SVG And Me


That’s a simple linear gradient, generated from an SVG document that looks like this:


<svg viewBox = '0 0 120 120' version = '1.1' xmlns = ''   width = '120' height = '120' xmlns:xlink = ''>
    	<linearGradient id = 'MyGradient'>
      <stop stop-color = 'green' offset = '5%' />
      <stop stop-color = 'gold' offset = '95%' />
  <rect x = '10' y = '10' height = '100' fill = 'url(#MyGradient)' width = '100' />


Fair enough. And of course there are a thousand and one ways to generate .svg files. For various reasons, I am interested in generating .svg files on the fly in a Lua context. So, the code I used to generate this SVG document looks like this:

local FileStream = require("remotesvg.filestream")
local SVGStream = require("remotesvg.SVGStream")

local ImageStream = SVGStream("test_lineargradient.svg"))

local doc = svg {
	width = "120",
	height = "120",
	viewBox = "0 0 120 120",
    ['xmlns:xlink'] ="",

        linearGradient {id="MyGradient",
            stop {offset="5%",  ['stop-color']="green"};
            stop {offset="95%", ['stop-color']="gold"};

    rect {
        x=10, y=10, width=100, height=100,


This comes from my remotesvg project. If you squint your eyes, these look fairly similar I think. In the second case, it’s definitely valid Lua script. Mostly it’s nested tables with some well known types. But, where are all the parenthesis, and how can you just put a name in front of ‘{‘ and have that do anything?

OK, so Lua has some nice syntactics tricks up its sleeve that make certain things a bit easier. For example, there’s this trick that if there’s only a single parameter to a function, you can leave off the ‘()’ combination. I’ve mentioned this before way long back when I was doing some Windows code, and supporting the “L” compiler thing for unicode literals.

In this case, it’s about tables, and later we’ll see about strings. The following two things are equivalent:

local function myFunc(tbl)
  for k,v in pairs(tbl) do

myFunc({x=1, y=1, id="MyID"})

-- Or this slightly shorter form

myFunc {x=1, y=1, id="MyID"}

OK. So that’s how we get rid of those pesky ‘()’ characters, which don’t add to the conversation. In lua, since tables are a basic type, I can easily include tables in tables, nesting as deeply as I please. So, what’s the other trick here then? The fact that all those things before the ‘{‘ are simply the names of tables. This is one area where a bit of trickery goes a long way. I created a ‘base type’ if you will, which knows how to construct these tables from a function, and do the nesting, and ultimately print out SVG. It looks like this:


	A base type for all other SVG Elements.
	This can do the basic writing
local BasicElem = {}
setmetatable(BasicElem, {
	__call = function(self, ...)
		return self:new(...);
local BasicElem_mt = {
	__index = BasicElem;

function, kind, params)
	local obj = params or {}
	obj._kind = kind;

	setmetatable(obj, BasicElem_mt);

	return obj;

-- Add an attribute to ourself
function BasicElem.attr(self, name, value)
	self[name] = value;
	return self;

-- Add a new child element
function BasicElem.append(self, name)
	-- based on the obj, find the right object
	-- to represent it.
	local child = nil;

	if type(name) == "table" then
		child = name;
	elseif type(name) == "string" then
		child = BasicElem(name);
		return nil;

	table.insert(self, child);

	return child;

function BasicElem.write(self, strm)

	local childcount = 0;

	for name, value in pairs(self) do
		if type(name) == "number" then
			childcount = childcount + 1;
			if name ~= "_kind" then
				strm:writeAttribute(name, tostring(value));

	-- if we have some number of child nodes
	-- then write them out 
	if childcount > 0 then
		-- first close the starting tag

		-- write out child nodes
		for idx, value in ipairs(self) do
			if type(value) == "table" then
				-- write out pure text nodes

And further on in the library, I have things like this:

defs = function(params) return BasicElem('defs', params) end;

So, ‘defs’ is a function, which takes a single parameter (typically a table), and it constructs an instance of the BasicElem ‘class’, handing in the name of the element, and the specified ‘params’. And that’s that…

BasicElem has a function ‘write(strm)’, which knows how to turn the various values and tables it contains into correct looking SVG elements and attributes. It’s all right there in the write() function. In addition, it adds a couple more tidbits, such as the attr() and append() functions.

Now that these basic constructs exist, what can be done? Well, first off all, every one of the SVG elements is covered with the simple construct we see with the ‘defs’ element. How might you used this:

	local doc = svg {
		width = "12cm", 
		height= "4cm", 
		viewBox="0 0 1200 400",

		:attr("x", 1)
		:attr("y", 2)
		:attr("width", 1198)
		:attr("height", 398)
		:attr("fill", "none")
		:attr("stroke", "blue")
		:attr("stroke-width", 2);

   local l1 = line({x1=100, y1=300, x2=300, y2=100, stroke = "green", ["stroke-width"]=5});
   local l2 = line({x1=300, y1=300, x2=500, y2=100, stroke = "green", ["stroke-width"]=20});
   local l3 = line({x1=500, y1=300, x2=700, y2=100, stroke = "green", ["stroke-width"]=25});
   local l4 = line({x1=700, y1=300, x2=900, y2=100, stroke = "green", ["stroke-width"]=20});
   local l5 = line({x1=900, y1=300, x2=1100, y2=100, stroke = "green", ["stroke-width"]=25});


In this case, instead of doing the ‘inlined table document’ style of the first example, I’m doing more of a ‘programmatic progressive document building’ style. I create the basic ‘svg’ element and save it in the doc variable. Then I use the ‘append()’ function, to create a ‘rect’ element. On that same element, I can use a short hand to add it’s attributes. Then, I can create separate ‘line’ elements, and append them onto the document as well. That’s pretty special if you need to construct the document based on some data you’re seeing, and you can’t use the embedded table style up front.

There are some special elements that get extra attention though. Aside from the basic table construction, and attribute setting, the ‘path’ element has a special retained mode graphics building capability.

	local p1 = path {
	p1:moveTo(100, 100);
	p1:lineTo(300, 100);
	p1:lineTo(200, 300);

	local doc = svg {
		viewBox="0 0 400 400",
		rect {
			x="1", y="1", 
			width="398", height="398",
        	fill="none", stroke="blue"};

In this case, I create my ‘path’ element, and then I use its various path construction functions such as ‘moveTo()’, and ‘lineTo()’. There’s the full set of arc, bezier curvs, and the like, so you have all the available path construction commands. Again, this works out fairly well when you are trying to build something on the fly based on some previously unknown data.

There’s one more important construct, and that’s string literals. There are cases where you might want to do something that this easy library just doesn’t make simple. In those cases, you might just want to embed some literal text into the output document. Well, luckily, Lua has a fairly easy ability to indicate single or multi-line text, and the BasicElem object knows what to do if it sees it.

    g {

      <text x="48" y="48">Test a motion path</text> 
      <text x="48" y="95" fill="red">'values' attribute.</text> 
      <path d="M90,258 L240,180 L390,180" fill="none" stroke="black" stroke-width="6" /> 
      <rect x="60" y="198" width="60" height="60" fill="#FFCCCC" stroke="black" stroke-width="6" /> 
      <text x="90" y="300" text-anchor="middle">0 sec.</text> 
      <rect x="210" y="120" width="60" height="60" fill="#FFCCCC" stroke="black" stroke-width="6" /> 
      <text x="240" y="222" text-anchor="middle">3+</text> 
      <rect x="360" y="120" width="60" height="60" fill="#FFCCCC" stroke="black" stroke-width="6" /> 
      <text x="390" y="222" text-anchor="middle">6+</text> 

      path {
        d="M-30,0 L0,-60 L30,0 z", 
        animateMotion {values="90,258;240,180;390,180", begin="0s", dur="6s", calcMode="linear", fill="freeze"} 

Notice the portion after the ‘font-size’ attribute is a Lua multi-line string literal. This section will be incuded in the form document verbatim. Another thing to notice here is that ‘path’ element. Although path is specialized, it still has the ability to have attributes, and even have child nodes of its own, such as for animation.

Another case where the literals may come in handy is for CSS style sheets.

	defs {
		style {type="text/css",
				fill: #CCCCCC;
				fill-opacity: 1;
				stroke-opacity: 1;

The ‘style’ element is well known, but the format of the actual content is a bit too specific to translate into a Lua form, so it can simply be included as a literal.

Well, that’s the beginning of this journey. Ultimately I want to view some live graphics generated from data, and send some commands back to the server to perform some functions. At this point, I can use Lua to generate the SVG on the fly, and there isn’t an SVG parser, or Javascript interpreter in sight.


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