Erlang has a default XML parser called xmerl. Even there is a documetation associated with this module, it is not adequate enough to start writing the code. Especially SAX parsing is the least documented and least understood. There is not much literature (infact no documentation at all) for the SAX parsing. I had to do lot of code reading to figure out the SAX parsing module.

In this article I will make an attempt to explain the SAX parsing module.

SAX parsing is done via xmerl_eventp:stream/2 and xmerl_eventp:stream_sax/4.

I did not find xmerl_eventp:stream_sax/4 useful as user state is not maintained across all events. Also accumulate function cannot be overridden. So it is not useful when you do not need to accumulate all the elements (for large file parsing). I was trying to use this function to parse large file ( > 10MB ) and extract only some part of the whole file. Since it is not possible to override accumulate, this function was out of question. If one need to accumulate all the elements in the document, I would rather do xmerl_scan:file/1 or xmerl_scan:string/1 which will scan the file/string and generate in-memory document.

xmerl_eventp:stream/2 function take 2 arguments.
* File name
* List of options

For this post, 3 options are important. They are user_state, event_fun and acc_fun.

user_state is any term which can be accessed from event_fun and acc_fun. event_fun is called for every event during the SAX parsing. acc_fun is called for every element (after parsing end of element).

event_fun has a signature fun/2. First parameter is of type #xmerl_event. Second parameter is a global state. user_state from this global state can be accessed via xmerl_scan:user_state/1 function. User state can be modified via xmerl_scan:user_state/2 function. event_fun should return the new global state.

Example of event_fun:

event_function(#xmerl_event{event = Event, data = Data}, GlobalState) ->
UserState = xmerl_scan:user_state(GlobalState),
NewUserState = do_something(UserState),
NewGlobalState = xmerl_scan:user_state(NewUserState, GlobalState),
NewGlobalState.

Possible values for #xmerl_event.event are started and ended.

#xmerl_event.data is set to document at the beginning of document parsing and after all the elements are parsed.

event_function( #xmerl_event{event = started, data = document}, GlobalState) ->
% get the user state
% do something with the user state
% set the new user state in global state
% return global state

One may want to open a file or open a socket connection at the beginning of the document parsing. In subsequent event, one may want to write the content to the previously opened file or socket connection.

End of document parsing event can be used to close the previously opened file handle or socket connection.

acc_fun can be used to accumulate the content. acc_fun is of the form fun/3. First parameter is the current xml element. Second parameter is the accumulator. Third parameter is the global state.

This function should return a new tuple of 2 elements. First element is the new accumulator and 2nd element is a new global state (user state can be changed in the new global state as explained earlier).

user_state can be any Erlang term.

In the next article, I will discuss an implementation of SAX parsing to transform an XML into CSV.

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