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Syntax::Highlight::Universal - Syntax highlighting module based on the Colorer library


  use Syntax::Highlight::Universal;
  my $highlighter = Syntax::Highlight::Universal->new;


  my $result = $highlighter->highlight("perl", "print 'Hello, World!'");

  my $callbacks = {
    initParsing => \&myInitHandler,
    addRegion => \&myRegionHandler,
    enterScheme => \&mySchemeStartHandler,
    leaveScheme => \&mySchemeEndHandler,
    finalizeParsing => \&myFinalizeHandler,
  $highlighter->highlight("perl", "print 'Hello, World!'", $callbacks);



This module can process text of any format and produce a syntax highlighted version of it. The default output format is (X)HTML, custom formats are also possible. It uses parts of the Colorer library ( and supports its HRC configuration files ( Configuration files for about 100 file formats are included.


Syntax::Highlight::Universal doesn't export any functions. You can call its methods either statically or through an object. The result will be the same but we will use the latter here as it is the more convenient of the two.

Creating a new object

  my $highlighter = Syntax::Highlight::Universal->new;

This will create a new object and bind it to the Syntax::Highlight::Universal namespace. It can be used to call the methods of this module in a more convenient way. However, this object has no other meaning, any configuration changes performed through it will have global effect.

Processing text

  my $result = $highlighter->highlight(FORMAT, TEXT, [CALLBACKS]);

This will process the text and produce its syntax highlighted variant, by default in (X)HTML format.


This must be one of the formats defined in the configuration file. Usually it will be one of the following:

  c, cpp, asm, perl, java, idl, pascal, csharp, jsnet,
  vbnet, forth, fortran, vbasic, html, css, html-css,
  svg-css, jsp, php, php-body, xhtml-trans, xhtml-strict,
  xhtml-frameset, asp.vb, asp.js,, svg, coldfusion,
  jScript, actionscript, vbScript, xml, dtd, xslt,
  xmlschema, relaxng, xlink, clarion, Clipper, foxpro,
  sqlj, paradox, sql, mysql, Batch, shell, apache, config,
  hrc, hrd, delphiform, javacc, javaProperties, lex, yacc,
  makefile, regedit, resources, TeX, dcl, vrml, rarscript,
  nsi, iss, isScripts, c1c, ada, abap4, AutoIt, awk, dssp,
  adsp, Baan, cobol, cache, eiffel, icon, lisp, matlab,
  modula2, picasm, python, rexx, ruby, sml, ocaml, tcltk,
  sicstusProlog, turboProlog, verilog, vhdl, z80, asm80,
  filesbbs, diff, messages, text, default

The text to be processed, either as a string or as a reference to a list of lines (without the newline symbols)


Optional parameter, a hash reference defining the functions to be called during parsing of the text (all hash entries are optional). If this parameter is omitted it will be set to:

    initParsing => \&Syntax::Highlight::Universal::initParsing,
    addRegion => \&Syntax::Highlight::Universal::addRegion,
    enterScheme => \&Syntax::Highlight::Universal::enterScheme,
    leaveScheme => \&Syntax::Highlight::Universal::leaveScheme,
    finalizeParsing => \&Syntax::Highlight::Universal::finalizeParsing,

The callbacks are explained in detail below.

Return value

If the callbacks parameter is omitted, the return value is the syntax highlighted version of the text in (X)HTML. The regions are translated into <span> elements, the class attribute is set to the region's name. The resulting code can be formatted via CSS. Directory css of the distribution contains some sample CSS files created from Colorer's HRD files with the hrd2css script (also in this directory). You have to keep in mind that some of these color schemes are meant for a specific background color.

If the default callback functions are overridden, either the return value of the initParsing or finalizeParsing callback will be returned, depending on whether initParsing returns a value.

Importing configuration files

  $highlighter->addConfig(FILE, ...);

This method imports a list of configuration files. They replace hrc/proto.hrc that is used by default.


The file containing a list of file format definitions. If this file can't be found in the current directory, the module will look for it in its library directory as well. For information on the format of the file, see HRC reference (

Precompiling configuration files


Parsing HRC files takes a while, resulting in a high time demand for processing of the first text. In order to speed it up, configuration files can be preprocessed into a binary file. The time to load the configuration will be reduced by a factor 5-10, memory usage also decreases. However, the binary file can't be changed and has to be rebuilt every time changes are made on the HRC files. Furthermore it isn't platform independent and should be always rebuilt when moving to another server/another operating system.

This method will process the current configuration and write it into a file in a binary format. It might take some time, the whole configuration needs to be loaded into memory.

make test will create a precompiled configuration file precompiled.hrcc. It can be copied into the library directory of the module and used instead of the HRC configuration.


Name of the file to be written

Loading a precompiled configuration


This method will load a precompiled configuration file. It can only be called once, combining several files isn't yet supported. addConfig can't be used either when using a precompiled configuration.


The precompiled configuration file. If this file can't be found in the current directory, the module will look for it in its library directory as well. You can omit this parameter, the file precompiled.hrcc will be loaded then.

Setting a cache directory


This method will enable caching of the results and define a cache directory. Then, a text will only go through the complete processing if there is no file for it in the cache directory. Syntax highlighting takes time, therefore caching is generally a good idea. However, it won't be of much use if the texts processed are always different. Other problem is the cleaning of the cache directory. The cache files are never removed, this has to be done separately, e.g. with a cron script emptying the cache directory every two days.

Caching only works if the default callback functions are used.


The cache directory. The module might create subdirectories, depending on the prefix length setting (see setCachePrefixLen).

Setting cache prefix length


This method defines how many characters should be used for subdirectories of the cache directory.


If this parameter is zero, the files will be put directly into the cache directory. Otherwise subdirectories with names of specified length (the first characters of the file name) will be created to allow faster access to large amounts of files. The file name will contain the remaining of the 32 characters. Default value is 2, meaning that there can be up to 256 subdirectories.


All callback functions get a reference to the list of text lines as their first parameter. The other parameters differ:

initParsing(LINES, FORMAT)

finalizeParsing(LINES, FORMAT)

These functions are called before/after the parsing of the text. If initParsing returns a value, parsing will be aborted and highlight will return this value. This can be used for caching to return cached results before even starting parsing. Otherwise parsing will proceed normally and the return value of finalizeParsing will be returned.


The text format, same as the parameter to highlight


Called whenever a new region inside a line is identified.


Line number, zero-based. This parameter can only increase, Colorer never goes back to a previous line.


The position of region start within the line


The position of region end (the first character not belonging to the region) within the line


A Colorer region object. Information on its methods is given below.



Called whenever the start/end of a scheme is found. The parameters are all the same as for addRegion, except:


A Colorer scheme object. Information on its methods is given below.


Colorer defines a large set of regions that are organized hierarchically. Each region represents text elements of a certain type. The region object has the following methods:


Returns the name of the region. This is something like "regexp:Symbol".


Returns the description of a region or an undefined value if this region has no description. For the region mentioned above this would be "ESC-Symbols: \(,\n,\r,etc".


Returns the region that is above the current in the hierarchy or an undefined value for a top-level region. Usually this will be a region that is defined more generally and whose meaning includes the current region. For the region mentioned above the parent will be a region with the name "def:StringContent".


Returns a unique numerical id for the region.


Schemes in Colorer describe general context changes. For example, the scheme will change when parsing an interpolated string constant. The current scheme defines the regions that can be found, e.g. you can't have function calls inside a string scheme. Schemes unlike regions can stretch over multiple lines. The current Colorer version defines only one method for the scheme object:


Returns the name of the scheme, e.g. "perl:InterpolateString" for an interpolated string constant in Perl.


HTML output is too verbose

The default output will use the name of a region and of all its parents as the class name for a block of text. This allows adding styles only for generally defined regions in most cases while still being able to take language-specific features into account. However, this increases the amount of text largely.

Solution 1: Use server-side compression, e.g. mod_gzip. The size difference in compressed output is negligible.

Solution 2: You can replace the function used for creating class names to include only one region name of the def:* scheme.

  *Syntax::Highlight::Universal::_createClassName = sub {
    $region = shift;

    while (defined $region && $region->name !~ /^def:/)
      $region = $region->parent;
    my $class = defined $region ? $region->name : 'unknown';
    $class =~ s/\W/_/g;
    return $class;

Note: this approach is not recommended and might stop working in future versions of the module.

Text processing is very slow

Colorer was originally meant for desktop applications where one second to load the configuration files doesn't matter. Unfortunately it matters a lot for web applications. Furthermore, the parsing of text itself also needs some time though much less than processing HRC configuration.

Solution 1: If you often have to highlight the same texts, you can use caching. Set up caching directory where the module can store processed text. Next time the same text needs to be highlighted the result will be taken from the cache instead of parsing the text all over again (and loading the necessary configuration files in the process).

Solution 2: This module implements a mechanism to store an already parsed Colorer configuration on disk and load it into memory again. The time requirement is 5-10 times less than for loading HRC configurations. See description of methods precompile and setPrecompiledConfig for more information on this feature. When installing the module make test will automatically create a precompiled configuration file precompiled.hrcc (about 2 MB) that can be copied into the module's library directory (that's where the hrc directory is put when installing the module).


The source files belonging to the Colorer library are in the colorer directory of the distribution. It is a subset of files from Colorer-take5 Library beta3. All files are unchanged with the following exceptions:


The constants USE_CHUNK_ALLOC, USE_DL_MALLOC, JAR_INPUT_SOURCE, HTTP_INPUT_SOURCE have been removed (the corresponding files haven't been included). Instead, a constant ALLOW_SERIALIZATION is defined.


This file doesn't include MemoryChunks.h any more.


Some blocks have been added that become active if ALLOW_SERIALIZATION is defined. They are used to store additional information in the objects of class SchemeNode so that they can be written to disk and restored without being changed.


If ALLOW_SERIALIZATION is defined, some fields are added to the class SchemeNode.


Method loadFileType() has been made virtual to allow overloading.


Made the definition of constants in class Node an enum (MS Visual C++ 6.0 has problems with the current definition).

If you plan to use this module with another Colorer version you should consider repeating these changes.

Furthermore the HRC files from the colorer library are included, these are in the directory Syntax/Highlight/Universal. Here only the file hrc/inet/php-body.hrc has been added and hrc/proto.hrc changed appropriately. This format is meant for highlighting pure PHP code that isn't embedded in HTML.

Directory css contains color schemes that have been translated from Colorer's HRD files with the hrd2css script.


Colorer homepage

HRC reference


Wladimir Palant, <>


Copyright (C) 2005 by Wladimir Palant

This library is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself, either Perl version 5.8.1 or, at your option, any later version of Perl 5 you may have available.

Colorer is (C) by Igor Russkih. For information on the license see