SVG And Me – Don’t tell me, just another database!

A picture is worth 175Kb…


So, SVG right? Well, the original was, but this image was converted to a .png file for easy embedding in WordPress. The file size of the original grapes.svg is 75K. That savings in space is one of the reasons to use .svg files whenever you can.

But, I digress. The remotesvg project has been moving right along.

Last time around, I was able to use Lua syntax as a stand in for the raw .svg syntax.  That has some benefits because since your in a programming language, you can use programming constructs such as loops, references, functions and the like to enhance the development of your svg.  That’s great when you’re creating something from scratch programmatically, rather than just using a graphical editing tool such as inkscape to construct your .svg.  If you’re constructing a library of svg handling routines, you need a bit more though.

This time around, I’m adding in some parsing of svg files, as well as general manipulation of the same from within Lua.  Here’s a very simple example of how to read an svg file into a lua table:


local parser = require("remotesvg.parsesvg")

local doc = parser:parseFile("grapes.svg");

That’s it! You now have the file in a convenient lua table, ready to be manipulated. But wait, what do I have exactly? Let’s look at a section of that file and see what it gives us.

         id="stop4894" />
         id="stop4896" />
       y2="1093.8906" />

This is part of the definitions, which later get used on portions of representing the grapes. A couple of things to notice. As a straight ‘parsing’, you’ll get a bunch of text values. For example: y2 = “109.8906”, that will turn into a value in the lua table like this: {y2 = “109.8906”}, the ‘109.8906’ is still a string value. That’s useful, but a little less than perfect. Sometimes, depending on what I’m doing, retaining that value as a string might be just fine, but sometimes, I’ll want that value to be an actual lua number. So, there’s an additional step I can take to parse the actual attributes values and turn them into a more native form:

local parser = require("remotesvg.parsesvg")

local doc = parser:parseFile("grapes.svg");


That line with doc:parseAttributes(), tells the document to go through all its attributes and parse them, turning them into more useful values from the Lua perspective. In the case above, the representation of ‘y2’ would become: {y2 = 109.8906}, which is a string value.

This gets very interesting when you have values where the string representation and the useful lua representation are different.

<line x1="10", y1="20", width = "10cm", height= "12cm" />

This will be turning into:

  x1 = {value = 10},
  y1 = {value = 20},
  width = {value = 10, units = 'cm'},
  height = {value = 12, units = 'cm'}

Now, in my Lua code, I can access these values like so:

local doc = parser:parseFile("grapes.svg");

When I subsequently want to write this value out as valid svg, it will turn back into the string representation with no loss of fidelity.

Hidden in this example is a database query. How do I know that doc.svg[1] is going to give me the ” element that I’m looking for? In this particular case, it’s only because the svg is so simple that I know for a fact that the ” element is going to show up as the first child in the svg document. But, most of the time, that is not going to be the case.

In any svg that’s of substance, there is the usage of various ‘id’ fields, and that’s typically what is used to find an element. So, how to do that in remotesvg? If we look back at the example svg, we see this ‘id’ attribute on the first gradient: id=”linearGradient4892″.

How could I possibly find that gradient element based on the id field? Before that though, let’s look at how to enumerate elements in the document in the first place.

local function printElement(elem)
    if type(elem) == "string" then
        -- don't print content values
    print(string.format("==== %s ====", elem._kind))

    -- print the attributes
    for name, value in elem:attributes() do

local function test_selectAll()
    -- iterate through all the nodes in 
    -- document order, printing something interesting along
    -- the way

    for child in doc:selectAll() do

Here is a simple test case where you have a document already parsed, and you want to iterate through the elements, in document order, and just print them out. This is the first step in viewing the document as a database, rather than as an image. The working end of this example is the call to ‘doc:selectAll()’. This amounts to a call to an iterator that is on the BasicElem class, which looks like this:

	Traverse the elements in document order, returning
	the ones that match a given predicate.
	If no predicate is supplied, then return all the
function BasicElem.selectElementMatches(self, pred)
	local function yieldMatches(parent, predicate)
		for idx, value in ipairs(parent) do
			if predicate then
				if predicate(value) then

			if type(value) == "table" then
				yieldMatches(value, predicate)

  	return coroutine.wrap(function() yieldMatches(self, pred) end)	

-- A convenient shorthand for selecting all the elements
-- in the document.  No predicate is specified.
function BasicElem.selectAll(self)
	return self:selectElementMatches()

As you can see, ‘selectAll()’ just turns around and calls ‘selectElementMatches()’, passing in no parameters. The selectElementMatches() function then does the actual work. In Lua, there are a few ways to create iterators. In this particular case, where we want to recursive traverse down a hierarchy of nodes (document order), it’s easiest to use this coroutine method. You could instead keep a stack of nodes, pushing as you go down the hierarchy, popping as you return back up, but this coroutine method is much more compact to code, if a bit harder to understand if you’re not used to coroutines. The end result is an iterator that will traverse down a document hierarchy, in document order.

Notice also that the ‘selectElementMatches’ function takes a predicate. A predicate is simply a function that takes a single parameter, and will return ‘true’ or ‘false’ depending on what it sees there. This will become useful.

So, how to retrieve an element with a particular ID? Well, when we look at our elements, we know that the ‘id’ field is one of the attributes, so essentially, what we want to do is traverse the document looking for elements that have an id attribute that matches what we’re looking for.

function BasicElem.getElementById(self, id)
    local function filterById(entry)
        print("filterById: ",, id)
        if == id then
            return true;

    for child in self:selectMatches(filterById) do
        return child;

Here’s a convenient function to do just that. And to use it:

local elem = doc:getElementById("linearGradient10460")

That will retrieve the second linear gradient of the pair of gradients from our svg fragment. That’s great! And the syntax is looking very much like what I might write in javascript against the DOM. But, it’s just a database!

Given the selectMatches(), you’re not just limited to querying against attribute values. You can get at anything, and form as complex queries as you like. For example, you could find all the elements that are deep green, and turn them purple with a simple query loop.

Here’s an example of finding all the elements of a particular kind:

local function test_selectElementMatches()
    print("<==== selectElementMatches: entry._kind == 'g' ====>")
	for child in doc:selectElementMatches(function(entry) if entry._kind == "g" then return true end end) do

Or finding all the elements that have a ‘sodipodi’ attribute of some kind:

local function test_selectAttribute()
    -- select the elements that have an attribute
    -- with the name 'sodipodi' in them
    local function hasSodipodiAttribute(entry)
        if type(entry) ~= "table" then
            return false;

        for name, value in entry:attributes() do
            --print("hasSodipodi: ", entry._kind, name, value, type(name))
            if name:find("sodipodi") then
                return true;

        return false

    for child in doc:selectElementMatches(hasSodipodiAttribute) do
        if type(child) == "table" then

Of course, just finding these elements is one thing. Once found, you can use this to filter out those elements you don’t want. for example, eliminating the ones that are inkscape specific.

Well, there you have it. First, you can construct your svg programmatically using Lua syntax. Alternatively, you can simply parse a svg file into a lua structure. Last, you can query your document, no matter how it was constructed, for fun and profit.

Of course, the real benefit of being able to parse, and find elements and the like, is it makes manipulating the svg that much easier. Find the node that represents the graph of values, for example, and change those values over time for some form of animation…


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