Understanding WS-Addressing in Apache Axis2

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  • By Eran Chinthaka
  • 15 Aug, 2007

Apache Axis supports the two widely used versions of WS-Addressing
Specifications, namely: WS-Addressing Final and Submission.

Applies To

Apache Axis2/Java 1.2


The Axis2 release comes with an implementation of the WS-Addressing
Final and Submission versions [1]. These implementations have been tested in numerous
interoperability sessions in the past, and have been part of Axis2 since the
inception of Axis2.

Axis2 uses a similar addressing model internally as proposed in the
WS-Addressing final specification. The model is meant to capture addressing
information, in general, to a "bag" within its engine. These properties can
also be populated by transport processors, service authors, etc. This makes
Axis2 work smoothly even if the WS-Addressing implementation is disabled at
runtime for legacy reasons.

First let's look at how addressing processing works inside Axis2.

How Axis2 Processes WS-Addressing Headers

The main task of the Axis2 engine is to process incoming and outgoing SOAP
messages. When it receives or sends SOAP messages, it creates an instance of
MessageContext to keep track of all the information related to that message.
This MessageContext includes the SOAP message just received or about to be
sent, and might also reference the other SOAP messages related to this
message exchange pattern [2].

The message context also encapsulates various meta-data about the message
and also some information relevant to the processing of the message. The
MessageContext object also has properties that capture addressing related
properties like where this message came from, the destination URL, etc., This
information is independent from WS-Addressing specification details. This
information is mostly captured from the specific transport receivers. For
example, if the transport used is HTTP, then the HTTP transport listener
(either AxisServlet or SimpleHTTPServer) copies the URL, SOAP action (if
available), content type header, etc., If you look at this addressing model
carefully, you will see that it is almost similar to the WS-Addressing model
defined in the specification; yet the model can capture information from the
source other than WS-Addressing headers.

All the handlers, control logic and message receivers, (message receivers
are responsible for taking care of the respective message exchange pattern in
use and to hand over the message to the Web service implementation) extract
addressing properties from the message context, irrespective of whether they
come from transport, WS-Addressing implementation or any other means. So this
bag of properties can be regarded as a WS-Addressing neutral set of

The WS-Addressing implementation comes with every Axis2 release bundled
within the Axis2 release itself. This WS-Addressing implementation is a
module in Axis2. So you should be able to see addressing-<version>.mar
inside the release. If you need to use WS-Addressing, you need to engage the
WS-Addressing module. (Please refer to the Axis2 user guide for more
information on engaging modules.)

When we engage WS-Addressing to the message path, the WS-Addressing module
adds a couple of handlers to the IN path and also to the OUT path of the
message processing. The addressing handlers deployed in the IN path,
Addressing "IN" Handlers, read WS-Addressing information from the incoming
message and populate the above discussed addressing properties. (If there are
values already inside some of these properties, WS-Addressing simply
overrides them). Addressing "IN" handlers have the capability to detect the
WS-Addressing version used inside the SOAP message and process them

Likewise, Addressing handlers in the OUT path, take out the addressing
properties from the message context and populate the out going SOAP message
with them.

This is how the Axis2 engine understands WS-Addressing information within
SOAP messages. However, WS-Addressing integration does not end at this point.
The Axis2 engine has all the rules defined by WS-Addressing implemented
internally. For example, the rules defined to handle SOAP faults, are handled
within the proper locations of the Axis2 engine according to the
WS-Addressing rules. So you might argue that WS-Addressing is already built
into it. What WS-Addressing module provides is just the option of
understanding the WS-Addressing header in SOAP messages.

Let's see how you can access WS-Addressing properties. You do not have to
worry about accessing the SOAP message to get or set addressing information.
The already mentioned property bag within the MessageContext object will have
convenient methods that will provide the required functionality. For example,
if you need to retrieve the value of the WS-Addressing To header, simply call
messageContext.getTo(). Likewise, if you want to change the value of the To
header, use messageContext.setTo(EndpointReference). This EndpointReference
class resembles the EndpointReference defined within the WS-Addressing
specification. You can set the address, set reference parameters, etc., using
the EndpointReference class.

Once you engage the WS-Addressing module, the engine will use
WS-Addressing within the engine. You are not required to configure anything
to make it run. However, there are some configuration options available if
you want more control over how it works. Having understood how the
WS-Addressing implementation works within Axis2, let's see how we can tweak
some of the processing of addressing handlers within Axis2.

Tweaking Addressing Processing

There are some properties you can set, using the API you are dealing with,
to change the behavior of addressing handlers. If you are writing a client,
use either ServiceClient API or your stub API. If you are a service author,
then you need to set these properties to the message context. The following
items use examples to demonstrate how these properties can be set using
Options API. Let's see what these properties are and what they change.


When you send out SOAP messages and if WS-Addressing is engaged, then it
always sends out WS-Addressing headers inside the SOAP messages. There can be
times you might not wish to include WS-Addressing headers only for a selected
set of outgoing messages. For example, if you have a legacy Web service
implementation, you can use Axis2 to process WS-Addressing headers and
forward the message without those headers. In that case, what you have to do
is to set DISABLE_ADDRESSING_FOR_OUT_MESSAGES to the message context or to
the Options object that you have.



As mentioned earlier, Axis2 supports two addressing versions. Namely:
Final and Submission versions [1] . You can use any of
these versions within Axis2. The WS_ADDRESSING_VERSION property can be used
to inform the Axis2 engine about the addressing version that you are
interested in using. For example, if you want to use the WS-Addressing
submission version, set WS_ADDRESSING_VERSION to

If you want to use WS-Addressing final version then set it to

 options.setProperty(WS_ADDRESSING_VERSION, org.apache.axis2.addressing.AddressingConstants.Final.WSA_NAMESPACE);


The WS-Addressing specification defines a set of EPRs to be included
inside the SOAP message if WS-Addressing is enabled. Some of these headers
are optional. For example, the destination URL (To address) and the action
parameters are required while the others are optional. The Axis2
WS-Addressing implementation adds only the required headers by default, if
WS-Addressing is engaged. If you want to include the optional headers as
well, then you need to set the INCLUDE_OPTIONAL_HEADERS property to ask Axis2
to include those headers also.

 options.setProperty(INCLUDE_OPTIONAL_HEADERS, Boolean.TRUE);


As I mentioned earlier, WS-Addressing Out Handlers are responsible for
taking out addressing information from the message context and putting them
into the outgoing SOAP message. There can be situations where the outgoing
message might already have addressing headers. For example, if the current
Axis2 node is just an intermediary or a message mediation node, then it will
be passing the same message to the outgoing path as well. Therefore, the
outgoing message has addressing headers in it by the time it comes to the
addressing out handler. The nodes tend to remove any existing headers, and
then add the new headers. If we add the same headers twice then it might not
be correct. If the REPLACE_ADDRESSING_HEADERS property is set to True, then
the addressing handlers will remove any existing headers if present, before
adding the new ones.

 options.setProperty(REPLACE_ADDRESSING_HEADERS, Boolean.TRUE);


Axis2 finds the service and the operation a SOAP message is destined to
within the dispatch phase. (Refer to the article How Apache Axis2 Finds the
Operation and Service a Message is Destined to [3] to know
more about how dispatching works.) If Axis2 cannot find the operation a
message is destined to, then the user should be notified about this. If
WS-Addressing is engaged, then the WS-Addressing specification is defined to
throw an ActionNotSupported Fault to the user. However, sometimes, users
might need to suppress this behaviour (there are scenarios for this in the
Apache Synapse project). Setting ADDR_VALIDATE_ACTION to False will suppress
Addressing handlers from sending the ActionNotSupported fault to the user.

 options.setProperty(ADDR_VALIDATE_ACTION, Boolean.TRUE);


WS-Addressing is a key specification in today's Web services stacks. With
the popularity and wide spread adoption of asynchronous invocations, the
importance of WS-Addressing has increased. This article illustrated how this
important specification is implemented within the pioneering open source Web
services engine in Apache Axis2. The parameter configuration section also
described how you can gain control to some extent over this process.


  1. WS-Addressing Specifications : Final Submission
  2. Understanding Message Exchange
  3. How Apache Axis2 Finds the
    Operation and Service a Message is Destined To



Eran Chinthaka. Member, WS-PMC Member, Apache Software Foundation.
chinthaka(!) at apache(!) dot(!) org


About Author

  • Eran Chinthaka
  • Software Engineer
  • WSO2 Inc.