UTF-8 (all GeoNetwork services return documents in the UTF-8 encoding).

On a GET request, the client can force a SOAP response by adding the application/soap+xml content type to the Accept header parameter.

Exception handling

A response document having an error root element means that the XML service raised an exception. This can happen under several conditions: bad parameters, internal errors et cetera. In this cases the returned XML document has the following structure:

  • error: This is the root element of the document. It has a mandatory id attribute that represents the identifier of the error. See below for a list of identifier values.
    • message: A message related to the error. It can be a short description about the error type or it can contain some other information that details the id code.
    • class: The Java class name of the Exception that occurred.
    • stack: Execution path from method where Exception occurred to earliest method called by GeoNetwork. Each level in the execution path has an at child.
      • at: Information about the code being called when the exception occurred. It has the following mandatory attributes:
        • class Java class name of the method that was called.
        • file Source file where the class is defined.
        • method Method name in class.
        • line Source code line number in file.
    • object: An optional container for parameters or other values that caused the exception. In case a parameter is an XML object, this container will contain that object in XML form.
    • request: A container for request information.
      • language: Language used when the service was called.
      • service: Name of the service that was called.

Summary of error ids:

id Meaning of message element Meaning of object element
error General message, human readable x
bad-format Reason x
bad-parameter Name of the parameter Parameter value
file-not-found x File name
file-upload-too-big x x
missing-parameter Name of the parameter XML container where the parameter should have been present.
object-not-found x Object name
operation-aborted Reason of abort If present, the object that caused the abort
operation-not-allowed x x
resource-not-found x Resource name
service-not-allowed x Service name
service-not-found x Service name
user-login User login failed message User name
user-not-found x User id or name
metadata-not-found The requested metadata was not found Metadata id

Below is an example of exception generated by the mef.export service. The service complains about a missing parameter, as you can see from the content of the id attribute. The object element contains the xml request with an unknown test parameter while the mandatory UUID parameter (as specified by the message element) is missing.

An example of generated exception:

        <at class="jeeves.utils.Util" file="" line="66"
        <at class="" file=""
            line="60" method="exec"/>
        <at class="jeeves.server.dispatchers.ServiceInfo" file=""
            line="226" method="execService"/>
        <at class="jeeves.server.dispatchers.ServiceInfo" file=""
            line="129" method="execServices"/>
        <at class="jeeves.server.dispatchers.ServiceManager" file=""
            line="370" method="dispatch"/>