This chapter describes a number of modules that are used to parse different file formats.
5.1.1 Markup Languages
Python comes with extensive support for the Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) file formats. Python also provides basic support for Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML).
All these formats share the same basic structure because both HTML and XML are derived from SGML. Each document contains a mix of start tags, end tags, plain text (also called character data), and entity references, as shown in the following:
This is a header
This is the body text. The text can contain plain text ("character data"), tags, and entities.
In the previous example, ,
, and are start tags. For each start tag, there's a corresponding end tag that looks similar, but has a slash before the tag name. The start tag can also contain one or more attributes, like the name attribute in this example.
Everything between a start tag and its matching end tag is called an element. In the previous example, the document element contains two other elements: header and body.
Finally, " is a character entity. It is used to represent reserved characters in the text sections. In this case, it's an ampersand (&), which is used to start the entity itself. Other common entities include < for "less than" (<), and > for "greater than" (>).
While XML, HTML, and SGML all share the same building blocks, there are important differences between them. In XML, all elements must have both start tags and end tags, and the tags must be properly nested (if they are, the document is said to be well-formed). In addition, XML is case-sensitive, so and are two different element types.
HTML, in contrast, is much more flexible. The HTML parser can often fill in missing tags; for example, if you open a new paragraph in HTML using the
tag without closing the previous paragraph, the parser automatically adds a
end tag. HTML is also case-insensitive. On the other hand, XML allows you to define your own elements, while HTML uses a fixed element set, as defined by the HTML specifications.
SGML is even more flexible. In its full incarnation, you can use a custom declaration to define how to translate the source text into an element structure, and a document type description (DTD) to validate the structure and fill in missing tags. Technically, both HTML and XML are SGML applications; they both have their own SGML declaration, and HTML also has a standard DTD.
Python comes with parsers for all markup flavors. While SGML is the most flexible of the formats, Python's sgmllib parser is actually pretty simple. It avoids most of the problems by only understanding enough of the SGML standard to be able to deal with HTML. It doesn't handle DTDs either; instead, you can customize the parser via subclassing.
Python's HTML support is built on the SGML parser. The htmllib parser delegates the actual rendering to a formatter object. The formatter module contains a couple of standard formatters.
Python's XML support is most complex. In Python 1.5.2, the built-in support was limited to the xmllib parser, which is pretty similar to the sgmllib module (with one important difference; xmllib actually tries to support the entire XML standard). Python 2.0 comes with more advanced XML tools, based on the optional expat parser.
5.1.2 Configuration Files
The ConfigParser module reads and writes a simple configuration file format, similar to Windows INI files.
The netrc file reads .netrc configuration files, and the shlex module can be used to read any configuration file using a shell script-like syntax.
5.1.3 Archive Formats
Python's standard library provides support for the popular GZIP and ZIP (2.0 only) formats. The gzip module reads and writes GZIP files, and the zipfile reads and writes ZIP files. Both modules depend on the zlib data compression module.
More Standard Modules
Threads and Processes
Mail and News Message Processing
Tools and Utilities
Implementation Support Modules