Kevin Ryde > HTML-FormatExternal-22 > HTML::FormatExternal



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HTML::FormatExternal - HTML to text formatting using external programs


This is a collection of formatter modules turning HTML into plain text by dumping it through the respective external programs.


The module interfaces are compatible with HTML::Formatter modules such as HTML::FormatText, but the external programs do all the work.

Common formatting options are used where possible, such as leftmargin and rightmargin. So just by switching the class you can use a different program (or the plain HTML::FormatText) according to personal preference, or strengths and weaknesses, or what you've got.

There's nothing particularly difficult about piping through these programs, but a unified interface hides details like how to set margins and how to force input or output charsets.


Each of the classes above provide the following functions. The XXX in the class names here is a placeholder for any of Elinks, Lynx, etc as above.

See examples/ in the HTML-FormatExternal sources for a complete sample program.

Formatter Compatible Functions

$text = HTML::FormatText::XXX->format_file ($filename, key=>value,...)
$text = HTML::FormatText::XXX->format_string ($html_string, key=>value,...)

Run the formatter program over a file or string with the given options and return the formatted result as a string. See "OPTIONS" below for possible key/value options. For example,

    $text = HTML::FormatText::Lynx->format_file ('/my/file.html');

    $text = HTML::FormatText::W3m->format_string
      ('<html><body> <p> Hello world! </p </body></html>');

For reference, it might be noted some of the programs interpret command line names like "-" as standard input, or "http:" as a url. The way HTML::FormatExternal runs them ensures any $filename given to format_file() is taken literally. So for example passing "-" reads a file called "-".

$formatter = HTML::FormatText::XXX->new (key=>value, ...)

Create a formatter object with the given options. In the current implementation an object doesn't do much more than remember the options for future use.

    $formatter = HTML::FormatText::Elinks->new(rightmargin => 60);
$text = $formatter->format ($tree_or_string)

Run the $formatter program on a HTML::TreeBuilder tree or a string, using the options in $formatter, and return the result as a string.

A TreeBuilder argument (ie. a HTML::Element) is accepted for compatibility with HTML::Formatter. The tree is simply turned into a string with $tree->as_HTML to pass to the program, so if you've got a string already then give that instead of a tree.

HTML::Element itself has a format() method (see "format" in HTML::Element) which runs a given $formatter. A HTML::FormatExternal can be used for $formatter.

    $text = $tree->format($formatter);

    # which dispatches to
    $text = $formatter->format($tree);

Extra Functions

The following are extra methods not available in the plain HTML::FormatText.

HTML::FormatText::XXX->program_version ()
HTML::FormatText::XXX->program_full_version ()
$formatter->program_version ()
$formatter->program_full_version ()

Return the version number of the formatter program as reported by its --version or similar option. If the formatter program is not available then return undef.

program_version() is the bare version number, though perhaps with "beta" or similar indication. program_full_version() is the entire version output, which may include build options, copyright notice, etc.

    $str = HTML::FormatText::Lynx->program_version();
    # eg. "2.8.7dev.10"

    $str = HTML::FormatText::W3m->program_full_version();
    # eg. "w3m version w3m/0.5.2, options lang=en,m17n,image,..."

The version number of the Perl module itself is available in the usual way (see "VERSION" in UNIVERSAL).

    $modulever = HTML::FormatText::Netrik->VERSION;
    $modulever = $formatter->VERSION


A file passed to the formatter programs is interpreted by them in the charset of a <meta> within the HTML, or default latin-1 per the HTML specs, or as forced by the input_charset option below.

A string input should be bytes the same as a file, not Perl wide chars. (There's some secret experimental encode/decode for wide chars, as yet unused, better let HTML::Formatter take the lead on how that might be activated.)

The result string is bytes similarly, encoded in whatever the respective programs produce. This may be the locale charset or you can force it with the output_charset option to be sure.


The following options can be given. The defaults are whatever the respective programs do. The programs generally read their config files when dumping so the defaults and formatting details might follow your personal settings (usually a good thing).

leftmargin => INTEGER
rightmargin => INTEGER

The column numbers for the left and right hand ends of the text. leftmargin 0 means no padding on the left. rightmargin is the text width, so for instance 60 would mean the longest line is 60 characters (inclusive of any leftmargin). These options are compatible with HTML::FormatText.

rightmargin is not necessarily a hard limit. Some of the programs will exceed it in a HTML literal <pre>, or a run of &nbsp; or similar.

input_charset => STRING

Force the HTML input to be interpreted as bytes of the given charset, including ignoring any <meta> within the HTML.

output_charset => STRING

Force the text output to be encoded as the given charset. The default varies among the programs, but usually defaults to the locale.

base => STRING

Set the base URL for any relative links within the HTML (similar to HTML::FormatText::WithLinks). Usually this should be the location the HTML was downloaded from.

If the document contains its own <base> setting then currently the document takes precedence. Only Lynx and Elinks display absolutized link targets and option has no effect on the other programs.


There's nothing done with errors or warning messages from the formatters. Generally they make a best effort on doubtful HTML, but fatal errors like bad options or missing libraries should be trapped in the future.

elinks (from Aug 2008 onwards) and netrik can produce ANSI escapes for colours, underline, etc, and html2text can produce tty style backspace overstriking. This might be good for text destined for a tty or further crunching. Perhaps an ansi or tty option could enable this, where possible, but for now it's deliberately turned off in those programs to keep the default as plain text.


HTML::FormatText::Elinks, HTML::FormatText::Html2text, HTML::FormatText::Links, HTML::FormatText::Netrik, HTML::FormatText::Lynx, HTML::FormatText::Vilistextum, HTML::FormatText::W3m, HTML::FormatText::Zen

HTML::FormatText, HTML::FormatText::WithLinks, HTML::FormatText::WithLinks::AndTables



Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Kevin Ryde

HTML-FormatExternal is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 3, or (at your option) any later version.

HTML-FormatExternal is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with HTML-FormatExternal. If not, see <>.

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