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by Erik Rose
If you've ever wanted to get started with parsers, here's your chance for a ground-floor introduction. A harebrained spare-time project gives birth to a whirlwind journey from basic algorithms to Python libraries and, at last, to a parser for one of the craziest syntaxes out there: the MediaWiki grammar that drives Wikipedia.
Some languages were designed to be parsed. The most obvious example is Lisp and its relatives which are practically parsed when they hit the page. However, many others—including most wiki grammars—grow organically and get turned into HTML by sedimentary strata of regular expressions, all backtracking and warring with one another, making it difficult to output other formats or make changes to the language.
We will explore the tools and techniques necessary to attack one of the hairiest lingual challenges out there: MediaWiki syntax. Join me for an introduction to the general classes of parsing algorithms, from the birth of the field to the state of the art. Learn how to pick the right one. Have a comparative look at a dozen different Python parsing toolkits. And finally, learn some optimization tricks to get a grammar going at a reasonable clip.
7th–15th March 2012