Apache CXF 2.0 Documentation > Index > CXF Architecture


NOTE: this is work in progress.

CXF seeks to build the necessary infrastructure components for services. Goals for CXF are many and include:

  • Support for different bindings, including SOAP, REST, and Corba.
  • WS-* support, including WS-Addressing, WS-Security, WS-ReliableMessaging, and WS-Policy
  • Support for multiple transports
  • Pluggable Data-bindings
  • Clean separation of front ends, like JAX-WS, from the core code.
  • High Performance
  • Embeddable

The overall CXF architecture is primarily made up of the following parts:

  1. Bus: This is the backbone of the CXF architecture.
  2. Messaging & Interceptors: These provide the low level message and pipeline layer upon which most functionality is built.
  3. Front ends: Frontends provide a programming model to create services (e.g. JAX-WS).
  4. Services: Services host a Service model which is a WSDL-like model which describes the service.
  5. Bindings: Bindings provide the functionality to interpret the protocol (i.e. SOAP, REST, Corba).
  6. Transports: Destinations and Conduits make up the transport abstraction that CXF uses to achieve transport neutrality.

We'll take a look at each layer in turn and examine how they work together.


The bus is a provider of shared resources to the CXF runtime. Examples for such shared resources are: wsdl managers, binding factory managers etc. The bus can easily be extended to include your own custom resources or services, or you can replace default resources like the HTTP destination factory (based on Jetty) with your own (possibly based on Tomcat).
This is made possible by dependency injection: the default bus implemenation is based on Spring, which wires the runtime components together for you.
The SpringBusFactory searches for all bean configuration files in the META-INF/cxf directories on your classpath, and builds an application context from them. The bean configuration files included in the application context construction are:

  • META-INF/cxf/cxf.xml (in cxf-rt-core only)
  • META-INF/cxf/cxf-extension.xml (e.g. in cxf-rt-bindings-soap)
  • META-INF/cxf/cxf-property-editors.xml (e.g. in cxf-rt-transports-http).

See Configuration of the Bus for an example of how to customise the bus by supplying your own bean configuration file and Configuration of Runtime Constructed Objects for more information on the special case of injecting into objects created by the runtime (as opposed to objects created by the IOC container itself).

Messaging & Interceptors

CXF is built on a generic messaging layer comprised of Messages, Interceptors, and InterceptorChains. Interceptors are the fundamental unit of functionality. By dividing up how messages are processed and sent, this gives CXF a very flexible architecture. It can be reconfigured at any point in the processing. This also gives CXF the ability to pause & resume interceptor chains.

Interceptors have a method, handleMessage, which allows them to act on the Message.These Interceptors can then be built up into chains of interceptors, straightforwardly called InterceptorChains. Some examples include:

  • An interceptor which parses just the headers of a SOAP message into DOM elements
  • A WS-Security interceptor which decrypts or authenticates an incoming message.
  • An outgoing data binding interceptor which serializes the result

Interceptors are uni-directional and are inherently unaware of whether they are dealing with a request, response, or fault. The particular

Phase Interceptors

CXF provides an InterceptorChain implementation called the PhaseInterceptorChain. When Interceptors are added to the chain, they are grouped into ordered phases.  A PhaseInterceptor may provide guidance as to how it is to be ordered within the phase.

Let us take a hypothetical simplified example (NOTE: these phases and interceptors don't necessarily exist in CXF). Let us say we are parsing a SOAP message. We may want to have two phases. First, a dispatch phase which parses the soap headers and determines which service to route the Message to. Second, an unmarshal phase which binds the SOAP body to JAXB objects. In the first dispatch phase we could implement this via two interceptors, first a ReadHeadersInterceptor which parses the headers and second a WS-AddressingInInterceptor which determines which service we're invoking from the WS-Addressing header. In the second unmarshal phase, we have just a single JAXBUnmarshallerIntercptor. Both the ReadHeadersInterceptor and AddressingInInterceptor would tell the PhaseInterceptorChain they are in the "dispatch" phase by returning "dispatch" when getPhase() is called. Additionally, the ReadHeadersInterceptor could specify that it wants to run before the AddressingInInterceptor by returning the interceptor id when Interceptor.getBefore() is called.

Before it was mentioned how chains were very dynamic and flexible. In our above example, we could add interceptors specific to that service once it is resolved. Or we could pause the chain once while we wait for some external chain, like an asynchronous service response.

Fault Handling

At any point during processing, an interceptor may throw a Fault, or a derivative of a Fault like the SoapFault. This will cause the chain to stop invoking and unwind it. Unwinding consists of calling handleFault on each interceptor that was invoked in reverse order.

InterceptorChains have the concept of a fault interceptor. Once the chain is unwound, the fault interceptor is invoked with the message that caused the fault. The fault interceptor may trigger a new chain which then invokes a specified set of interceptors meant to handle faults.


In addition to the concept of a Message, there is the concept of the Exchange. The exchange class holds a references to the in, out and fault messages for the current message exchange.

It also holds properties specific to the exchange, and not just the message. For instance the Exchange holds the Service that is current being invoked in it.

Reentrant InterceptorChains

An interesting feature of the PhaseInterceptorChain is that it is reentrant. This can be powerful and slightly dangerous. This feature is only used in CXF during the sending of an outgoing message, The SoapOutInterceptor is the best example:

public void handleMessage(Message m) {

  // invoke next interceptor, which writes the contents of the SOAP Body



CXF includes its own transport abstraction layer to hide transport specific details from the binding and front end layers.


Conduits provide the basis for outgoing message sending. A Conduit is created from a ConduitInitiator. Sending a message is a multistep pocess:

  1. Call conduit.send(message): this starts the message sending. At this point a Conduit may initiate a connection and set the OutputStream for the outgoing message.
  2. Writing of the actual message to the OutputStream
  3. Call to conduit.close(message): this closes and disposes of any existing resources for the message sending.
    A message sender may also register a MessageObserver with the Conduit. If the Conduit is synchronous, the MessageObserver will be notified once a response has been received.


Destinations are the basis for receiving incoming messages. A destination is created from a DestinationFactory:

DestinationFactoryManager dfManager = bus.getExtension(DestinationFactoryManager.class);

// Find a DestinationFactory for the SOAP HTTP transport
DestinationFactory df = dfManager.getDestinationFactory("http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/wsdl/soap/http");

// TODO: outline building of EndpointInfo
EndpointInfo endpointInfo = ...;
Destination destination = df.getDestination(endpointInfo);

MessageObservers can then be registered with Destinations. These listen for incoming messages:

MessageObserver myObserver = ...;

The most common MessageObsever used in CXF is the ChainInitiationObserver. This takes the incoming message, creates a message Exchange & PhaseInterceptorChain, then starts the chain.

The Service Model

The Service model is the representation of a service within CXF. It is made up of two parts. First there is the ServiceInfo which contains a WSDL-like model of the service and its operations, bindings, and endpoints. Second, there is the Service itself, which contains the ServiceInfo, data-binding information, service interceptors, service properties, and more.

A service can be constructed from many different sources - Classes, WSDL 1.1, and WSDL 2.0. Typically frontends are responsible for creating a service via ServiceFactorys. These build up the service model and configure the service interceptors, databindings, etc.

The Service model itself is contained in the ServiceInfo class. The hierarchy looks roughly like so:

+-Interface: InterfaceInfo
| +-perations: Collection<OperationInfo>
| | +- Input: MessageInfo
| | +- Output: MessageInfo
| | +- Faults: Collection<MessageInfo>
+-Bindings: Collection<BindingInfo>
| +-Operations: Collection<BindingOperationInfo>
+-Endpoints: Collection<EndpointInfo>


Bindings provide ways to map concrete formats & protocols on top of transports. A binding contains two main parts, a BindingFactory and a Binding. A BindingFactory builds a Binding from the service model's BindingInfo. The binding contains interceptors specific to the binding and also implements the createMessage() method, which creates a Message implementation specific for that binding.

The Soap Binding

The prototypical binding is SOAP. It has its own Message class called the SoapMessage. It adds the ability to hold the current SoapVersion and the headers for the message.

The Soap binding also adds a special type of interceptor called the SoapInterceptor. The SoapInterceptor adds two methods to the Interceptor class:

Set<URI> getRoles();
Set<QName> getUnderstoodHeaders();

These inform the SOAP interceptors as to what headers and roles the particular SOAP interceptor understands.

It has many interceptors designed to handle SOAP messages:

  1. StaxInInterceptor: Creates an XMLStreamReader from an incoming InputStream
  2. ReadHeadersInterceptor: Reads the headers into the SoapMessage
  3. MustUnderstandInterceptor: Checks the MustUnderstand attributes of all the headers against all the SoapInterceptor's getUnderstoodHeaders method.
  4. SoapOutInterceptor:

XML Binding



Frontends provide a programming model to interact with CXF. The primary frontend at the moment is JAX-WS. The JAX-WS implementation is cleanly separated from the rest of CXF – like the bindings and core. They provide functionality through interceptors that are added to Services and Endpoints.


Putting it all Together

A JAX-WS example

Here's a small example of what might happen when we publish a service via the JAX-WS Endpoint.publish() method.

  1. Call to Endpoint.publish("http://localhost/service", myService)
  2. The EndpointImpl creates a Service from the myService object using the JaxWsServiceFactoryBean using the class and/or WSDL
  3. An EndpointInfo is created for the Endpoint.publish URL
  4. A JaxWsEndpointImpl is created from the EndpointInfo. This contains the JAX-WS endpoint specific interceptors
  5. The JaxWsEndpointImpl creates a Binding and Destination to listen on.