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5.32 gtroff Internals

gtroff processes input in three steps. One or more input characters are converted to an input token.1 Then, one or more input tokens are converted to an output node. Finally, output nodes are converted to the intermediate output language understood by all output devices.

Actually, before step one happens, gtroff converts certain escape sequences into reserved input characters (not accessible by the user); such reserved characters are used for other internal processing also – this is the very reason why not all characters are valid input. See Identifiers, for more on this topic.

For example, the input string ‘fi\[:u]’ is converted into a character token ‘f’, a character token ‘i’, and a special token ‘:u’ (representing u umlaut). Later on, the character tokens ‘f’ and ‘i’ are merged to a single output node representing the ligature glyph ‘fi’ (provided the current font has a glyph for this ligature); the same happens with ‘:u’. All output glyph nodes are `processed' which means that they are invariably associated with a given font, font size, advance width, etc. During the formatting process, gtroff itself adds various nodes to control the data flow.

Macros, diversions, and strings collect elements in two chained lists: a list of input tokens which have been passed unprocessed, and a list of output nodes. Consider the following the diversion.

     
     .di xxx
     a
     \!b
     c
     .br
     .di

It contains these elements.

node list token list element number


line start node 1
glyph node a 2
word space node 3
b 4
\n 5
glyph node c 6
vertical size node 7
vertical size node 8
\n 9

Elements 1, 7, and 8 are inserted by gtroff; the latter two (which are always present) specify the vertical extent of the last line, possibly modified by \x. The br request finishes the current partial line, inserting a newline input token which is subsequently converted to a space when the diversion is reread. Note that the word space node has a fixed width which isn't stretchable anymore. To convert horizontal space nodes back to input tokens, use the unformat request.

Macros only contain elements in the token list (and the node list is empty); diversions and strings can contain elements in both lists.

Note that the chop request simply reduces the number of elements in a macro, string, or diversion by one. Exceptions are compatibility save and compatibility ignore input tokens which are ignored. The substring request also ignores those input tokens.

Some requests like tr or cflags work on glyph identifiers only; this means that the associated glyph can be changed without destroying this association. This can be very helpful for substituting glyphs. In the following example, we assume that glyph ‘foo’ isn't available by default, so we provide a substitution using the fchar request and map it to input character ‘x’.

     
     .fchar \[foo] foo
     .tr x \[foo]

Now let us assume that we install an additional special font ‘bar’ which has glyph ‘foo’.

     
     .special bar
     .rchar \[foo]

Since glyphs defined with fchar are searched before glyphs in special fonts, we must call rchar to remove the definition of the fallback glyph. Anyway, the translation is still active; ‘x’ now maps to the real glyph ‘foo’.

Macro and request arguments preserve the compatibility mode:

     
     .cp 1     \" switch to compatibility mode
     .de xx
     \\$1
     ..
     .cp 0     \" switch compatibility mode off
     .xx caf\['e]
         ⇒ café

Since compatibility mode is on while de is called, the macro xx activates compatibility mode while executing. Argument $1 can still be handled properly because it inherits the compatibility mode status which was active at the point where xx is called.

After expansion of the parameters, the compatibility save and restore tokens are removed.


Footnotes

[1] Except the escapes \f, \F, \H, \m, \M, \R, \s, and \S which are processed immediately if not in copy-in mode.