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Converting from Rexml to libxml

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Jared Richardson

Posts: 1031
Nickname: jaredr
Registered: Jun, 2005

Jared Richardson is an author, speaker, and consultant who enjoys working with Ruby and Rails.
Converting from Rexml to libxml Posted: Feb 8, 2007 7:39 AM
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Once your Rails application starts to get serious, you start measuring it's performance. And you immediately realize that Rexml is slow. Real slow. It's still fast enough for most applications, but when you start thinking on the enterprise level, you don't use Rexml... you look for alternatives. And when you start searching and asking people, everyone seems to say Use Ruby libxml. So I did.

Ruby libxml is just a Ruby wrapper around the popular XML parser libxml. It's written in C and is really fast. Unfortunately, Rexml and Ruby libxml aren't interchangable. Each has their own quirks and interfaces, so I thought I'd document how to change over your codebase from Rexml to libxml. (Hint hint... wouldn't it be cool if someone wrote a wrapper so that Ruby libxml could be used with the same interface as Rexml? Switching over would mean changing a require statement... who wants to be famous? Go write it!)

The install has a number of dependancies, let me point you at the Install Page. Read it... install the required libraries before you attempt to install the gem. (libm, libz/zlib, libiconv, and libxml2)

Once you've got it all installed and running, move to your Rails code.

Switch out the imports first. include 'REXML' becomes require 'libxml'.

Then start changing code.

doc = raw_content


xp =
xp.string = raw_content
doc = xp.parse

Cycling through a document with Rexml looks like this:

doc.elements.each("/rss/channel/item") { |item|
 uri = URI.parse(item.elements['link'].text) 

doc.find('//rss/channel/item').each do |item| 
 ink = item.find('link')[0].child.to_s 
 uri = URI.parse( link )


rating = item.attributes['my-rating']


rating ='my-rating')

And finally,

title = item.elements['title'].text


title = item.find('title')[0].child.to_s 

The libxml code is a bit uglier, but it parsed our XML ten times faster. An order of magnitude. I'll endure a little code ugliness for that.

As a final warning, the Darwin Ports package is very old (nearly a year), so you can't use a lot of the newer features if you use Ports to manage your Apple boxes.

The older version doesn't have first(), so code like


item.find('description')[0] turns into

I hope this helps get you up and running quickly. I also hope someone with some free time writes a libxml wrapper that copies the Rexml interfaces so that switching over is as easy as swapping out the requires. Anyone?


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