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index of substring
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Date: 2005-01-27 (04:19)
From: Matt Gushee <mgushee@h...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] index of substring
yjc01@doc.ic.ac.uk wrote:
> I tried to write a function to return the index of a substring in a string from
> an index. So I can use it to extract some comments (text between (* and *) in a
> file. But came across some problem when returning the value.

Well, I'm not the world's greatest OCaml expert, but I enjoy this sort 
of problem, so I took a stab at it.

First, a couple of quick comments on your code:

> (* create variable to store file *)
> let comments = String.make fileSize 'c';;

I don't really understand the need for this. If, as it appears, this 
string will hold the contents of the input file, why not just create a 
file-reading function that returns a string?

> (* return index of a substring in a string from an index, if substring not
> matched retun -1 *)

You must be a C programmer ;-) Not that it's necessarily wrong to return 
  -1. But there are OCaml idioms that to me seem more natural for this 
case. You could use an int option type ( None | Some x ), or you could 
keep the return type as an int, raising Not_found when appropriate.

> Or is there an easier way to do this?

There are a number of possible solutions. The easiest would be to use 
regexp matching (standard Str module, or 3rd-party Pcre). I'm sure you 
can figure that one out on your own, so I won't pursue it further. If 
you want a more robust solution, you should probably use one of the fine 
parsing tools available: ocamllex/ocamlyacc or camlp4. But those are 
large topics in their own right.

I worked up another solution that uses only the standard library. It's 
probably not easier, but it is mostly functional where your code was 
imperative, and is arguably more elegant. Maybe it will give you an idea 
or two.

(* val sync_start : char -> char Stream.t -> char Stream.t -> unit *)
let sync_start chr s1 s2 =
     (* "Sets" both streams to the position of the starting character.
      * A Stream.Failure exception may be raised; it is deliberately
      * not handled here. *)
     let rec sync () =
         match Stream.next s1 with
         (* Since the start character is removed from s1, s2 must
          * be advanced by one to match. *)
         | c when c = chr -> Stream.junk s2
         | _ -> sync () in
     sync ()

(* val index_left : ?start:int -> string -> string -> int *)
let index_left ?(start=0) src target =
     let first = target.[0]
     and sstream = Stream.of_string src in
     (* Set the source stream to the desired start position. *)
     for i = 1 to start do
         try ignore (Stream.next sstream)
         with Stream.Failure -> raise Not_found
     (* We need a fresh target stream each time the search is
      * repeated, so the following is a function. Hmm, there's
      * probably a better solution, but it hasn't occurred to
      * me yet. *)
     let mkts () = Stream.of_string target
     and advance s =
         (* The return type is char option because it will be used
          * in pattern matching. *)
         try Some (Stream.next s)
         with Stream.Failure -> None in
     let rec search tstream =
         ( try sync_start first sstream tstream
           (* If we reach the end of the source stream, then of course
            * that means the substring was not found, so there's no
            * point in continuing. *)
           with Stream.Failure -> raise Not_found );
         let startpos = Stream.count sstream - 1 in
         (* Continue searching once the start character is found. *)
         let rec continue () =
             match advance sstream, advance tstream with
               (* Everything matches up to this point. Continue
                * searching. *)
             | Some c1, Some c2 when c1 = c2 -> continue ()
               (* Substring is not matched here. Start over. *)
             | Some c1, Some c2 -> search (mkts ())
               (* The target stream is exhausted, no non-matching
                * characters found, so we have a complete match. Return
                * the starting index. *)
             | _, None -> startpos
               (* The source stream is exhausted, but one or more
                * characters remain in the target. No match. *)
             | None, Some _ -> raise Not_found in
         continue () in
     search (mkts ())

It occurs to me now that if you wanted to use this approach to search 
sequentially for different substrings, it would probably be best to 
create the source stream outside the search function. Then you would 
reuse that stream over several invocations of the function; each time 
you searched, the stream would be positioned at the end of the previous 

Hope this helps a bit.

Matt Gushee
Englewood, CO USA