The Java EE 5 Tutorial

Adding Attachments

An AttachmentPart object can contain any type of content, including XML. And because the SOAP part can contain only XML content, you must use an AttachmentPart object for any content that is not in XML format.

Creating an AttachmentPart Object and Adding Content

The SOAPMessage object creates an AttachmentPart object, and the message also must add the attachment to itself after content has been added. The SOAPMessage class has three methods for creating an AttachmentPart object.

The first method creates an attachment with no content. In this case, an AttachmentPart method is used later to add content to the attachment.

AttachmentPart attachment = message.createAttachmentPart();

You add content to attachment by using the AttachmentPart method setContent. This method takes two parameters: a Java Object for the content, and a String object for the MIME content type that is used to encode the object. Content in the SOAPBody part of a message automatically has a Content-Type header with the value "text/xml" because the content must be in XML. In contrast, the type of content in an AttachmentPart object must be specified because it can be any type.

Each AttachmentPart object has one or more MIME headers associated with it. When you specify a type to the setContent method, that type is used for the header Content-Type. Note that Content-Type is the only header that is required. You may set other optional headers, such as Content-Id and Content-Location. For convenience, SAAJ provides get and set methods for the headers Content-Type, Content-Id, and Content-Location. These headers can be helpful in accessing a particular attachment when a message has multiple attachments. For example, to access the attachments that have particular headers, you can call the SOAPMessage method getAttachments and pass it a MIMEHeaders object containing the MIME headers you are interested in.

The following code fragment shows one of the ways to use the method setContent. The Java Object in the first parameter can be a String, a stream, a javax.xml.transform.Source object, or a javax.activation.DataHandler object. The Java Object being added in the following code fragment is a String, which is plain text, so the second argument must be "text/plain". The code also sets a content identifier, which can be used to identify this AttachmentPart object. After you have added content to attachment, you must add it to the SOAPMessage object, something that is done in the last line.

String stringContent = "Update address for Sunny Skies " +
    "Inc., to 10 Upbeat Street, Pleasant Grove, CA 95439";

attachment.setContent(stringContent, "text/plain");


The attachment variable now represents an AttachmentPart object that contains the string stringContent and has a header that contains the string text/plain. It also has a Content-Id header with update_address as its value. And attachment is now part of message.

The other two SOAPMessage.createAttachment methods create an AttachmentPart object complete with content. One is very similar to the AttachmentPart.setContent method in that it takes the same parameters and does essentially the same thing. It takes a Java Object containing the content and a String giving the content type. As with AttachmentPart.setContent, the Object can be a String, a stream, a javax.xml.transform.Source object, or a javax.activation.DataHandler object.

The other method for creating an AttachmentPart object with content takes a DataHandler object, which is part of the JavaBeans Activation Framework (JAF). Using a DataHandler object is fairly straightforward. First, you create a object for the file you want to add as content. Then you create a DataHandler object initialized with the URL object:

URL url = new URL("");
DataHandler dataHandler = new DataHandler(url);
AttachmentPart attachment = message.createAttachmentPart(dataHandler);


You might note two things about this code fragment. First, it sets a header for Content-ID using the method setContentId. This method takes a String that can be whatever you like to identify the attachment. Second, unlike the other methods for setting content, this one does not take a String for Content-Type. This method takes care of setting the Content-Type header for you, something that is possible because one of the things a DataHandler object does is to determine the data type of the file it contains.

Accessing an AttachmentPart Object

If you receive a message with attachments or want to change an attachment to a message you are building, you need to access the attachment. The SOAPMessage class provides two versions of the getAttachments method for retrieving its AttachmentPart objects. When it is given no argument, the method SOAPMessage.getAttachments returns a java.util.Iterator object over all the AttachmentPart objects in a message. When getAttachments is given a MimeHeaders object, which is a list of MIME headers, getAttachments returns an iterator over the AttachmentPart objects that have a header that matches one of the headers in the list. The following code uses the getAttachments method that takes no arguments and thus retrieves all the AttachmentPart objects in the SOAPMessage object message. Then it prints the content ID, the content type, and the content of each AttachmentPart object.

java.util.Iterator iterator = message.getAttachments();
while (iterator.hasNext()) {
    AttachmentPart attachment = (AttachmentPart);
    String id = attachment.getContentId();
    String type = attachment.getContentType();
    System.out.print("Attachment " + id + " has content type " + type);
    if (type.equals("text/plain")) {
        Object content = attachment.getContent();
        System.out.println("Attachment contains:\n" + content);