Context. X-ray extragalactic surveys are ideal laboratories for the study of the evolution and clustering of active galactic nuclei (AGN). Usually, a combination of deep and wide surveys is necessary to create a complete picture of the population. Deep X-ray surveys provide the faint population at high redshift, while wide surveys provide the rare bright sources. Nevertheless, very wide area surveys often lack the ancillary information available for modern deep surveys. The XXL survey spans two fields of a combined 50 deg(2) observed for more than 6Ms with XMM-Newton, occupying the parameter space that lies between deep surveys and very wide area surveys; at the same time it benefits from a wealth of ancillary data.