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TeX Parser in Haskell
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texhs: Parsing LaTeX in Haskell

texhs is a Haskell library for parsing TeX and LaTeX documents with support for category code management, user-defined commands, cross-references and BibLaTeX.

It ships with an executable that can be used to convert conforming LaTeX documents to (TEI-)XML, HTML or EPUB.

In addition, texhs provides access to the structure of an input document at three layers:

  • Token Stream: The lexing module provides a token stream after expansion of user-defined macros and selected TeX primitives that need to be interpreted during lexing (e.g. catcode assignments, macro definitions, conditionals).
  • Syntax Tree: The TeX parsing module provides an abstract syntax tree based on the lexer output, capturing the grouping structure and macro calls with their arguments.
  • Document Model: The Doc parsing module provides an internal document model as an abstract syntax tree after expansion and evaluation of all remaining macros.

Development Status

texhs is in active development and can already be used to produce (TEI-based) XML, HTML (XHTML5, XHTML1) and EPUB versions of conforming documents. However, there is no official release yet and at this stage the list of supported TeX internals and LaTeX commands is still somewhat limited, thus texhs will fail on many valid LaTeX documents. In addition, the default Doc parser enforces a strict document model by design. This helps to guarantee quality output.

An example document that has been converted using texhs from LaTeX to XML, HTML, and EPUB is the linguistic monograph Natural Causes of Language by N.J. Enfield, published by Language Science Press.

Setup Instructions

texhs can be installed using Cabal from local sources. There is no package on hackage yet.

Play with the executable in a cabal sandbox:

$ cabal sandbox init
$ cabal install --only-dependencies
$ cabal configure
$ cabal build
$ ./dist/build/texhs/texhs -h

Install the library and the executable:

$ cabal install --only-dependencies
$ cabal configure
$ cabal install

Run the test suite:

$ cabal install --only-dependencies --enable-tests
$ cabal configure --enable-tests
$ cabal build
$ cabal test

Generate API documentation:

$ cabal haddock


TeX is a highly dynamic language in which lexing, parsing, expansion and evaluation are deeply intertwined. In fact, TeX cannot be parsed in general (see Erdweg and Ostermann 2011).

For this reason, texhs uses a couple of lexing and parsing heuristics to fake a more conventional compiler pipeline with clean APIs. In particular, TeX macros are partitioned into two disjoint sets:

  • Lexer-level commands need to be evaluated during lexing because they may change the behavior of the lexer. Examples include category code changes (catcode), modifications of the expansion order (expandafter, futurelet), user-level macro definitions (let, def, newcommand) and conditionals (if, ifx).
  • Document-level commands need not be evaluated during lexing or parsing. However, the parameter specification has to be known during parsing in order to determine their arguments. Examples include formatting instructions (emph, textit), sectioning commands (section, chapter), anchors and cross-references (label, ref) and bibliographic references (cite).

The resulting pipeline has two main parts. The first part parses a TeX source document, evaluating lexer-level commands, into an abstract syntax tree:

TeX Source --(tex-lexer)--> Tokens --(tex-parser)--> TeX AST

The lexer is currently implemented as a monad transformer on top of parsec. The underlying monad has to instantiate the HandleTeXIO class in order to support certain IO-related functions that handle side-effecting TeX macros that have to be evaluated during lexing (in particular, reading files from disk using input or include and accessing the current date using year and related commands). Two instances for the type class are provided, IO (execute) and Identity (ignore).

Note that it is impossible in general to preprocess input commands in TeX documents by scanning for \input strings. For example, the input primitive may be disguised as an arbitrary active character whose meaning can only be identified by evaluating earlier parts of the TeX source.

The TeX parser builds an abstract syntax tree based on the token stream produced by the lexer. Since all effectful macros are already handled during lexing, the parser can be implemented as a pure function on top of parsec.

The second part of the pipeline interprets the TeX tree and constructs a document representation that can then be converted to output formats like XML, HTML and EPUB:

TeX AST --(doc-parser)--> Document Model --(writers)--> XML

Both the TeX parser and the Doc parser require information about supported TeX commands. The TeX parser needs to know their syntax (number and structure of arguments) and the Doc parser needs to know their semantics in order to map them to appropriate elements in the document model. The relevant information is stored in a manually curated TeX command database.

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