Fundamentals of Pattern Specification

To begin with, we should indicate that in a DEXTL program a DEXTL pattern is usually used in the EXTRACTION clause for a specific element.

As it will be seen in more detail later, an element within a DEXTL program corresponds to a relation or a non-atomic attribute of a relation (which can, thus, be seen as a sub-relation) the tuples of which are to be extracted through said element of the DEXTL program (thus, throughout the document this concept will be called “element” or “relation” without exception). R will refer to the relation or sub-relation from which we wish to extract tuples through a DEXTL program element.

Regarding the syntax of an element within a DEXTL program, for now it is enough to bear in mind that:

  • The specification of an element within a DEXTL program is demarcated using the opening character { and the closing character } (or {* and *} in for “flattened” elements: see section Hierarchy of Elements).

  • Each element can have an associated name, which should match that of the relation or the non-atomic attribute of same from which the rows are being extracted and which is indicated with the notation NAME="NAME_ELEMENT", where NAME_ELEMENT is the name assigned to the element. This name should be indicated immediately after the element opening tag. If it is not indicated and the element is “flattened” (see section Hierarchy of Elements), the system will assign a random name to the element.

  • Comments can be included in a DEXTL program, prefixed with the symbols //.

  • Each element contains at least one pattern in its extraction clause that represents the way in which the tuples to be extracted, or a subelement, are arranged in the document (there may be elements that are simply used to group subelements, but in which no data is extracted).

A DEXTL pattern is composed fundamentally of the following types of components:

  • Separators: these enable the system to distinguish where a specific attribute begins or ends within a pattern and where a specific tuple begins or ends. There are two basic types of separators in a pattern:

    • Strings: these match portions of the document representing data for the user. They are represented in inverted commas in the pattern.

    • Format tags: these are used to represent separators composed of a regular expression matching HTML tags. For example ENDANCHOR:="</A"[\n\r\t ][^\>]*">"|"</A>".

      Format tags are defined using regular expressions to which a name is assigned. The tags are defined to provide a simple and legible form of representing complex regular expressions that frequently appear in the data for the visualizing tool. It is important to highlight that the system ignores any portion of the document representing format data that does not match any of the format tags.

  • Names of atomic attributes: these are found in the pattern position in which the value of the attribute appears in the graphic representation of the tuples of relation R. The name of the attribute is prefixed with the character ‘:’. They match the portions of the document that represent data for the user and that are found between two separators. It is also possible to have auxiliary attributes that do not belong to R, but the value of which may be saved for an operation or calculation. The auxiliary attributes are prefixed with ::.

  • ‘IRRELEVANT’ tag: operates in a manner similar to attribute names in R, but represents a portion of the pattern that is not to be assigned to any attribute in R.

  • Optional pattern tags 1: these are “/?” and “?/” and they demarcate areas of the pattern that may or may not appear. It is also possible to use the following format: “¿ <OPTIONAL> ?”.

  • Tags to identify alternative portions of the pattern: an expression such as ‘(subpattern1 | subpattern2)’ may appear in a pattern, indicating that something may appear in this zone of the pattern that matches ‘subpattern1’ or with ‘subpattern2’. In case of having more than two alternatives, the different sub patterns are specified by nesting the different alternatives, in this way: ( ( ( ( subpattern1 | subpattern2 ) | subpattern3 ) | subpattern4 ) | subpattern5 ).

There are also tags for identifying alternative elements or specifications: for instance in some electronic shops, when a product search returns just one result, it automatically jumps to the product detail page format instead of to the usual ‘search result’ page. However, it is not possible to know whether the search will return one or several products before executing a search, whereby it is not possible to determine a priori which pattern should be used to extract the tuples from the relation. DEXTL incorporates a function to deal with this type of case, which consists in defining patterns to extract tuples from all the possible document formats and separate them with the symbol ‘||’. The DEXTL program tries the first pattern first. If it does not find tuples that match, it moves on to the second and so forth. Given that the program checks the pattern in the top location first, it is a good idea to put the most frequent pattern in that position for efficiency reasons.

Example: In the case of a Web source with information on books, modeled using a relation R={TITLE, AUTHOR}, the following HTML fragment represents the data which the source offers on a specific book:

HTML Fragment with Data on a Book
<br>Michael <b> Crichton </b><br>
<a href="/cgibook.jsp?id=1256790">Title: Jurassic Park </a>

Imagine that just one separator of the format-tag type is used: BR. The BR tag is associated with a regular expression which matches the data for the visualizing tool contained in the document each time the tag ’<br>’ appears. The tag BR is the only tag defined in this example; all the HTML tags that do not match the definition of BR will be ignored by the scanner.

Definition of BR

Under these conditions, the DEXTL program analyzes the tokens in the following manner:

  1. Token of the type BR. Corresponding to the first ‘<br>’.

  2. Token of the type TEXT containing the value ‘Michael Crichton’. Note that the tags ‘<b>’ and ‘</b>’ are ignored as they constitute data for the visualization tool which does not match any of the defined format tags (in our example, the only format tag is BR, and ‘<b>’ does not match the regular expression defined for the tag BR; the same applies to ‘</b>’).

  3. Token of the type BR. Corresponding to the second ‘<br>’.

  4. Token of the type TEXT containing the value ‘Title: Jurassic Park’. Note that the tags ‘<a href=…>’ and ‘</a>’ are ignored, as they do not match the only format tag that was defined (BR).

  5. Token of the type BR. Corresponding to the third ‘<br’>.

In summary,

Format tags of the example
BR "Michael Crichton" BR "Title: Jurassic Park" BR

To understand it better now imagine that the following pattern has been defined:

Definition of a Simple Pattern
{ NAME="R"

Given this pattern, the DEXTL program detects an occurrence of the pattern, when it receives the following sequence of tokens: TEXT, BR, TEXT, BR. In addition, the second TEXT has to comply with an additional restriction: it should match the regular expression implicit in the portion of the pattern [“Title:” TITLE], which in this case determines that the value associated with the token should start with the string “Title:”.

As it can be seen, in the case of the preceding HTML code fragment, the last four tokens constitute a sequence that matches the pattern. Once the token sequence has been detected, the actions carried out are as follows:

  • Create a new relation tuple.

  • Assign the value of the first token TEXT to the field AUTHOR of the new tuple. In this specific example, the value that the field AUTHOR will take is ‘Michael Crichton’.

  • Assign to the field TITLE the result of applying the regular expression constructed implicitly using separators of the type string to the value of the second token TEXT, which consists in deleting the substring ‘Title:’. Thus, for our example tuple the value for the field TITLE is ‘Jurassic Park’.

Example: consider the example in Results Returned in an Online Bookshop, which shows what the HTML page returned in an online bookshop search looks like on an Internet browser. The code associated with the representation of the first book is shown.

Results returned in an online bookshop

Results returned in an online bookshop

Looking closely at these two results, you can see that the structure differs. The first contains additional discount data.

The HTML code of the first search result is as follows:

HTML code of search result for electronic bookshop
<font size="-1" face="arial, helvetica, sans-serif">
   <A href="/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?userid=2N3SK9Y2P7&mscssid=JF86DUA3QD498J283583M4SBG9PQ0UL7&isbn=1861003668">
      <b>Beginning Java 2 - Jdk 1.3 Version</b>
<font size="-1" face="arial, helvetica, sans-serif">
<font color="#aa0000">In Stock:Ships within 24 hours.
<br>Ivor Horton / Paperback / Wrox Press, Inc. /
<font size="-1" face="arial, helvetica, sans-serif">March&nbsp;2000<br>
   Our Price: <font color="#aa0000">$39.99</font>, You Save <font color="#aa0000">20%</font>

In this case, the schema of the data to be extracted can be modeled using just one non-atomic element called BOOK. This element is composed of the atomic subelements TITLE, AUTHOR, FORMAT, PRICE and DISCOUNT. The DEXTL program that obtains the data items associated with the element BOOK is shown below. Imagine that just one separator of the format-tag type is used: BR.

DEXTL pattern for obtaining elements from the electronic bookshop
 "Our Price:" :PRICE /? ",You Save" :DISCOUNT ?/ BR

Once the pattern of the tuples of the element BOOK has been defined, the system searches for occurrences of this pattern in the page.

Data on the page are associated with the items that are to be captured through the following series of actions:

  1. Token of the type TEXT with the associated value ‘Beginning Java 2 - Jdk 1.3 Version’. Subsequently this token is associated with the attribute TITLE.

  2. Token of the type BR corresponding to the first ‘<br>’.

  3. Token of the type TEXT with the associated value ‘In Stock:Ships within 24 hours.’ This token is associated with the identifier IRRELEVANT, which is a reserved identifier used by DEXTL to reject data.

  4. Token of the type BR corresponding to the second ‘<br>’.

  5. Token of the type TEXT with the associated value ‘Ivor Horton / Paperback / Wrox Press, Inc. / March&nbsp;2000’. DEXTL divides this value using the pattern ’:AUTHOR “/” :FORMAT “/” IRRELEVANT’, obtaining the items AUTHOR=Ivor Horton, FORMAT=Paperback and rejecting Wrox Press, Inc. / March&nbsp;2000.

  6. Token of the type BR corresponding to the third ‘<br>’.

  7. Token of the type TEXT with the associated value ‘Our Price: $39.99, You Save 20%’. DEXTL associates this value with the pattern ‘ “Our Price:” :PRICE /?”,You Save” :DISCOUNT ?/ ’ to obtain the items PRICE=$39.99 and DISCOUNT=20%. It is important to remember that obtaining the item DISCOUNT is optional. The second result of the example is equally valid, although it does not provide any discount.

  8. Token of the type BR corresponding to the last ‘<br>’.



The “¿” symbol has the ASCII code 168, and can be obtained by pressing ALT-168.

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