Rex, Rexical and Rails routing

Please read Journery into Rails routing to get a background on Rails routing discussion.

A new language

Let's say that the route defintion looks like this.

/page/:id(/:action)(.:format)

The task at hand is to develop a new programming language which will understand the rules of the route definitions. Since this language deals with routes let's call this language Poutes . Well Pout sounds better so let's roll with that.

It all begins with scanner

rexical is a gem which generates scanner generator. Notice that rexical is not a scanner itself. It will generate a scanner for the given rules. Let's give it a try.

Create a folder called pout_language and in that folder create a file called pout_scanner.rex . Notice that the extension of the file is .rex .

class PoutScanner
end

Before we proceed any further, let's compile to make sure it works.

$ gem install rexical
$ rex pout_scanner.rex -o pout_scanner.rb
$ ls
pout_scanner.rb pout_scanner.rex

While doing gem install do not do gem install rex . We are intalling gem called rexical not rex .

Time to add rules

Now it's time to add rules to our pout.rex file.

Let's try to develop scanner which can detect difference between integers and strings .

class PoutScanner
rule
  \d+         { puts "Detected number" }
  [a-zA-Z]+   { puts "Detected string" }
end

Regenerate the scanner .

$ rex pout_scanner.rex -o pout_scanner.rb

Now let's put the scanner to test . Let's create pout.rb .

require './pout_scanner.rb'
class Pout
  @scanner = PoutScanner.new
  @scanner.tokenize("123")
end

You will get the error undefined methodtokenize' for #PoutScanner:0x007f9630837980 (NoMethodError)` .

To fix this error open pout_scanner.rex and add inner section like this .

class PoutScanner
rule
  \d+         { puts "Detected number" }
  [a-zA-Z]+   { puts "Detected string" }

inner
  def tokenize(code)
    scan_setup(code)
    tokens = []
    while token = next_token
      tokens << token
    end
    tokens
  end
end

Regenerate the scanner by executing rex pout_scanner.rex -o pout_scanner.rb . Now let's try to run pout.rb file.

$ ruby pout.rb
Detected number

So this time we got some result.

Now let's test for a string .

 require './pout_scanner.rb'

class Pout
  @scanner = PoutScanner.new
  @scanner.tokenize("hello")
end

$ ruby pout.rb
Detected string

So the scanner is rightly identifying string vs integer. We are going to add a lot more testing so let's create a test file so that we do not have to keep changing the pout.rb file.

Tests and Rake file

This is our pout_test.rb file.

require 'test/unit'
require './pout_scanner'

class PoutTest  < Test::Unit::TestCase
  def setup
    @scanner = PoutScanner.new
  end

  def test_standalon_string
    assert_equal [[:STRING, 'hello']], @scanner.tokenize("hello")
  end
end

And this is our Rakefile file .

require 'rake'
require 'rake/testtask'

task :generate_scanner do
  `rex pout_scanner.rex -o pout_scanner.rb`
end

task :default => [:generate_scanner, :test_units]

desc "Run basic tests"
Rake::TestTask.new("test_units") { |t|
  t.pattern = '*_test.rb'
  t.verbose = true
  t.warning = true
}

Also let's change the pout_scanner.rex file to return an array instead of puts statements . The array contains information about what type of element it is and the value .

class PoutScanner
rule
  \d+         { [:INTEGER, text.to_i] }
  [a-zA-Z]+   { [:STRING, text] }

inner
  def tokenize(code)
    scan_setup(code)
    tokens = []
    while token = next_token
      tokens << token
    end
    tokens
  end
end

With all this setup now all we need to do is write test and run rake .

Tests for integer

I added following test and it passed.

def test_standalone_integer
  assert_equal [[:INTEGER, 123]], @scanner.tokenize("123")
end

However following test failed .

def test_string_and_integer
  assert_equal [[:STRING, 'hello'], [:INTEGER, 123]], @scanner.tokenize("hello 123")
end

Test is failing with following message

  1) Error:
test_string_and_integer(PoutTest):
PoutScanner::ScanError: can not match: ' 123'

Notice that in the error message before 123 there is a space. So the scanner does not know how to handle space. Let's fix that.

Here is the updated rule. We do not want any action to be taken when a space is detected. Now test is passing .

class PoutScanner
rule
  \s+
  \d+         { [:INTEGER, text.to_i] }
  [a-zA-Z]+   { [:STRING, text] }

inner
  def tokenize(code)
    scan_setup(code)
    tokens = []
    while token = next_token
      tokens << token
    end
    tokens
  end
end

Back to routing business

Now that we have some background on how scanning works let's get back to business at hand. The task is to properly parse a routing statement like /page/:id(/:action)(.:format) .

Test for slash

The simplest route is one with / . Let's write a test and then rule for it.

require 'test/unit'
require './pout_scanner'

class PoutTest  < Test::Unit::TestCase
  def setup
    @scanner = PoutScanner.new
  end

  def test_just_slash
    assert_equal [[:SLASH, '/']], @scanner.tokenize("/")
  end

end

And here is the .rex file .

class PoutScanner
rule
  \/         { [:SLASH, text] }

inner
  def tokenize(code)
    scan_setup(code)
    tokens = []
    while token = next_token
      tokens << token
    end
    tokens
  end
end

Test for /page

Here is the test for /page .

def test_slash_and_literal
  assert_equal [[:SLASH, '/'], [:LITERAL, 'page']] , @scanner.tokenize("/page")
end

And here is the rule that was added .

 [a-zA-Z]+  { [:LITERAL, text] }

Test for /:page

Here is test for /:page .

def test_slash_and_symbol
  assert_equal [[:SLASH, '/'], [:SYMBOL, ':page']] , @scanner.tokenize("/:page")
end

And here are the rules .

rule
  \/          { [:SLASH, text]   }
  \:[a-zA-Z]+ { [:SYMBOL, text]  }
  [a-zA-Z]+   { [:LITERAL, text] }

Test for /(:page)

Here is test for /(:page) .

def test_symbol_with_paran
  assert_equal  [[[:SLASH, '/'], [:LPAREN, '('],  [:SYMBOL, ':page'], [:RPAREN, ')']]] , @scanner.tokenize("/(:page)")
end

And here is the new rule

  \/\(\:[a-z]+\) { [ [:SLASH, '/'], [:LPAREN, '('], [:SYMBOL, text[2..-2]], [:RPAREN, ')']] }

We'll stop here and will look at the final set of files

Final files

This is Rakefile .

require 'rake'
require 'rake/testtask'

task :generate_scanner do
  `rex pout_scanner.rex -o pout_scanner.rb`
end

task :default => [:generate_scanner, :test_units]

desc "Run basic tests"
Rake::TestTask.new("test_units") { |t|
  t.pattern = '*_test.rb'
  t.verbose = true
  t.warning = true
}

This is pout_scanner.rex .

class PoutScanner
rule
  \/\(\:[a-z]+\) { [ [:SLASH, '/'], [:LPAREN, '('], [:SYMBOL, text[2..-2]], [:RPAREN, ')']] }
  \/          { [:SLASH, text]   }
  \:[a-zA-Z]+ { [:SYMBOL, text]  }
  [a-zA-Z]+   { [:LITERAL, text] }

inner
  def tokenize(code)
    scan_setup(code)
    tokens = []
    while token = next_token
      tokens << token
    end
    tokens
  end
end

This is pout_test.rb .

require 'test/unit'
require './pout_scanner'

class PoutTest  < Test::Unit::TestCase
  def setup
    @scanner = PoutScanner.new
  end

  def test_just_slash
    assert_equal [[:SLASH, '/']] , @scanner.tokenize("/")
  end

  def test_slash_and_literal
    assert_equal [[:SLASH, '/'], [:LITERAL, 'page']] , @scanner.tokenize("/page")
  end

  def test_slash_and_symbol
    assert_equal [[:SLASH, '/'], [:SYMBOL, ':page']] , @scanner.tokenize("/:page")
  end

  def test_symbol_with_paran
    assert_equal  [[[:SLASH, '/'], [:LPAREN, '('],  [:SYMBOL, ':page'], [:RPAREN, ')']]] , @scanner.tokenize("/(:page)")
  end
end

How scanner works

Here we used rex to generate the scanner. Now take a look that the pout_scanner.rb . Here is that file . Please take a look at this file and study the code. It is only 91 lines of code.

If you look at the code it is clear that scanning is not that hard. You can handroll it without using a tool like rex . And that's exactly what Aaron Patternson did in Journey . He handrolled the scanner .

Conclusion

In this blog we saw how to use rex to build the scanner to read our routing statements . In the next blog we'll see how to parse the routing statement and how to find the matching routing statement for a given url .