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This text explains the custom node extensions that can be attached to XML trees. This feature can be ignored by users that do not need it. We effectively comment the class type Pxp_document.extension here.

Node extensions

Every node in a tree has a so-called extension. By default, the extension is practically empty and only present for formal uniformity. However, one can also define custom extension classes, and effectively make new methods available to nodes.

The type Pxp_document.extension is:

class type [ 'node ] extension =
  object ('self)
    method clone : 'self
    method node : 'node
    method set_node : 'node -> unit

Every node has such an extension object, as the following picture shows. Of course, the idea is to equip the extension object with additional methods and not only clone, node, and set_node - which are simply the bare minimum.

Node objects and extension objects

The picture shows how the nodes and extensions are linked together. Every node has a reference to its extension, and every extension has a reference to its node. The methods extension and node follow these references; a typical phrase is

 self # node # attribute "xy" 

to get the value of an attribute from a method defined in the extension object; or

self # node # iter
  (fun n -> n # extension # my_method ...)

to iterate over the subnodes and to call my_method of the corresponding extension objects.

Note that extension objects do not have references to subnodes (or "subextensions") themselves; in order to get one of the children of an extension you must first go to the node object, then get the child node, and finally reach the extension that is logically the child of the extension you started with.

In other programming languages, it is possible to extend the node objects directly. Ocaml's subtyping rules make this practically impossible. The type of the extension object appears as type parameter in the class type of the nodes. Note that this means that the type of the extension objects has to be the same for all nodes in a tree. It is not possible to e.g. use a different type for elements than for data nodes.

How to define an extension class

At minimum, you must define the methods clone, node, and set_node such that your class is compatible with the type Pxp_document.extension. The method set_node is called during the initialization of the node, or after a node has been cloned; the node object invokes set_node on the extension object to tell it that this node is now the object the extension is linked to. The extension must return the node object passed as argument of set_node when the node method is called.

The clone method must return a copy of the extension object; at least the object itself must be duplicated, but if required, the copy should deeply duplicate all objects and values that are referred by the extension, too. Whether this is required, depends on the application; clone is invoked by the node object when one of its cloning methods is called.

A good starting point for an extension class:

class custom_extension =
  object (self)

    val mutable node = (None : custom_extension node option)

    method clone = {< >} 

    method node =
      match node with
          None ->
            assert false
        | Some n -> n

    method set_node n =
      node <- Some n


This class is compatible with Pxp_document.extension. The purpose of defining such a class is, of course, adding further methods; and you can do it without restriction.

Often, you want more than only a single extension class. In this case, it is strictly required that all your classes (that will be used in the same tree) have the same type of extensions (with respect to the interface; i.e. it does not matter if your classes differ in the defined private methods and instance variables, but public methods count). It is simple to implement:

class custom_extension =
  object (self)
    val mutable node = (None : custom_extension node option)

    method clone = ...      (* see above *)
    method node = ...       (* see above *)
    method set_node n = ... (* see above *)

    method virtual my_method1 : ...
    method virtual my_method2 : ...
    ... (* etc. *)

class custom_extension_kind_A =
  object (self)
    inherit custom_extension

    method my_method1 = ...
    method my_method2 = ...

class custom_extension_kind_B =
  object (self)
    inherit custom_extension

    method my_method1 = ...
    method my_method2 = ...

If a class does not need a method (e.g. because it does not make sense, or it would violate some important condition), it is possible to define the method and to always raise an exception when the method is invoked (e.g. assert false).

How to bind extension classes to element types

Once you have defined your extension classes, you can bind them to element types. The simplest case is that you have only one class and that this class is always to be used. The parsing functions in the module Pxp_tree_parser take a spec argument for the document model specification which can be customized (of type Pxp_document.spec). If your single class has the name c, this argument should be

let spec =
    ~data_exemplar:            (new Pxp_document.data_impl c)
    ~default_element_exemplar: (new Pxp_document.element_impl c)
    ~element_alist:            []

This means that data nodes will be created from the exemplar passed by ~data_exemplar and that all element nodes will be made from the exemplar specified by ~default_element_exemplar. In ~element_alist, you can pass that different exemplars are to be used for different element types; but this is an optional feature. If you do not need it, pass the empty list.

Remember that an exemplar is a (node, extension) pair that serves as pattern when new nodes (and the corresponding extension objects) are added to the document tree. In this case, the exemplar contains c as extension, and when nodes are created, the exemplar is cloned, and cloning makes also a copy of c such that all nodes of the document tree will have a copy of c as extension.

The ~element_alist argument can bind specific element types to specific exemplars; as exemplars may be instances of different classes it is effectively possible to bind element types to classes. For example, if the element type "p" is implemented by class c_p, and "q" is realized by c_q, you can pass the following value:

let spec =
    ~data_exemplar:            ( data_impl c)
    ~default_element_exemplar: ( element_impl c)
      [ "p"new Pxp_document.element_impl c_p;
        "q"new Pxp_document.element_impl c_q;

The extension object c is still used for all data nodes and for all other element types.

An example

A complete example using extension objects is the readme processor. The full source code is included in the PXP source tarball. A commented version is available here: Example_readme.

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