Grep has issues with data blocks as well. "With regular expressions, you don't really have the ability to extract things that are nested arbitrarily deep," Weaver said.
Context-Free Grep is still in the design stage, but should be completed within the next few months. A prototype of Hierarchical Diff has been completed, though the researchers have not posted the code yet.
Google's interest in this technology springs from the company's efforts in cloud computing, where it must automate operations across a wide range of networking gear, Weaver said. The DOE foresees that this sort of software could play a vital role in smart grids, in which millions of energy consuming end-devices would have connectivity of some sort. The software would help "make sense of all the log files and the configurations of the power control networks," Weaver said.
In addition to system administration duties, the utilities could also be used in with non-technical languages as well. They could be used to parse legal documents, for instance, Weaver suggested.
A number of Usenix attendees praised the idea for its potential usefulness. "You wonder why it hasn't been done before," one said. Another commented that such tools could also be really handy for code repositories such as Git.