[NTG-context] final thoughts on experiments with lua

Thomas A. Schmitz thomas.schmitz at uni-bonn.de
Wed Jan 9 20:57:21 CET 2019

I've finished testing my lua script, and it does exactly what I need. I 
think I'll write a small article about it for one of the next context 
group proceedings, but wanted to just give a very brief summary that 
might be of interest to some:

Pure Lua is wonderful, but as the language is deliberately kept very 
small, one sometimes has to find rather cumbersome workarounds. If you 
run Lua under ConTeXt (with mtxrun --script), you get a version with 
batteries included, which is perfect for manipulating and analyzing 
text. Some areas that I found particularly impressive:

1. I've tried several times to make use of lpegs. Hans' code is full of 
it, and I know that it's fast and extremely versatile, but I found it 
difficult to wrap my head around its functioning and write useful code 
with lpegs. The ConTeXt wrapper makes this extremely easy; this is lpeg 
for the rest of us. It's really a delight to build patterns and see them 
work immediately!

2. The utf library and string manipulation with characters.(...) is 
absolutely necessary if you want to handle non-ASCII text because pure 
Lua gives very unexpected results in this area. These operations work 
wonderfully with the context libraries.

3. Lua's handling of tables is very efficient and fast. For analyzing my 
Greek texts, I have to use huge tables for morphological parsing, with 
more than 900,000 entries. Looking up words in these tables is around 3x 
faster in Lua than in python!

One final thought: one limitation that I still find cumbersome to work 
around is the fact that associative arrays ("pairs" in Lua speak) do not 
have an order. When I analyze my texts, I want book numbers, chapters, 
paragraphs preserved in the order in which they are read (entered into 
the table). In many cases, it is not possible (or extremely awkward) to 
sort these numbers, since chapters may be numbered something like 2, 2a, 
3, 3α, 3β etc. python has the OrderedDict() in its collections module. 
In Lua, the best I could find was entering the chapter numbers into an 
array (ipair) and then retrieve it from there. Maybe there is a better way?

All of this just to say how grateful I am for the way Hans, Taco, 
Wolfgang, Luigi, and the other developers have enhanced Lua. Thanks 
guys, you make my work much more pleasant and efficient!


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