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Re: Production 21 (and others)

From: Michael Sperberg-McQueen <U35395@UICVM.UIC.EDU>
Date: Tue, 28 Jan 97 22:11:10 CST
Message-Id: <199701290500.AAA23855@www10.w3.org>
To: W3C SGML Working Group <w3c-sgml-wg@www10.w3.org>
On Tue, 28 Jan 1997 10:22:45 -0500 Pierre G. Richard said:
>On the draft I have (961114):
>    [21] Comment := '<!--' [^-]* ('-' [^-]+)* '-->'
>I think this should be:
>    [21] Comment := '<!--' ([^-]* ('-' [^-]+)*)* '-->'

Why?  If we replace some of the expressions with named macros, it
may make clearer why the draft doesn't have the second star -- or
else make clearer to me why it *should*.

If we define NH (= non-hyphen) as anything but a hyphen, and
OH (= one-hyphen) as a string containing exactly one hyphen,
at the beginning, and at least one other character -- in
lex notation:

NH      [^-]
OH      "-"{NH}+

Then we have

     [21] Comment := "<!--" [^-]* ("-" [^-]+)* "-->"
     [21] Comment := "<!--" {NH}* ("-" {NH}+)* "-->"
     [21] Comment := "<!--" {NH}* {OH}* "-->"

and the material between the comment open and close delimiters is
'any sequence of characters that contains no double hyphens':  i.e.

  1 the string up to the first hyphen (= {NH}*), possibly empty
  2 the string from the first hyphen up to but not including the
    second (= {OH})
  n the string from the (n-1)th hyphen up to the nth hyphen (={OH})

Substrings 2..n are all taken care of by {OH}*; we don't need to
go back to the first {NH}*.

Does this make sense?

But as Gavin has pointed out, the comment syntax has changed.  Life
would be simple if we could trust parsers to do the right thing given
ambiguous or non-deterministic expressions:


But we can't.  And so the new rule has to be summarized as follows:


Or, in simpler terms, NHS (Not Hyphen or Star) is any character not a
hyphen or an asterisk:

NHS  [^-*]

SH (Star and Hyphen) is an asterisk followed by an optional hyphen:  a
string of asterisks and hyphens that does not contain any double hyphens
can be expressed as {SH}+ or "-"{SH}*, depending on whether it begins
with a star or a hyphen.

SH   ("*""-"?)

HS (hyphen and star) by contrast, is any string of hyphens and
asterisks which *ends* in a hyphen and contains no double hyphens:

HS   ("*"|"-*")+

Finally, Misc is any string of characters that *ends* in a character
other than star or hyphen:

Misc {NHS}|("-"{SH}*{NHS})|({SH}+{NHS})

So we have, expanding gradually:

 [21] Comment := "<!--*"{Misc}*{HS}"-->"
 [21] Comment := "<!--*"({NHS}|("-"{SH}*{NHS})|({SH}+{NHS}))*{HS}"-->"
 [21] Comment :=
 [21] Comment :=
 [21] Comment :=

At least, I *think* this is right!

The DFA for comments, by contrast, is really simple and easy to
follow.  It took me several tries (and, embarrassingly, several
hours went to some really loony false trails) to get a regular
expression that handles the obvious test cases.  So I urge anyone
with any interest in this kind of problem -- and everyone who is
working on a parser! -- to check the expression above as carefully
as you can.  Now is the time to smoke out the errors, not later.

-C. M. Sperberg-McQueen
Received on Wednesday, 29 January 1997 00:00:05 UTC

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