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5.19 Strings

gtroff has string variables, which are entirely for user convenience (i.e. there are no built-in strings except .T, but even this is a read-write string variable).

Although the following requests can be used to create strings, simply using an undefined string will cause it to be defined as empty. See Identifiers.

Request: .ds name [string]
Request: .ds1 name [string]
Escape: \*n
Escape: \*(nm
Escape: \*[name arg1 arg2 …]

Define and access a string variable name (one-character name n, two-character name nm). If name already exists, ds overwrites the previous definition. Only the syntax form using brackets can take arguments that are handled identically to macro arguments; the single exception is that a closing bracket as an argument must be enclosed in double quotes. See Request and Macro Arguments, and Parameters.


.ds foo a \\$1 test
This is \*[foo nice].
    ⇒ This is a nice test.

The \* escape interpolates (expands in-place) a previously defined string variable. To be more precise, the stored string is pushed onto the input stack, which is then parsed by gtroff. Similar to number registers, it is possible to nest strings, i.e., string variables can be called within string variables.

If the string named by the \* escape does not exist, it is defined as empty, and a warning of type ‘mac’ is emitted (see Debugging, for more details).

Caution: Unlike other requests, the second argument to the ds request takes up the entire line including trailing spaces. This means that comments on a line with such a request can introduce unwanted space into a string.

.ds TeX T\h'-.2m'\v'.2m'E\v'-.2m'\h'-.1m'X \" Knuth's TeX

Instead the comment should be put on another line or have the comment escape adjacent with the end of the string.

.ds TeX T\h'-.2m'\v'.2m'E\v'-.2m'\h'-.1m'X\" Knuth's TeX

To produce leading space the string can be started with a double quote. No trailing quote is needed; in fact, any trailing quote is included in your string.

.ds sign "           Yours in a white wine sauce,

Strings are not limited to a single line of text. A string can span several lines by escaping the newlines with a backslash. The resulting string is stored without the newlines.

.ds foo lots and lots \
of text are on these \
next several lines

It is not possible to have real newlines in a string. To put a single double quote character into a string, use two consecutive double quote characters.

The ds1 request turns off compatibility mode while interpreting a string. To be more precise, a compatibility save input token is inserted at the beginning of the string, and a compatibility restore input token at the end.

.nr xxx 12345
.ds aa The value of xxx is \\n[xxx].
.ds1 bb The value of xxx is \\n[xxx].
.cp 1
    ⇒ warning: number register `[' not defined
    ⇒ The value of xxx is 0xxx].
    ⇒ The value of xxx is 12345.

Strings, macros, and diversions (and boxes) share the same name space. Internally, even the same mechanism is used to store them. This has some interesting consequences. For example, it is possible to call a macro with string syntax and vice versa.

.de xxx
a funny test.
This is \*[xxx]
    ⇒ This is a funny test.

.ds yyy a funny test
This is
    ⇒ This is a funny test.

In particular, interpolating a string does not hide existing macro arguments. Thus in a macro, a more efficient way of doing

.xx \\$@



Note that the latter calling syntax doesn’t change the value of \$0, which is then inherited from the calling macro.

Diversions and boxes can be also called with string syntax.

Another consequence is that you can copy one-line diversions or boxes to a string.

.di xxx
a \fItest\fR
.ds yyy This is \*[xxx]\c
    ⇒ This is a test.

As the previous example shows, it is possible to store formatted output in strings. The \c escape prevents the insertion of an additional blank line in the output.

Copying diversions longer than a single output line produces unexpected results.

.di xxx
a funny
.ds yyy This is \*[xxx]\c
    ⇒ test This is a funny.

Usually, it is not predictable whether a diversion contains one or more output lines, so this mechanism should be avoided. With Unix troff, this was the only solution to strip off a final newline from a diversion. Another disadvantage is that the spaces in the copied string are already formatted, making them unstretchable. This can cause ugly results.

A clean solution to this problem is available in GNU troff, using the requests chop to remove the final newline of a diversion, and unformat to make the horizontal spaces stretchable again.

.box xxx
a funny
.chop xxx
.unformat xxx
This is \*[xxx].
    ⇒ This is a funny test.

See Gtroff Internals, for more information.

Request: .as name [string]
Request: .as1 name [string]

The as request is similar to ds but appends string to the string stored as name instead of redefining it. If name doesn’t exist yet, it is created.

.as sign " with shallots, onions and garlic,

The as1 request is similar to as, but compatibility mode is switched off while the appended string is interpreted. To be more precise, a compatibility save input token is inserted at the beginning of the appended string, and a compatibility restore input token at the end.

Rudimentary string manipulation routines are given with the next two requests.

Request: .substring str n1 [n2]

Replace the string named str with the substring defined by the indices n1 and n2. The first character in the string has index 0. If n2 is omitted, it is implicitly set to the largest valid value (the string length minus one). If the index value n1 or n2 is negative, it is counted from the end of the string, going backwards: The last character has index -1, the character before the last character has index -2, etc.

.ds xxx abcdefgh
.substring xxx 1 -4
    ⇒ bcde
.substring xxx 2
    ⇒ de
Request: .length reg str

Compute the number of characters of str and return it in the number register reg. If reg doesn’t exist, it is created. str is read in copy mode.

.ds xxx abcd\h'3i'efgh
.length yyy \*[xxx]
    ⇒ 14
Request: .rn xx yy

Rename the request, macro, diversion, or string xx to yy.

Request: .rm xx

Remove the request, macro, diversion, or string xx. gtroff treats subsequent invocations as if the object had never been defined.

Request: .als new old

Create an alias named new for the request, string, macro, or diversion object named old. The new name and the old name are exactly equivalent (it is similar to a hard rather than a soft link). If old is undefined, gtroff generates a warning of type ‘mac’ and ignores the request.

To understand how the als request works it is probably best to think of two different pools: one pool for objects (macros, strings, etc.), and another one for names. As soon as an object is defined, gtroff adds it to the object pool, adds its name to the name pool, and creates a link between them. When als creates an alias, it adds a new name to the name pool that gets linked to the same object as the old name.

Now consider this example.

.de foo
.als bar foo
.de bar
.  foo
    ⇒ input stack limit exceeded

The definition of macro bar replaces the old object this name is linked to. However, the alias to foo is still active! In other words, foo is still linked to the same object as bar, and the result of calling bar is an infinite, recursive loop that finally leads to an error.

To undo an alias, simply call rm on the aliased name. The object itself is not destroyed until there are no more aliases.

Request: .chop xx

Remove (chop) the last character from the macro, string, or diversion named xx. This is useful for removing the newline from the end of diversions that are to be interpolated as strings. This command can be used repeatedly; see Gtroff Internals, for details on nodes inserted additionally by gtroff.

See Identifiers, and Comments.

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