Basic Usage of PKTokenizer

ParseKit provides general-purpose string tokenization services through the PKTokenizer and PKToken classes. Cocoa developers will be familiar with the NSScanner class provided by the Foundation Framework which provides a similar service. However, the PKTokenizer class is much easier to use for many common tokenization tasks, and offers powerful configuration options if the default tokenization behavior doesn’t match your needs.

+ (id)tokenizerWithString:(NSString *)s;

- (PKToken *)nextToken;

To use PKTokenizer, create an instance with an NSString object and retrieve a series of PKToken objects as you repeatedly call the -nextToken method. The EOFToken singleton signals the end.

NSString *s = @"2 != -47. /* comment */ Blast-off!! 'Woo-hoo!' // comment";
PKTokenizer *t = [PKTokenizer tokenizerWithString:s];
PKToken *eof = [PKToken EOFToken];
PKToken *tok = nil;
while ((tok = [t nextToken]) != eof) {
    NSLog(@"(%@) (%.1f) : %@", 
        tok.stringValue, tok.floatValue, [tok debugDescription]);


(2) (2.0) : <Number «2»>
(!=) (0.0) : <Symbol «!=»>
(-47) (-47.0) : <Number «-47»>
(.) (0.0) : <Symbol «.»>
(Blast-off) (0.0) : <Word «Blast-off»>
(!) (0.0) : <Symbol «!»>
(!) (0.0) : <Symbol «!»>
('Woo-hoo!') (0.0) : <Quoted String «'Woo-hoo!'»>

Each PKToken object returned has a stringValue, a floatValue and a tokenType. The tokenType is and enum value type called PKTokenType with possible values of:

  • PKTokenTypeWord
  • PKTokenTypeNumber
  • PKTokenTypeQuotedString
  • PKTokenTypeSymbol
  • PKTokenTypeWhitespace
  • PKTokenTypeComment
  • PKTokenTypeDelimitedString

PKTokens also have corresponding BOOL properties for convenience (isWord, isNumber, etc.)

+ (PKToken *)EOFToken;

@property (readonly) PKTokenType tokenType;

@property (readonly) CGFloat floatValue;
@property (readonly, copy) NSString *stringValue;

@property (readonly) BOOL isNumber;
@property (readonly) BOOL isSymbol;
@property (readonly) BOOL isWord;
@property (readonly) BOOL isQuotedString;
@property (readonly) BOOL isWhitespace;
@property (readonly) BOOL isComment;
@property (readonly) BOOL isDelimitedString;


Default Behavior of PKTokenizer

The default behavior of PKTokenizer is correct for most common situations and will fit many tokenization needs without additional configuration.


Sequences of digits («2» «42» «1054») are recognized as Number tokens. Floating point numbers containing a dot («3.14») are recognized as single Number tokens as you’d expect (rather than two Number tokens separated by a «.» Symbol token). By default, PKTokenizer will recognize a «-» symbol followed immediately by digits («-47») as a number token with a negative value. However, «+» characters are always seen as the beginning of a Symbol token by default, even when followed immediately by digits, so “explicitly-positive” Number tokens are not recognized by default (this behavior can be configured, see below).


Most symbol characters («.» «!») are recognized as single-character Symbol tokens (even when sequential such as «!»«!»). However, notice that PKTokenizer recognizes common multi-character symbols («!=») as a single Symbol token by default. In fact, PKTokenizer can be configured to recognize any given string as a multi-character symbol. Alternatively, it can be configured to always recognize each symbol character as an individual Symbol token (no mulit-character symbols). The default multi-character symbols recognized by PKTokenizer are: «<=», «>=», «!=», «==».


«Blast-off» is recognized as a single Word token despite containing a symbol character («-») that would normally signal the start of a new Symbol token. By default, PKTokenzier allows Word tokens to contain (but not start with) several symbol and number characters: «-», «_», «'», «0»«9». The consequence of this behavior is that PKTokenizer will recognize the follwing strings as individual Word tokens by default: «it's», «first_name», «sat-yr-9» «Rodham-Clinton». Again, you can configure PKTokenizer to alter this default behavior.

Quoted String

PKTokenizer produces Quoted String tokens for substrings enclosed in quote delimiter characters. The default delimiters are single- or double-quotes («'» or «"»). The quote delimiter characters may be changed (see below), but must be a single character. Note that the stringValue of Quoted String tokens include the quote delimiter characters («’Woo-hoo!’»).


By default, whitespace characters are silently consumed by PKTokenizer, and Whitespace tokens are never emitted. However, you can configure which characters are considered Whitespace characters or even ask PKTokenizer to return Whitespace tokens containing the literal whitespace stringValues by setting: t.whitespaceState.reportsWhitespaceTokens = YES.


By default, PKTokenizer recognizes C-style («//») and C++-style («/*» «*/») comments and silently removes the associated comments from the output rather than producing Comment tokens. See below for steps to either change comment delimiting markers, report Comment tokens, or to turn off comments recognition altogether.

Delimited String

The Delimited String token type is a powerful feature of ParseKit which can be used much like a regular expression. Use the Delimited String token type to ask PKTokenizer to recognize tokens with arbitrary start and end symbol strings much like a Quoted String but with more power:

  • The start and end symbols may be multi-char (e.g. «<#» «#>»)
  • The start and end symbols need not match (e.g. «<?=» «?>»)
  • The characters allowed within the delimited string may be specified using an NSCharacterSet

Customizing PKTokenizer behavior

There are two basic types of decisions PKTokenizer must make when tokenizing strings:

  1. Which token type should be created for a given start character?
  2. Which characters are allowed within the current token being created?

PKTokenizer‘s behavior with respect to these two types of decisions is totally configurable. Let’s tackle them, starting with the second question first.

Changing which characters are allowed within a token of a particular type

Once PKTokenizer has decided which token type to create for a given start character (see below), it temporarily passes control to one of its “state” helper objects to finish consumption of characters for the current token. Therefore, the logic for deciding which characters are allowed within a token of a given type is controlled by the “state” objects which are instances of subclasses of the abstract PKTokenizerState class: PKWordState, PKNumberState, PKQuoteState, PKSymbolState, PKWhitespaceState, PKCommentState, and PKDelimitState. The state objects are accessible via properties of the PKTokenizer object.

@property (readonly, retain) PKWordState *wordState;
@property (readonly, retain) PKNumberState *numberState;
@property (readonly, retain) PKQuoteState *quoteState;
@property (readonly, retain) PKSymbolState *symbolState;
@property (readonly, retain) PKWhitespaceState *whitespaceState;
@property (readonly, retain) PKCommentState *commentState;
@property (readonly, retain) PKDelimitState *delimitState;

Some of the PKTokenizerState subclasses have methods that alter which characters are allowed within tokens of their associated token type.

For example, if you want to add a new multiple-character symbol like «===»:

PKTokenizer *t = [PKTokenizer tokenizerWithString:s];
[t.symbolState add:@"==="];

Now «===» strings will be recognized as a single Symbol token with a stringValue of «===». There is a corresponding -[PKSymbolState remove:] method for removing recognition of given multi-char symbols.

If you don’t want to allow digits within Word tokens (digits are allowed within Words by default):

[t.wordState setWordChars:NO from:'0' to:'9'];

Say you want to allow floating-point Number tokens to end with a «.», sans trailing «0». In other words, you want «49.» to be recognized as a single Number token with a floatValue of «49.0» rather than a Number token followed by a Symbol token with a stringValue of «.»:

t.numberState.allowsTrailingDot = YES;

Recognition of scientific notation (exponential numbers) can be enabled to recognize numbers like «10e+100», «6.626068E-34» and «6.0221415e23». The resulting PKToken objects will have floatValues which represent the full value of the exponential number, yet retain the original exponential representation as their stringValues.

t.numberState.allowsScentificNotation = YES;

Similarly, recognition of common octal and hexadecimal number notation can be enabled to recognize numbers like «020» (decimal 16 in octal) and «0x20» (decimal 32 in hex).

[t.numberState addPrefix:@"0" forRadix:8];
[t.numberState addPrefix:@"0x" forRadix:16];

The resulting PKToken objects will have a tokenType of PKTokenTypeNumber and a stringValue matching the original source notation («020» or «0x20»). Their floatValues will represent the normal decimal value of the number (in this case 16 and 32).

Similarly, number suffixes are also supported. To recognize «20h» as a hexidecimal number with a value of 32 decimal:

[t.numberState addSuffix:@"h" forRadix:16];

The resulting PKToken object will have a tokenType of PKTokenTypeNumber, stringValue of «20h», and a floatValue of 32.

Grouping Separators are also supported on a per-radix basis. To recognize «1,024» as a single decimal number token (rather than as a «1» number token followed by a «,» symbol token followed by a «024» number token), use the -[PKNumberState addGroupingSeparator:forRadix:] method:

[t.numberState addGroupingSeparator:',' forRadix:10];

As another example, consider HLA-style binary numbers like «%0001_0101» (decimal 21 in binary). To support this style, add a «%» prefix and a «_» grouping separator for the base-2 radix:

[t setTokenizerState:t.numberState from:'%' to:'%'];
[t.numberState addPrefix:@"%" forRadix:2];
[t.numberState addGroupingSeparator:'_' forRadix:2];

The resulting PKToken object will have a tokenType of PKTokenTypeNumber, stringValue of «%0001_0101», and a floatValue of 21.

You can also configure which characters are recognized as whitespace within a whitespace token. To treat digits as whitespace characters within whitespace tokens:

[t.whitespaceState setWhitespaceChars:YES from:'0' to:'9'];

By default, whitespace chars are silently consumed by a tokenizer’s PKWhitespaceState. To force reporting of PKTokens of type PKTokenTypeWhitespace containing the encountered whitespace chars as their stringValues (e.g. this would be necessary for a typical XML parser in which significant whitespace must be reported):

t.whitespaceState.reportsWhitespaceTokens = YES;

Similarly, comments are also silently consumed by default. To report Comment tokens instead:

t.commentState.reportsCommentTokens = YES;

Changing which token type is created for a given start character

PKTokenizer controls the logic for deciding which token type should be created for a given start character before passing the responsibility for completing tokens to its “state” helper objects. To change which token type is created for a given start character, you must call a method of the PKTokenizer object itself: -[PKTokenizer setTokenizerState:from:to:].


- (void)setTokenizerState:(PKTokenizerState *)state 


For example, suppose you want to turn off support for Number tokens altogether. To recognize digits as signaling the start of Word tokens:

PKTokenizer *t = [PKTokenizerWithString:s];
[t setTokenizerState:t.wordState from:'0' to:'9'];

This will cause PKTokenizer to begin creating a Word token (rather than a Number token) whenever a digit («0», «1», «2», «3»,«4», «5», «6», «7», «8», «9», «0» ) is encountered.

As another example, say you want to add support for new Quoted String token delimiters, such as «#». This would cause a string like #oh hai# to be recognized as a Quoted String token rather than a Symbol, two Words, and a Symbol. Here’s how:

[t setTokenizerState:t.quoteState from:'#' to:'#'];

Note that if the from: and to: arguments are the same char, only behavior for that single char is affected.

Alternatively, say you want to recognize «+» characters followed immediately by digits as explicitly positive Number tokens rather than as a Symbol token followed by a Number token:

[t setTokenizerState:t.numberState from:'+' to:'+'];

Finally, customization of comments recognition may be necessary. By default, PKTokenizer passes control to its commentState object which silently consumes the comment text found after «//» or between «/*» «*/». This default behavior is achieved with the sequence:

[t setTokenizerState:t.commentState from:'/' to:'/'];
[t.commentState addSingleLineStartSymbol:@"//"];
[t.commentState addMultiLineStartSymbol:@"/*" endSymbol:@"*/"];

To recognize single-line comments starting with #:

[t setTokenizerState:t.commentState from:'#' to:'#'];
[t.commentState addSingleLineStartSymbol:@"#"];

To recognize multi-line “XML”- or “HTML”-style comments:

[t setTokenizerState:t.commentState from:'<' to:'<'];
[t.commentState addMultiLineStartSymbol:@""];

To disable comments recognition altogether, tell PKTokenizer to pass control to its symbolState instead of its commentState.

[t setTokenizerState:t.symbolState from:'/' to:'/'];

Now PKTokenizer will return individual Symbol tokens for all «/» and «*» characters, as well as any other characters set as part of a comment start or end symbol.