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Programming language: Elixir
License: Apache License 2.0
Tags: Templating    
Latest version: v0.9.0-dev

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Markup for developers

What is it?

Eml makes markup a first class citizen in Elixir. It provides a flexible and modular toolkit for generating, parsing and manipulating markup. It's main focus is html, but other markup languages could be implemented as well.

To start off:

This piece of code

use Eml.HTML

name = "Vincent"
age  = 36

div class: "person" do
  div do
    span "name: "
    span name
  div do
    span "age: "
    span age
end |> Eml.compile


<div class='person'>
    <span>name: </span>
    <span>age: </span>


Most templating libraries are build around the idea of interpreting strings that can contain embeded code. This code is mostly used for implementing view logic in the template. You could say that these libraries are making code a first class citizen in template strings. As long as the view logic is simple this works pretty well, but with more complex views this can become quite messy. Eml takes this idea inside out and makes the markup that you normally would write as a string a first class citizen of the programming language, allowing you to compose and organize markup and view logic with all the power of Elixir.

Please read on for a walkthrough that tries to cover most of Eml's features.


iex> use Eml
iex> use Eml.HTML

By invoking use Eml, some macro's are imported into the current scope and core API modules are aliased. use Eml.HTML imports all generated html element macros from Eml.HTML into the current scope. The element macros just translate to a call to %Eml.Element{...}, a struct that is the actual representation of elements, so they can even be used inside a match.

iex> div 42

Here we created a div element with 42 as it contents.

The element macro's in Eml try to be clever about the type of arguments that get passed. For example, if the first argument is a Keyword list, it will be interpreted as attributes, otherwise as content.

iex> div id: "some-id"
#div<%{id: "some-id"}>

iex> div "some content"
#div<"some content">

iex> div do
...>   "some content"
...> end
#div<["some content"]>

iex> div [id: "some-id"], "some content"
#div<%{id: "some-id"} "some content">

iex> div id: "some-id" do
...>   "some content"
...> end
#div<%{id: "some-id"} ["some content"]>

iex> %Element{tag: :div, attrs: %{id: "some-id"}, content: "some content"}
#div<%{id: "some-id"} "some content">

Note that attributes are stored internally as a map.


Contents can be compiled to a string by calling Eml.compile. Eml automatically inserts a doctype declaration when the html element is the root.

iex> html(body(div(42))) |> Eml.compile
"<!doctype html>\n<html><body><div>42</div></body>\n</html>"

iex> "text & more" |> div |> body |> html |> Eml.compile
"<!doctype html>\n<html><body><div>text &amp; more</div></body></html>"

As you can see, you can also use Elixir's pipe operator for creating markup. However, using do blocks, as can be seen in the introductory example, is more convenient most of the time.


Eml's parser by default converts a string with html content into Eml content.

iex> Eml.parse "<!doctype html>\n<html><head><meta charset='UTF-8'></head><body><div>42</div></body></html>"
[#html<[#head<[#meta<%{charset: "UTF-8"}>]>, #body<[#div<"42">]>]>]

iex> Eml.parse "<div class=\"content article\"><h1 class='title'>Title<h1><p class=\"paragraph\">blah &amp; blah</p></div>"
[#div<%{class: "content article"}
 [#h1<%{class: "title"}
  ["Title", #h1<[#p<%{class: "paragraph"} "blah & blah">]>]>]>]

The html parser is primarily written to parse html compiled by Eml, but it's flexible enough to parse most html you throw at it. Most notable missing features of the parser are attribute values without quotes and elements that are not properly closed.

Compiling and templates

Compiling and templates can be used in situations where most content is static and performance is critical, since its contents gets precompiled during compiletime.

Eml uses the assigns extension from EEx for parameterizing templates. See the EEx docs for more info about them. The function that the template macro defines accepts optionally any Dict compatible dictionary as argument for binding values to assigns.

iex> defmodule MyTemplates1 do
...>   use Eml
...>   use Eml.HTML
...>   template example do
...>     div id: "example" do
...>       span @text
...>     end
...>   end
...> end
iex> MyTemplates.example text: "Example text"
{:safe, "<div id='example'><span>Example text</span></div>"}

Eml templates provides two ways of executing logic during runtime. By providing assigns handlers to the optional funs dictionary, or by calling external functions during runtime with the & operator.

iex> defmodule MyTemplates2 do
...>   use Eml
...>   use Eml.HTML
...>   template assigns_handler,
...>   text: &String.upcase/1 do
...>     div id: "example1" do
...>       span @text
...>     end
...>   end
...>   template external_call do
...>     body &assigns_handler(text: @example_text)
...>   end
...> end
iex> MyTemplates.assigns_handler text: "Example text"
{:safe, "<div id='example'><span>EXAMPLE TEXT</span></div>"}
iex> MyTemplates.exernal_call example_text: "Example text"
{:safe, "<body><div id='example'><span>EXAMPLE TEXT</span></div></body>"}

Templates are composable, so they are allowed to call other templates. The only catch is that it's not possible to pass an assign to another template during precompilation. The reason for this is that the logic in a template is executed the moment the template is called, so if you would pass an assign during precompilation, the logic in a template would receive this assign instead of its result, which is only available during runtime. This all means that when you for example want to pass an assign to a nested template, the template should be prefixed with the & operator, or in other words, executed during runtime.

template templ1,
num: &(&1 + &1) do
  div @num

template templ2 do
 h2 @title
 &templ1(num: @number) # THIS IS OK

Note that because the body of a template is evaluated at compile time, it's not possible to call other functions from the same module without using & operator.

Instead of defining a do block, you can also provide a path to a file with the :file option.

iex> File.write! "test.eml.exs", "div @number"
iex> defmodule MyTemplates3 do
...>   use Eml
...>   use Eml.HTML
...>   template from_file, file: "test.eml.exs"
...> end
iex> File.rm! "test.eml.exs"
iex> MyTemplates3.from_file number: 42
{:safe, "<div>42</div>"}
Components and fragments

Eml also provides component/3 and fragment/3 macros for defining template elements. They behave as normal elements, but they aditionally contain a template function that gets called with the element's attributes and content as arguments during compiling.

iex> use Eml
iex> use Eml.HTML
iex> defmodule ElTest do
...>   component my_list,
...>   __CONTENT__: fn content ->
...>     for item <- content do
...>       li do
...>         span "* "
...>         span item
...>         span " *"
...>       end
...>     end
...>   end do
...>     ul [class: @class], @__CONTENT__
...>   end
...> end
iex> import ElTest
iex> el = my_list class: "some-class" do
...>   "Item 1"
...>   "Item 2"
...> end
#my_list<%{class: "some-class"} ["Item 1", "Item 2"]>
iex> Eml.compile(el)
"<ul class='some-class'><li><span>* </span><span>Item 1</span><span> *</span></li><li><span>* </span><span>Item 2</span><span> *</span></li></ul>"

Just like templates, its body gets precompiled and assigns, assign handlers and function calls prefixed with the operator are evaluated at runtime. All attributes of the element can be accessed as assigns and the element contents is accessable as the assign @__CONTENT__.

The main difference between templates and components is their interface. You can use components like normal elements, even within a match.

In addition to components, Eml also provides fragments. The difference between components and fragments is that fragments are without any logic, so assign handlers or the & capture operator are not allowed in fragment definitions.

Fragments can be used for better composability and performance, because unlike templates and components, assigns are allowed as arguments during precompilation for fragments. This is possible because fragments don't contain any logic.


In order to easily access the contents of elements, Eml provides unpack/1.

iex> Eml.unpack div 42

iex> Eml.unpack div span(42)
Querying eml

Eml.Element implements the Elixir Enumerable protocol for traversing a tree of nodes. Let's start with creating something to query

iex> e = html do
...>   head class: "head" do
...>     meta charset: "UTF-8"
...>   end
...>   body do
...>     article id: "main-content" do
...>       section class: "article" do
...>         h3 "Hello world"
...>       end
...>       section class: "article" do
...>         "TODO"
...>       end
...>     end
...>   end
...> end
#html<[#head<%{class: "head"} [#meta<%{charset: "UTF-8"}>]>,
 #body<[#article<%{id: "main-content"}
  [#section<%{class: "article"} [#h3<"Hello world">]>,
   #section<%{class: "article"} ["TODO"]>]>]>]>

To get an idea how the tree is traversed, first just print all nodes

iex> Enum.each(e, fn x -> IO.puts(inspect x) end)
#html<[#head<%{class: "head"} [#meta<%{charset: "UTF-8"}>]>, #body<[#article<%{id: "main-content"} [#section<%{class: "article"} [#h3<"Hello world">]>, #section<%{class: "article"} ["TODO"]>]>]>]>
#head<%{class: "head"} [#meta<%{charset: "UTF-8"}>]>
#meta<%{charset: "UTF-8"}>
#body<[#article<%{id: "main-content"} [#section<%{class: "article"} [#h3<"Hello world">]>, #section<%{class: "article"} ["TODO"]>]>]>
#article<%{id: "main-content"} [#section<%{class: "article"} [#h3<"Hello world">]>, #section<%{class: "article"} ["TODO"]>]>
#section<%{class: "article"} [#h3<"Hello world">]>
#h3<"Hello world">
"Hello world"
#section<%{class: "article"} ["TODO"]>

As you can see every node of the tree is passed to Enum. Let's continue with some other examples.

iex> Enum.member?(e, "TODO") true

iex> Enum.filter(e, &Eml.match?(&1, tag: :h3))
[#h3<"Hello world">]

iex> Enum.filter(e, Eml.match?(&1, attrs: %{class: "article"}))
[#section<%{class: "article"} [#h3<"Hello world">]>,
 #section<%{class: "article"} ["TODO"]>]
Transforming eml

Eml also provides Eml.transform/2. transform mostly works like enumeration. The key difference is that transform returns a modified version of the eml tree that was passed as an argument, instead of collecting nodes in a list. transform passes any node it encounters to the provided transformation function. This transformer can return any data or nil, in which case the node is discarded, so it works a bit like a map and filter function in one pass.

iex> Eml.transform(e, fn
...>   any(%{class: "article"}) = el -> %{el|content: "#"}
...>   node -> node
...> end)
#html<[#head<%{class: "head"} [#meta<%{charset: "UTF-8"}>]>,
 #body<[#article<%{id: "main-content"}
  [#section<%{class: "article"} "#">, #section<%{class: "article"}

iex> Eml.transform(e, fn
...>   any(%{class: "article"}) = el -> %{el|content: "#"}
...>   _ -> nil
...> end)

The last result may seem unexpected, but the result is nil because Eml.transform first evaluates a parent node, before continuing with its children. If the parent node gets removed, the children will be removed too and won't get evaluated.

Encoding data in Eml

In order to provide conversions from various data types, Eml provides the Eml.Encoder protocol. It is used internally by Eml's compiler. Eml provides a implementation for strings, numbers, tuples and atoms, but you can provide a protocol implementation for your own types by just implementing a encode function that converts your type to a valid Eml.Compiler.node_primitive type.

Some examples using Eml.encode

iex> Eml.Encoder.encode 1

iex> Eml.Encoder.encode %{div: 42, span: 12}
** (Protocol.UndefinedError) protocol Eml.Encoder not implemented for %{div: 42, span: 12}

iex> defimpl Eml.Encoder, for: Map
...>   use Eml.HTML
...>   def encode(data) do
...>     for { k, v } <- data do
...>       %Eml.Element{tag: k, content: v}
...>     end
...>   end
...> end
iex> Eml.Encoder.encode %{div: 42, span: 12}
[#div<42>, #span<12>]


The first thing to note is that this is still a work in progress. While it should already be pretty stable and has quite a rich API, expect some raw edges here and there.


Obviously, as Eml has full access to the Elixir environment, eml should only be written by developers that already have full access to the backend where Eml is used. Besides this, little thought has gone into other potential security issues.


Eml doesn't perform any validation on the produced output. You can add any attribute name to any element and Eml won't complain, as it has no knowledge of the type of markup that is to be generated. If you want to make sure that your eml code will be valid html, compile it to an html file and use this file with any existing html validator. In this sense Eml is the same as hand written html.

HTML Parser

The main purpose of the html parser is to parse back generated html from Eml. It's a custom parser written in about 500 LOC, so don't expect it to successfully parse every html in the wild.

Most notably, it doesn't understand attribute values without quotes and arbitrary elements without proper closing, like <div>. An element should always be written as <div/>, or <div></div>. However, explicit exceptions are made for void elements that are expected to never have any child elements.

The bottom line is that whenever the parser fails to parse back generated html from Eml, it is a bug and please report it. Whenever it fails to parse some external html, I'm still interested to hear about it, but I can't guarantee I can or will fix it.