Stream Processing XML in IronPython

When it comes to processing XML, there are two basic approaches – load it all into memory at once or process it a node at a time. In the .NET world where I have spent most of the past ten years, those two models are represented by XmlDocument and XmlReader. There are alternatives to XmlDocument, such as XDocument and XPathDocument, but you get the idea.

Out in non-MSFT land, the same two basic models exist, however the de facto standard for stream based processing is SAX, the Simple API for XML. SAX is supported by many languages, including Python.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of SAX’s event-driven approach. Pushing events makes total sense for a human driven UI, but I never understood why anyone thought that was a good idea for stream processing XML. I like XmlReader’s pull model much better. When you’re ready for the next node, just call Read() – no mucking about setting content handlers or handling node processing events.

Luckily, the Python standard library supports both approaches. It provides both a SAX based parser as well as a pull based parser called pulldom. Pulldom doc’s are fairly sparse, but Paul Prescod wrote a nice introduction. Here’s an example from Paul’s site (slightly modified):

from xml.dom import pulldom
nodes = pulldom.parse( "file.xml" )  
for (event,node) in nodes:  
    if event=="START_ELEMENT" and node.tagName=="table":  
        nodes.expandNode( node )

Actually, I like this better than XmlReader, since it provides the nodes in a list-like construct that appeals to the functional programmer in me. I’d like it even more if Python had a native pattern matching syntax – you know, like F# – but you can get similar results by chaining together conditionals with elif.

However, IronPython doesn’t support any of the XML parsing modules from Python’s standard library. They’re all based on a C-based python module called pyexpat which IronPython can’t load. 1 I wanted a pulldom type model, so I decided to wrap XmlReader to provide a similar API and lets me write code like this:

import ipypulldom  
nodes = ipypulldom.parse( "sample.xml" )
for node in nodes:
  if node.nodeType==XmlNodeType.Element:
    print node.xname

There are a few differences from pulldom, but it’s basically the same model. I’m using the native .NET type XmlNodeType rather than a string to indicate the node type. Furthermore, I made the node type a property of the node, rather than a separate variable. I also didn’t implement expandNode, though doing so would be a fairly straightforward combination of XmlReader.ReadSubtree and XmlDocument.Load.

I stuck the code for ipypulldom up in a new folder on my Skydrive: IronPython Stuff. It’s fairly short – only about 45 lines of code. Feel free to use it if you need it.

  1. The FePy project has a .NET port of pyexpat as part of their distribution, so I assume that lets you use the standard pulldom implementation in IPy. FePy looks really cool but I haven’t had time to dig into it yet.