Traverse XML Data Using JavaScript

Traverse XML Data Using JavaScript

n this article, I’ll show you how to build an XML-based, client-side JavaScript app that reads data from external XML files, traverses the XML data, and displays that data in a tree format. The sample code uses the XMLDOM ActiveX object built into Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Say you have the following personal data and you want it displayed in a structured manner:

  • name: Premshree Pillai
  • sex: male
  • Websites: Websites
  • ws1:
  • ws2:

The XML looks like this:

Personal Details        Premshree Pillai        male        Websites                    

This is the algorithm you’d use:

  1. Read the XML file
  2. Point a variable, tree to the first node (XML tag) of the XML data.
  3. If the node has child nodes:
    • Print “
      • “;
      • For each child node, traverse(tree.childNodes(nodeNum))
      • Print “


  4. If the node does not have any child:
    • Print the node’s value.

The Script
This code creates a new instance of the Microsoft.XMLDOM ActiveX object:

var xmlDoc=new ActiveXObject("Microsoft.XMLDOM");

Then, the loadXML() function loads a particular .xml file:

function loadXML(xmlFile) {        xmlDoc.async="false";        xmlDoc.onreadystatechange=verify;        xmlDoc.load(xmlFile);}

The loadXML() function then references the verify() function:

function verify() {         if(xmlDoc.readyState!=4)                return false; }

The process of loading of a XML file has five stages:

  • 0 – Object is not initialized
  • 1 – Loading object is loading data
  • 2 – Loaded object has loaded data
  • 3 – Data from object can be worked with
  • 4 – Object completely initialized

Using the XMLDOM’s readyState property to determine your XML file’s state of loading can be more trouble than it’s worth. If a file (object) is not initialized, xmlDoc.readyState returns 0?and so on. Therefore, to avoid partially or uninitialized objects, use the loadXML() function.

Traverse() is the function that performs XML data traversal. It is a recursive function that takes a node as it’s argument:

 function traverse(tree) {        if(tree.hasChildNodes()) {                document.write('
  • '); document.write(''+tree.tagName+' : '); var nodes=tree.childNodes.length; for(var i=0; i
'); } else document.write(tree.text);}

What the Script Does
First the function checks if the node has any children. If it does, the necessary indentation is done using HTML lists (


  • tags). Next, for each child node of this node, the function traverse() is called (recursively) with the argument as that child node.

    If the node argument passed to traverse() is childless, the function prints the value held by that node (tag). In this way, the tree structure for the XML file is generated.

    To generate the tree structure of a XML file, use the initTraverse() function. This function takes the XML filename as it’s argument. It loads the XML file, then sets the variable doc to the root node of the XML data, and finally traverses the XML data using the traverse() function with an argument as the root node, i.e doc.

     function initTraverse(file) {        loadXML(file);        var doc=xmlDoc.documentElement;        traverse(doc);}

    Place the following code where the tree form of a XML file has to be generated:


    All of this code can be placed in an external .js file.

    Script Listing
    The following is the complete listing of the client-side JavaScript app.

    Moving Forward
    The above script can be extended to serve a variety of purposes. For instance, you could use this JavaScript to display a sitemap by simply defining its structure in an XML file.


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