See API Documentation

Parse-EZ is a parser library for Clojure programmers. It provides a number of parse functions and combinators and comes with a built-in customizable infix expression parser and evaluator. It allows the programmer to concisely specify the structure of input text using clojure functions and easily build parse trees without having to step out of Clojure. Whether you are writing a parser for some well structured data or for data scraping or for a new language, you can make use of this library to quickly create a parser.




Installation is quite simple. Just add Parse-EZ as a dependency to your lein project

[parse-ez "0.2.0"]

and run

lein deps

Comments and Whitespaces

By default, Parse-EZ automatically handles comments and whitespaces. This behavior can be turned on or off temporarily using the macros with-trim-on and with-trim-off respectively. The parser option :auto-trim can be used to enable or disable the auto handling of whitespace and comments. Use the parser option :blk-cmt-delim to specify the begin and end delimiters for block comments. The parser option :line-cmt-start can be used to specify the line comment marker. By default, these options are set to java/C++ block and line comment markers respectively. You can alter the whitespace recognizer by setting the :word-regex parser option. By default it is set to #"\s+".

Alternatively, you can turn off auto-handling of whitespace and comments and use the lexeme function which trims the whitespace/comments after application of the parse-function passed as its argument.

Also see the no-trim and no-trim-nl functions.

Primitive Parse Functions

Parse-EZ provides a number of primitive parse functions such as: chr, chr-in, string, string-in, word, word-in, sq-str, dq-str, any-string, regex, read-to, skip-over, read-re, read-to-re, skip-over-re, read-n, read-ch, read-ch-in-set, etc. See API Documentation

Let us try some of the builtin primitive parse functions:

user> (use 'protoflex.parse)
user> (parse integer "12")
user> (parse decimal "12.5")
user> (parse #(chr \a) "a")
user> (parse #(chr-in "abc") "b")
user> (parse #(string-in ["abc" "def"]) "abc")
user> (parse #(string-in ["abc" "def"]) "abcx")
Parse Error: Extraneous text at line 1, col 4
  [Thrown class java.lang.Exception]

Note the parse error for the last parse call. By default, the parse function parses to the end of the input text. Even though the first 3 characters of the input text is recognized as valid input, a parse error is generated because the input cursor would not be at the end of input-text after recognizing "abc".

The parser option :eof can be set to false to allow recognition of partial input:

user> (parse #(string-in ["abc" "def"]) "abcx" :eof false)

You can start parsing by looking for some marker patterns using the read-to, read-to-re, skip-over, skip-over-re functions.

user> (parse #(do (skip-over ">>") (number)) "ignore upto this>> 456.7")

Parse Combinators

Parse Combinators in Parse-EZ are higher-order functions that take other parse functions as input arguments and combine/apply them in different ways to implement new parse functionality. Parse-EZ provides parse combinators such as: opt, attempt, any, series, multi*, multi+, between, look-ahead, lexeme, expect, etc. See API Documentation

Let us try some of the builtin parse combinators:

user> (parse #(opt integer) "abc" :eof false)
user> (parse #(opt integer) "12")
user> (parse #(any integer decimal) "12")
user> (parse #(any integer decimal) "12.3")
user> (parse #(series integer decimal integer) "3 4.2 6")
[3 4.2 6]
user> (parse #(multi* integer) "1 2 3 4")
[1 2 3 4]
user> (parse #(multi* (fn [] (string-in ["abc" "def"]))) "abcabcdefabc abcdef")
["abc" "abc" "def" "abc" "abc" "def"]

You can create your own parse functions on top of primitive parse-functions and/or parse combinators provided by Parse-EZ.

Error Handling

Parse Errors are handled in Parse-EZ using Exceptions. The default error messages generated by Parse-EZ include line and column number information and in some cases what is expected at that location. However, you can provide your own custom error messages by using the expect parse combinator.


Parse-EZ includes a customizable expression parser expr for parsing expressions in infix notation and an expression evaluator function eval-expr to evaluate infix expressions. You can customize the operators, their precedences and associative properties using :operators option to the parse function. For evaluating expressions, you can optionally specify the functions to invoke for each operator using the :op-fn-map.

Parser State

The parser state consists of the input cursor and various parser options (specified or derived) such as those affecting whitespace and comment parsing, word recognizers, expression parsing, etc. The parser options can be changed any time in your own parse functions using set-opt.

Note that most of the parse functions affect Parser state (e.g: input cursor) and hence they are not pure functions. The side-effects could be avoided by making the Parser State an explicit parameter to all the parse functions and returning the changed Parser State along with the parse value from each of the parse functions. However, the result would be a significantly programmer unfriendly API. We made a design decision to keep the parse fuctions simple and easy to use than to fanatically keep the functions "pure".


To illustrate some of the features of Parse-EZ and to give a taste of Parse-EZ, a couple of example parsers are listed below.

CSV Parser

A CSV file contains multiple records, one-record per line, with field-values separated by a delimiter such as a comma or a tab. The field values may optionally be quoted either using a single or double quotes. When field-values are quoted, they may contain the field-delimiter characters, and in such cases they will not be treated as field separators.

First, let us define a parse function for parsing one-line of csv file:

user> (defn csv-1
  [sep] (sep-by #(any-string sep) #(chr sep)))

In the above function definition, we make use of the parse combinator sep-by which takes two arguments: the first one to read a field-value and the second one to read the separator. Here, we have used Clojure's anonymous function shortcuts to specify the desired behavior succinctly. The any-string function matches a single-quoted string, or a double-quoted string, or a plain-string that is followed by the specified separator sep. This is exactly the function that we need to read the field-value. The second argument provided to sep-by above uses the primitive parse function chr which succeeds only when the next character in the input matches its argument (sep parameter in this case). This function returns the field values as a vector.

The sep-by function actually takes a third, optional argument as record-separator function with the default value of a function that matches a newline. We didn't pass the third argument above because the default behavior suits our purpose. Had the default behavior of sep-by been different, we would have written the above function as:

user> (defn csv-1
  [sep] (sep-by #(any-string sep) #(chr sep) #(regex #"\r?\n")))

Now that we have created a parse function to parse a single line of CSV file, let us write another parse function that parses the entire CSV file content and returns the result as a vector of vector of field values (one-vector per record/line). All we need to do is to repeatedly apply the above defined csv-1 function and the multi* parse combinator does just that.

Just one small but important detail: by default, Parse-EZ automatically trims whitespace after successfully applying a parse function. This means that the newline at the end of line would be consumed after reading the last field value and the sep-by would be unable to match the end-of-line which is the record-separator in this case. So, we will disable the newline trimming functionality using the no-trim-nl combinator.

user> (defn csv
  [sep] (multi* (fn [] (no-trim-nl #(csv-1 sep)))))

Now, let us try out our csv parser. First let us define a couple of test strings containing a couple of records (lines) each. Note that the second string contains a comma inside the first cell (a quoted string).

user> (def s1 "1abc,def,ghi\n2jkl,mno,pqr\n")
user> (def s2 "'1a,bc',def,ghi\n2jkl,mno,pqr\n")
user> (parse #(csv \,) s1)
[["1abc" "def" "ghi"] ["2jkl" "mno" "pqr"]]
user> (parse #(csv \,) s2)
[["1a,bc" "def" "ghi"] ["2jkl" "mno" "pqr"]]

Well, all we had to do was to write two lines of Clojure code to implement the CSV parser. Let's add a bit more functionality: the CSV files may use a comma or a tab character to separate the field values. Let's say we don't know ahead of time which character a file uses as a separator and we want to detect the separator automatically. Note that both characters may occur in a data file, but only one acts as a field-separator -- that too only when it's not inside a quoted string.

Here is our strategy to detect the separator:

Here is the code:

user> (defn detect-sep []
    (let [m (mark-pos)
           s (attempt #(any dq-str sq-str))
           s (if s s (no-trim #(read-to-re #",|\t")))
           sep (read-ch)]
       (back-to-mark m)


Note how we used the mark-pos and back-to-mark Parse-EZ functions to 'unconsume' the consumed input.

The complete code for the sample CSV parser with the separator-detection functionality is listed below (you can find this in csv_parse.clj file under the examples directory.

(ns protoflex.examples.csv_parse
  (:use [protoflex.parse]))

(declare detect-sep csv-1)

(defn csv
  "Reads and returns one or more records as a vector of vector of field-values"
  ([] (csv (no-trim #(detect-sep))))
  ([sep] (multi* (fn [] (no-trim-nl #(csv-1 sep))))))

(defn csv-1
  "Reads and returns the fields of one record (line)"
  [sep] (sep-by #(any-string sep) #(chr sep)))

(defn detect-sep
  "Detects the separator used in a csv file (a comma or a tab)"
  [] (let [m (mark-pos)
           s (attempt #(any dq-str sq-str))
           s (if s s (no-trim #(read-to-re #",|\t")))
           sep (read-ch)]
       (back-to-mark m)

Let's try out the new auto-detect functionality. Let us define two new test strings s3 and s4 that use tab character as field-separator.

user> (use 'protoflex.examples.csv_parse)
user> (def s3 "1abc\tdef\tghi\n2jkl\tmno\tpqr\n")
user> (def s4 "'1a\tbc'\tdef\tghi\n2jkl\tmno\tpqr\n")
user> (parse csv s3)
[["1abc" "def" "ghi"] ["2jkl" "mno" "pqr"]]
user> (parse csv s4)
[["1a\tbc" "def" "ghi"] ["2jkl" "mno" "pqr"]]
user> (parse csv s1)
[["1abc" "def" "ghi"] ["2jkl" "mno" "pqr"]]

As you can see, this time we didn't specify what field-separator to use: the parser itself detected the field-separator character and used it, returning us the desired results.

XML Parser

Here is the listing of a sample XML parser implemented using Parse-EZ. You can find the source file in the examples directory. The parser returns a map containing keys and values for :tag, :attributes and :children for the root element. The value for :attributes key is itself another map containing attribute names and their values. The value for :children key is a vector (potentially empty) containing string content and/or maps for child elements.

(ns protoflex.examples.xml_parse
  (:use [protoflex.parse]))

(declare pi prolog element attributes children-and-close cdata elem-or-text close-tag)

(defn parse-xml [xml-str]
  (parse #(between prolog element pi) xml-str :blk-cmt-delim ["<!--" "-->"] :line-cmt-start nil))

(defn- pi [] (while (starts-with? "<?") (skip-over "?>")))

(defn- prolog [] (pi) (attempt  #(regex #"(?s)<!DOCTYPE([^<]+?>)|(.*?\]\s*>)")) (pi))

(def name-start ":A-Z_a-z\\xC0-\\xD6\\xD8-\\xF6\\xF8-\\u02FF\\u0370-\\u037D\\u037F-\\u1FFF\\u200C-\\u200D\\u2070-\\u218F\\u2C00-\\u2FEF\\u3001-\\uD7FF\\uF900-\\uFDCF\\uFDF0-\\uFFFD")

(def name-char (str name-start "\\-.0-9\\xB7\\u0300-\\u036F\\u203F-\\u2040"))

(def name-re (-> (format "[%s][%s]*" name-start name-char) re-pattern))

(defn element []
  (let [tag (do (chr \<) (regex name-re))
        attrs (attributes)
        children (look-ahead* [
                               ">" #(children-and-close tag)
                               "/>" (fn [] [])])]
    {:tag tag, :attributes attrs, :children children}))

(defn attr []
  (let [n (regex name-re) _ (chr \=)
        v (any sq-str dq-str)]
    [n v]))

(defn attributes [] (apply hash-map (flatten  (multi* attr))))

(defn- children-and-close [tag]
  (let [children (multi* #(between pi elem-or-text pi))]
    (close-tag tag)

(defn- elem-or-text []
  (look-ahead [
               "<![CDATA[" cdata
               "</" (fn [] nil)
               "<" element
               "" #(read-to "<")]))

(defn- cdata []
  (string "<![CDATA[")
  (let [txt (read-to "]]>")] (string "]]>") txt))

(defn- close-tag [tag]
    (string (str "</" tag))
    (chr \>))

Well, an XML parser in under 50 lines. Let's try it with a few sample inputs:

user> (use 'protoflex.examples.xml_parse)
user> (parse-xml "<abc>text</abc>")
{:tag "abc", :attributes {}, :children ["text"]}
user> (parse-xml "<abc a1=\"1\" a2=\"attr 2\">sample text</abc>")
{:tag "abc", :attributes {"a1" "1", "a2" "attr2"}, :children ["sample text"]}
user> (parse-xml "<abc a1=\"1\" a2=\"attr 2\"><def d1=\"99\">xxx</def></abc>")
{:tag "abc", :attributes {"a1" "1", "a2" "attr2"}, :children [{:tag "def", :attributes {"d1" "99"}, :children ["xxx"]}]}

Relation to Parsec

Parsec is a popular parser combinator library written in Haskell. While Parse-EZ makes use of some of the ideas in there, it is not a port of Parsec to Clojure.


Copyright (C) 2012 Protoflex Software

Distributed under the Eclipse Public License, the same as Clojure.