W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-sgml-wg@w3.org > November 1996

Re: Parameter Entities

From: <lee@sq.com>
Date: Tue, 5 Nov 96 17:49:00 EST
Message-Id: <9611052249.AA15718@sqrex.sq.com>
To: tbray@textuality.com, dlapeyre@mulberrytech.com
Cc: w3c-sgml-wg@w3.org
> May I please hear the other side?  ARE they (particluarly the external) 
> very hard to build into a parser or perl hack.  Please be specific?
> Is the objection to external based on Web resolving?

It depends on your purpose...

The "obvious" way to parse XML in perl involves ignoring all comments and
PIs and DOCTYPE lines, and assuming that there are no external entities or
EMPTY elements or DEFAULT attributes.

For example, PERL code to turn
        <phone>+39 (12) 42 196342 12 ext. 4210</phone>
into a comma separated file for a database is probably no more than
ten minutes' work.  (and I've done this...)

PERL code to parse a DTD just enough to extract which elements are empty and
recognise them adds a few minutes:
    if (/<!DOCTYPE/ .. /\]\]>/) {
        # in the internal subset...
        # look for
        # <!element NAME EMPTY>
        # and add that name to our list:
        if (/<!element ([^ ]+) EMPTY/) {
            $EmptyElements{$1} = 1;
This relies on there being no newlines there, by the way, and no optional
- O thingies, although you can match those fairly easily like this:
        if (/<!element ([^ ]+) (- O)? EMPTY/) {
in the case of an EMPTY element, as no other combination is possible in
an XML DTD (no element is ever required, so you can never omit an open
tag in XML, as we do not have the "," connector, and always have PCDATA in
an or group)

This does not work if you do
    <!entity boy23 'Simon'>
    <!entity omit % '- O'>
        <!-- for XML, always use - O, as it's ignored anyway -->
    <!Element %boy23; %omit; EMPTY>

What you can't do in perl very easily is handle the Ee stuff.
    while ($theLine =~ /%([^ ;]+)([ ;])/) {
        $theLine = $` . entityValue{$1} . $2 . $'; 
would probably not work for IBMIDDOC, where there is nested use of quotes
inside entitiy values, as after you've done the entity substitution, you
have lost the boundaries of the entity.  I suppose you could use a control-D
as an Ee...

The way I would handle entities, if the language were defined sufficiently
cleanly, would be with a pre-processor: first expand all the entities, and
then handle the data.

External entities in XML can certainly be handled this way;
If you have to have macros, this is the best way to do them.

Of course, one lesson from C++ is that the fewer macros you need and the
more functions you have, preferably with strong typing and error checking,
the more robust your system will be.  But SGML comes out of the
Great Macro Processing Era... :-(

Parsing the DTD properly in perl will probably produce a totally
unmaintanable pile of punctuation that looks utterly pigeon-infested.
But there is no point doing that unless someone spends a serious amount
of time and writes a general perl module, like David Megginson's excellent

I hope this Little Diversion Into Perl is useful.  I don't know whether
I should admit to doing Dirty Perl Hacking :-), but I want to see XML be
used by people to whom it does appeal.

Note, by the way, that my examples do not cope with things like

even though an SGML parser would.

It might be much easier to deal with XML if tokenisation was specified
separately from the grammar, which would then never need to include
"S" in a production.

Received on Tuesday, 5 November 1996 17:49:16 UTC

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