shithub: 9ferno

ref: 8d0725d57a988ed0ed2ef0a33e0cebe48a85b5db

View raw version
.TL
Navigating Large XML Documents on Small Devices
.AU
Roger Peppe
.AI
Vita Nuova
.br
April 2002
.AB
Browsing eBooks on platforms with limited memory presents an
interesting problem: how can memory usage be bounded despite
the need to view documents that may be much larger than the
available memory. A simple interface to an XML parser enables
this whilst retaining much of the ease of access afforded
by XML parsers that read all of a document into memory at once.
.AE
.SH
Introduction
.LP
The Open Ebook Publication Structure was devised by the Open Ebook Forum
in order to ``provide a specification for representing the content of electronic
books''. It is based on many existing standards, notably XML and HTML.
An Open eBook publication consists of a set of documents bound together
with an Open eBook package file which enumerates all the documents,
pictures and other items that make up the book
.LP
The underlying document format is essentially HTML compatible,
which is where the first problem arises: HTML was not designed to
make it easy to view partial sections of a document. Conventionally
an entire HTML document is read in at once and rendered onto
the device. When viewing an eBook on a limited-memory device,
however, this may not be possible; books tend to be fairly large.
For such a device, the ideal format would keep the book itself
in non-volatile storage (e.g. flash or disk) and make it possible
for reader to seek to an arbitrary position in the book and render
what it finds there.
.LP
This is not possible in an HTML or XML document, as the
arbitrarily nested nature of the format means that every
position in the document has some unknown surrounding context,
which cannot be discovered without reading sequentially through
the document from the beginning.
.SH
SAX and DOM
.LP
There are two conventional programming interfaces to an XML
parser. A SAX parser provides a stream of XML entities, leaving
it up to the application to maintain the context. It is not possible
to rewind the stream, except, perhaps, to the beginning.
Using a SAX parser is
fairly straightforward, but awkward: the stream-like nature
of the interface does not map well to the tree-like structure
that is XML. A DOM parser reads a whole document into an internal
data structure representation, so a program can treat it exactly
as a tree. This also enables a program to access parts of the
document in an arbitrary order.
The DOM approach is all very well for small documents, but for large
documents the memory usage can rapidly grow to exceed
the available memory capacity. For eBook documents, this is unacceptable.
.SH
A different approach
.LP
The XML parser used in the eBook browser is akin to a SAX parser,
in that only a little of the XML structure is held in memory at one time.
The first significant difference is that the XML entities returned are
taken from one level of the tree - if the program does not wish to
see the contents of a particular XML tag, it is trivial to skip over.
The second significant difference is that random access is possible.
This possibility comes from the observation that if we have visited
a part of the document we can record the context that we found there
and restore it later if necessary. In this scheme, if we wish to return later to
a part of a document that we are currently at, we can create a ``mark'',
a token that holds the current context; at some later time we can use
that mark to return to this position.
.LP
The eBook browser uses this technique to enable random access
to the document on a page-by-page basis. Moreover a mark
can be written to external storage, thus allowing an external
``index'' into the document so it is not always necessary to
read the entire document from the start in order to jump to a particular
page in that document.
.SH
The programming interface
.LP
The interface is implemented by a module named
.CW Xml ,
which provides a
.CW Parser
adt which gives access to the contents of an XML document.
Xml items are represented by an
.CW Item
pick adt with one branch of the pick corresponding to each
type of item that might be encountered.
.LP
The interface to the parser looks like this:
.P1
open: fn(f: string, warning: chan of (Locator, string)): (ref Parser, string);
Parser: adt {
    next:       fn(p: self ref Parser): ref Item;
    down:   fn(p: self ref Parser);
    up:     fn(p: self ref Parser);
    mark:   fn(p: self ref Parser): ref Mark;
    atmark: fn(p: self ref Parser, m: ref Mark): int;
    goto:   fn(p: self ref Parser, m: ref Mark);
    str2mark:   fn(p: self ref Parser, s: string): ref Mark;
};
.P2
To start parsing an XML document, it must first be
.CW open ed;
.CW warning
is a channel on which non-fatal error messages will be sent
if they are encountered during the parsing of the document.
It can be nil, in which case warnings are ignored.
If the document is opened successfully, a new
.CW Parser
adt, say
.I p ,
is returned.
Calling
.CW \fIp\fP.next
returns the next XML item at the current level of the tree. If there
are no more items in the current branch at the current level, it
returns
.CW nil .
When a
.CW Tag
item is returned,
.CW \fIp\fP.down
can be used to descend ``into'' that tag; subsequent calls of
.CW \fIp\fP.next
will return XML items contained within the tag,
and
.CW \fIp\fP.up
returns to the previous level.
.LP
An
.CW Item
is a pick adt:
.P1
Item: adt {
    fileoffset: int;
    pick {
    Tag =>
        name:   string;
        attrs:      Attributes;
    Text =>
        ch:     string;
        ws1, ws2: int;
    Process =>
        target: string;
        data:       string;
    Doctype =>
        name:   string;
        public: int;
        params: list of string;
    Stylesheet =>
        attrs:      Attributes;
    Error =>
        loc:        Locator;
        msg:        string;
    }
};
.P2
.CW Item.Tag
represents a XML tag, empty or not. The XML
fragments
.CW "<tag></tag>" '' ``
and
.CW "<tag />" '' ``
look identical from the point of view of this interface.
A
.CW Text
item holds text found in between tags, with adjacent whitespaces merged
and whitespace at the beginning and end of the text elided.
.CW Ws1
and
.CW ws2
are non-zero if there was originally whitespace at the beginning
or end of the text respectively.
.CW Process
represents an XML processing request, as found between
.CW "<?....?>" '' ``
delimiters.
.CW Doctype
and
.CW Stylesheet
are items found in an XML document's prolog, the
former representing a
.CW "<!DOCTYPE...>" '' ``
document type declaration, and the latter an XML
stylesheet processing request.
.LP
When most applications are processing documents, they
will wish to ignore all items other than
.CW Tag
and
.CW Text .
To this end, it is conventional to define a ``front-end'' function
to return desired items, discard others, and take an appropriate
action when an error is encountered. Here's an example:
.P1
nextitem(p: ref Parser): ref Item
{
    while ((gi := p.next()) != nil) {
        pick i := gi {
        Error =>
            sys->print("error at %s:%d: %s\n",
                i.loc.systemid, i.loc.line, i.msg);
            exit;
        Process =>
            ;   # ignore
        Stylesheet  =>
            ;   # ignore
        Doctype =>
            ;   # ignore
        * =>
            return gi;
        }
    }
    return nil;
}
.P2
When
.CW nextitem
encounters an error, it exits; it might instead handle the
error another way, say by raising an exception to be caught at the
outermost level of the parsing code.
.SH
A small example
.LP
Suppose we have an XML document that contains some data that we would
like to extract, ignoring the rest of the document. For this example we will
assume that the data is held within
.CW <data>
tags, which contain zero or more
.CW <item>
tags, holding the actual data as text within them.
Tags that we do not recognize we choose to ignore.
So for example, given the following XML document:
.P1
<metadata>
    <a>hello</a>
    <b>goodbye</b>
</metadata>
<data>
    <item>one</item>
    <item>two</item>
    <item>three</item>
</data>
<data>
    <item>four</item>
</data>
.P2
we wish to extract all the data items, but ignore everything inside
the
.CW <metadata>
tag. First, let us define another little convenience function to get
the next XML tag, ignoring extraneous items:
.P1
nexttag(p: ref Parser): ref Item.Tag
{
    while ((gi := nextitem(p)) != nil) {
        pick i := gi {
        Tag =>
            return i;
        }
    }
    return nil;
}
.P2
Assuming that the document has already been opened,
the following function scans through the document, looking
for top level
.CW <data>
tags, and ignoring others:
.P1
document(p: ref Parser)
{
    while ((i := nexttag(p)) != nil) {
        if (i.name == "data") {
            p.down();
            data(p);
            p.up();
        }
    }
}
.P2
The function to parse a
.CW <data>
tag is almost as straightforward; it scans for
.CW <item>
tags and extracts any textual data contained therein:
.P1
data(p: ref Parser)
{
    while ((i := nexttag(p)) != nil) {
        if (i.name == "item") {
            p.down();
            if ((gni := p.next()) != nil) {
                pick ni := gni {
                Text =>
                    sys->print("item data: %s\n", ni.ch);
                }
            }
            p.up();
        }
    }
}
.P2
The above program is all very well and works fine, but
suppose that the document that we are parsing is very
large, with data items scattered through its length, and that
we wish to access those items in an order that is not necessarily
that in which they appear in the document.
This is quite straightforward; every time we see a
data item, we record the current position with a mark.
Assuming the global declaration:
.P1
marks: list of ref Mark;
.P2
the
.CW document
function might become:
.P1
document(p: ref Parser)
{
    while ((i := nexttag(p)) != nil) {
        if (i.name == "data") {
            p.down();
            marks = p.mark() :: marks;
            p.up();
        }
    }
}
.P2
At some later time, we can access the data items arbitrarily,
for instance:
.P1
    for (m := marks; m != nil; m = tl m) {
        p.goto(hd m);
        data(p);
    }
.P2
If we wish to store the data item marks in some external index
(in a file, perhaps), the
.CW Mark
adt provides a
.CW str
function which returns a string representation of the mark.
.CW Parser 's
.CW str2mark
function can later be used to recover the mark. Care must
be taken that the document it refers to has not been changed,
otherwise it is likely that the mark will be invalid.
.SH
The eBook implementation
.LP
The Open eBook reader software uses the primitives described above
to maintain display-page-based access to arbitrarily large documents
while trying to bound memory usage.
Unfortunately it is difficult to unconditionally bound memory usage,
given that any element in an XML document may be arbitrarily
large. For instance a perfectly legal document might have 100MB
of continuous text containing no tags whatsoever. The described
interface would attempt to put all this text in one single item, rapidly
running out of memory! Similar types of problems can occur when
gathering the items necessary to format a particular tag.
For instance, to format the first row of a table, it is necessary to lay out
the entire table to determine the column widths.
.LP
I chose to make the simplifying assumption that top-level items within
the document would be small enough to fit into memory.
From the point of view of the display module, the document
looks like a simple sequence of items, one after another.
One item might cover more than one page, in which case a different
part of it will be displayed on each of those pages.
.LP
One difficulty is that the displayed size of an item depends on many
factors, such as stylesheet parameters, size of installed fonts, etc.
When a document is read, the page index must have been created
from the same document with the same parameters. It is difficult in
general to enumerate all the relevant parameters; they would need
to be stored inside, or alongside the index; any change would invalidate
the index. Instead of doing this, as the document is being displayed,
the eBook display program constantly checks to see if the results
it is getting from the index match with the results it is getting
when actually laying out the document. If the results differ, the
index is remade; the discrepancy will hopefully not be noticed by
the user!