Extracting SOAP headers from a Web service response in Spring-WS

A frequently asked question in connection with WebServiceTemplate in Spring-WS is how to extract SOAP headers from Web service responses. One possible answer is to use a ClientInterceptor. This makes sense because one of the main use cases for interceptors is SOAP header processing. Client interceptors work well if the information in the SOAP headers is processed out-of-band, i.e. if it is not returned to the caller of WebServiceTemplate.

However, things are different if the SOAP header data is simply to be returned to the application code so that it can process that data together with the response payload. In that case, client interceptors are not a good choice. The reason is that they have no simple way to send back data to the caller of WebServiceTemplate. They can store data in the MessageContext, but this data can’t be accessed through WebServiceTemplate. One solution is to store that data in the client interceptor itself and let the application code retrieve it from there. The drawback of that solution is that this makes the interceptor stateful, which implies that the same WebServiceTemplate instance can no longer be used concurrently for different requests.

A far simpler and elegant solution is to use a WebServiceMessageExtractor to process the SOAP response. Consider e.g. a scenario that uses a marshaller/unmarshaller (e.g. JAXB2). Instead of calling marshalSendAndReceive, one would use the following kind of code:

ResponseAndHeader responseAndHeader = webServiceTemplate.sendAndReceive(
    new WebServiceMessageCallback() {
      public void doWithMessage(WebServiceMessage message) throws IOException {
        MarshallingUtils.marshal(marshaller, request, message);
    new WebServiceMessageExtractor<ResponseAndHeader>() {
      public ResponseAndHeader extractData(WebServiceMessage message) throws IOException {
        SoapHeader header = ((SoapMessage)message).getSoapHeader();
        Iterator<SoapHeaderElement> it = header.examineHeaderElements(
            new QName("urn:test", "ResponseHeader"));
        return new ResponseAndHeader(
            it.hasNext() ? (ResponseHeader)unmarshaller.unmarshal(it.next().getSource())
                         : null,
            MarshallingUtils.unmarshal(unmarshaller, message));

Some additional explanations are in order here:

  • request, marshaller and unmarshaller are variables/attributes visible in the scope where sendAndReceive is called. Their respective meaning should be obvious.

  • The code uses the unmarshaller to process the header element (and unmarshal it into a ResponseHeader object in this example). This is typically what you want to do if you are already using an unmarshaller for the response payload, but it is easy to change the code to use some other technique to process the header.

  • MarshallingUtils is a class provided by Spring-WS. It encapsulates the logic to marshal/unmarshall Web service message and makes that logic easily reusable. It is used by WebServiceTemplate itself, so that in that respect, the code shown above should behave exactly in the same way as marshalSendAndReceive.

  • ResponseAndHeader is a simple custom class that stores the extracted header together with the response payload.

  • The code uses a WebServiceMessageCallback to prepare the request. This is necessary because WebServiceTemplate doesn’t have any method that uses a marshaller to prepare the request and a WebServiceMessageExtractor to extract the response.

Note that this approach leaves the WebServiceTemplate stateless, so that a single instance can be used for concurrent requests. In addition, it requires less code than a custom ClientInterceptor.