# Software Tools in Haskell: charcombine

## replace chars on stdin with precomposed equivalents

Posted on 2016-02-16 by nbloomf

This post is literate Haskell; you can load the source into GHCi and play along.

-- sth-charcombine: replace combining unicode chars with precomposed chars
module Main where

import System.Exit (exitSuccess)
import Data.Char (isMark)
import Data.List (unfoldr)

One of the fundamental problems with our detab program is that it assumes plain text characters can be displayed on a rectangular array of character cells in a one-to-one way, with each character taking one cell and each cell having at most one character. This was a reasonable expectation at the time Software Tools was written, when character encodings were simpler. But Unicode makes this assumption wrong for several reasons. The first, which we will address now, is that diacritics like acute accents or carons can be expressed using combining characters. These are special unicode code points that are not displayed independently but rather modify the character which they succeed. You can read more about these on the wiki. This is a problem for us because detab counts tab stop widths in terms of characters.

There is something we can do to fix this. Unicode also includes a large number of precomposed characters; single code points that are semantically equivalent to characters with combining diacritics. For example, code point U+0041 (latin capital A) followed by U+0301 (combining acute accent above) is canonically equivalent to the single code point U+00C1 (latin capital A with acute accent above). There is a helpful wiki page with a list of these precombined characters.

We could make detab aware of this equivalence. This is a bad idea, though, for a few reasons. First, it would make detab more complicated with only marginal benefit. Most of the text that I work with is plain ASCII, and making detab fiddle with unicode issues on such files will slow it down for no reason. We could give detab a command line flag to explicitly enable this feature, but it is important not to clutter up the interface of a program without a good reason. Second, detab is surely not the only program that might need to deal with this unicode issue. If each one solves the problem in its own way there will be lots of duplicated code, and duplicated code (while sometimes justifiable) is a breeding ground for bugs. Moreover the Unicode standard changes every few years, possibly requiring a time consuming edit of all the programs that work with unicode-encoded text. A far better solution is to make a separate tool, charcombine, to handle this problem. Because our programs are designed to communicate via stdin and stdout, then we can send text through charcombine before giving it to detab. This way detab can stay simple, and charcombine can be a small, general-purpose tool for replacing combining characters with precomposed characters.

Since we already have a function, getGlyphs, which splits a stream of characters into noncombining+combining substrings, the main function of charcombine is quite succinct.

main :: IO ()
main = do
charFilter composeGlyphs
exitSuccess

All that remains is to write a function, composeGlyph, that takes a string of characters and replaces it by an equivalent precomposed character.

composeGlyphs :: String -> String
composeGlyphs = concatMap composeGlyph . getGlyphs

composeGlyph :: String -> String
composeGlyph ""  = ""
composeGlyph [c] = [c]
composeGlyph [x, '\x0301'] = case lookup x acute of
Just y  -> y
Nothing -> [x, '\x0301']
where
acute =
[ ('A',"Á"), ('Æ',"Ǽ"), ('C',"Ć"), ('E',"É"), ('G',"Ǵ")
, ('I',"Í"), ('K',"Ḱ"), ('L',"Ĺ"), ('M',"Ḿ"), ('N',"Ń")
, ('O',"Ó"), ('Ø',"Ǿ"), ('P',"Ṕ"), ('R',"Ŕ"), ('S',"Ś")
, ('U',"Ú"), ('W',"Ẃ"), ('Y',"Ý"), ('Z',"Ź")
, ('a',"á"), ('æ',"ǽ"), ('c',"ć"), ('e',"é"), ('g',"ǵ")
, ('i',"í"), ('k',"ḱ"), ('l',"ĺ"), ('m',"ḿ"), ('n',"ń")
, ('o',"ó"), ('ø',"ǿ"), ('p',"ṕ"), ('r',"ŕ"), ('s',"ś")
, ('u',"ú"), ('w',"ẃ"), ('y',"ý"), ('z',"ź")
]

And OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO BORING. There are dozens more precomposed characters, and it’s pretty clear how to extend this function to those. I will leave finishing this to another day.

## Old Stuff

-- apply a map to stdin
charFilter :: (String -> String) -> IO ()
charFilter f = do
xs <- getContents
putStr $f xs -- break a string into a list of "glyphs" getGlyphs :: String -> [String] getGlyphs = unfoldr firstGlyph where firstGlyph :: String -> Maybe (String, String) firstGlyph "" = Nothing firstGlyph (x:xs) = if isMark x then Just$ break (not . isMark) (x:xs)
else do
let (as,bs) = break (not . isMark) xs
Just (x:as, bs)