What is cXML?

For a PunchOut catalog experience to quickly and accurately transfer data back and forth, it takes a data exchange standard called cXML. Primarily used to exchange PunchOut catalog shopping cart data and electronic documents, such as purchase orders and invoices, cXML communicates documents between eProcurement solutions, eCommerce systems, and other business software to streamline B2B sales processes.

Motivated by the need for an open and flexible language that B2B businesses could use to more easily integrate sales platforms and back-end procurement platforms, Ariba developed cXML in partnership with other companies in the late 1990s. Earlier solutions, including the Electronic Document Interchange (EDI) format, were complex and expensive to implement, whereas cXML is open, accessible, and designed to function over the internet.

What is cXML based on?

cXML is based on the XML markup language, which is used to store, transmit, and reconstruct data. cXML documents are composed of tag/value pairs that will be familiar to anyone who knows HTML. For example, the tag for encoding the name of an order’s recipient looks like this:

First Name: Sally

Last Name: Smith

Unique Name: DKEf6d8

User Email: [email protected] 

User: DKEf6d8 

Business Unit: 13843 

Email: [email protected]  

Name: DKEf6d8 

Unique: DKEf6d8 

Buyercookie: 7555371f46f7a5d057ac3567a2df12c2 


cXML describes a series of standard documents in this format that eProcurement and eCommerce developers can implement.

In addition to the document specifications, cXML also describes a pair of protocols for communicating data between platforms: a Request-Response model and a one-way model. The Request-Response model is used more widely and provides a protocol for two-way communication using standard HTTP(S) requests.

How Is cXML Used in PunchOut Catalogs?

PunchOut catalogs allow a buyer to select a supplier from within their eProcurement solution. They are forwarded to the supplier’s eCommerce store and authenticated. Once they have selected the products they need, they transfer the order details to their eProcurement solution, where a requisition order is created.

In many eProcurement solutions and eCommerce applications, cXML is the data format that makes this level of integration and automation possible, streamlining the modern online procurement process and saving time and extra costs for the business.

What Does Integration Using cXML Look Like?

Behind the scenes, a typical cXML PunchOut session looks like this:

  • Buyer authentication. When the buyer selects a vendor, the eProcurement platform sends a PunchOut Setup Request to the seller’s eCommerce store. The request is accompanied by a cXML document that includes details such as the buyer’s name, contact information, and unique identifiers for authentication that vary by eProcurement system and by unique buyer requirements.
  • Store or product page navigation. The eCommerce store responds with a PunchOut Setup Response, again accompanied by a cXML document that includes, among other data, the redirect URL of the store. The eProcurement platform redirects the user to that URL, which is generally the homepage or a page defined for the buyer organization. In the case of Level 2 PunchOut Catalogs, the user is sent directly to a product page.
  • Order transfer. After products are selected, the buyer hits a “transfer order” button in the eCommerce store, which sends a PunchOut Order Message (POOM) to the eProcurement platform. The accompanying cXML encodes details such as product descriptions and ID numbers, unit prices, the unit of measure, UNSPSC codes and the currency. To some extent, these details can also vary by eProcurement solution.

An example of a POOM can look like this:

  • Description: Some Awesome Product Name
  • Classification: 83984411 (UNSPSC or sometimes different and will vary from buyer to buyer)
  • PartID: 1234567 (Product SKU)
  • PartAuxiliaryID: 8888/65689 (References the cart data against the session)
  • Quantity: 1
  • Unit Price: 45.25
  • UOM: EA (The Unit of Measure (ie. Each, Case, etc., will also vary from buyer to buyer)
  • Currency: USD

From the buyer’s perspective, this process is entirely automated, simple and intuitive. They choose a supplier, put items in their cart, and “check out.” The eProcurement platform and the eCommerce store invisibly handle authentication, data exchange, and requisition order creation within the buyers originating eProcurement or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

As fast and seamless as cXML data transfer process is, it can be further expanded with purchase order automation, which sends a purchase order to the seller’s eCommerce store and order management system when an eProcurement requisition order is approved. Other documents include order confirmations, shipping notifications and eInvoices.

Why Use PunchOut and cXML?

For companies that rely on eProcurement for business continuity, PunchOut catalogs create a superior B2B eCommerce experience. A recent study from Digital Commerce 360 revealed that eProcurement is the fastest growing B2B sales channel and that eProcurement users want to integrate as many suppliers as possible for PunchOut and other procurement automation functionality.

PunchOut catalogs and procurement automation helps buyers to:

  • Eliminate error-prone manual data entry.
  • Access approved suppliers in a single interface with a real-time product, availability, and discount information.
  • Improve procurement productivity and accelerate the purchase cycle.
  • Centralize procurement data to increase visibility and control spending.

Suppliers also realize considerable benefits from PunchOut catalogs. They can:

  • Win new business from eProcurement users and strengthen existing sales relationships.
  • Ensure buyers have access to up-to-date, personalized catalogs.
  • Reduce procurement costs by moving buyers to their eCommerce platform instead of more expensive, labor-intensive channels.

What are the Benefits of PunchOut Catalogs and cXML?

The benefits of PunchOut catalogs are clear, but both buyers and suppliers can face implementation challenges while onboarding this technology. cXML is just one of the data formats supported by eProcurement and ERP platforms; there is also the older EDI protocol and modern alternatives such as the Open Catalog Interface (OCI) and Oracle XML, and custom formats and protocols.

TradeCentric helps B2B businesses build a bridge between incompatible platforms, strengthening the relationship between modern buyers and suppliers. With the TradeCentric Platform, any eProcurement solution can integrate with any eCommerce system for PunchOut catalogs and other automation features.

To find out more about the universal PunchOut catalog and purchase order automation, contact us below.