Parser Combinators in C++

Outline

  • What?
  • How?
  • Why?
  • Conclusion

A little history

A little history

4th BCE: Pannini's description of Sanskrit

 

A little history

4th BCE: Pannini's description of Sanskrit

1951: Kleene's regular languages

1956: The Chomsky hierarchy of Languages

1960: Backus-Naur Form (BNF): Grammar notation

 

A little history

4th BCE: Pannini's description of Sanskrit

1951: Kleene's regular languages

1956: The Chomsky hierarchy of Languages

1960: Backus-Naur Form (BNF): Grammar notation

1961: Lucas discovers recursive descent, later known as LL

1965: Knuth discovers LR

A little history

4th BCE: Pannini's description of Sanskrit

1951: Kleene's regular languages

1956: The Chomsky hierarchy of Languages

1960: Backus-Naur Form (BNF): Grammar notation

1961: Lucas discovers recursive descent, later known as LL

1965: Knuth discovers LR

1969: DeRemer: LALR

1975: The C compiler is converted to LALR

1979: Yacc is released

 

A little history

4th BCE: Pannini's description of Sanskrit

1951: Kleene's regular languages

1956: The Chomsky hierarchy of Languages

1960: Backus-Naur Form (BNF): Grammar notation

1961: Lucas discovers recursive descent, later known as LL

1965: Knuth discovers LR

1969: DeRemer: LALR

1975: The C compiler is converted to LALR

1979: Yacc is released

1974/1984: Lang, Tomita: Generalized LR

 

A little history

4th BCE: Pannini's description of Sanskrit

1951: Kleene's regular languages

1956: The Chomsky hierarchy of Languages

1960: Backus-Naur Form (BNF): Grammar notation

1961: Lucas discovers recursive descent, later known as LL

1965: Knuth discovers LR

1969: DeRemer: LALR

1975: The C compiler is converted to LALR

1979: Yacc is released

1974/1984: Lang, Tomita: Generalized LR

1992/1995: Hutton, Wadler: Combinator parsing

 

A little history

4th BCE: Pannini's description of Sanskrit

1951: Kleene's regular languages

1956: The Chomsky hierarchy of Languages

1960: Backus-Naur Form (BNF): Grammar notation

1961: Lucas discovers recursive descent, later known as LL

1965: Knuth discovers LR

1969: DeRemer: LALR

1975: The C compiler is converted to LALR

1979: Yacc is released

1974/1984: Lang, Tomita: Generalized LR

1992/1995: Hutton, Wadler: Combinator parsing

2006: GNU C reverts to hand-written recursive descent‽

 

A little history

4th BCE: Pannini's description of Sanskrit

1951: Kleene's regular languages

1956: The Chomsky hierarchy of Languages

1960: Backus-Naur Form (BNF): Grammar notation

1961: Lucas discovers recursive descent, later known as LL

1965: Knuth discovers LR

1969: DeRemer: LALR

1975: The C compiler is converted to LALR

1979: Yacc is released

1974/1984: Lang, Tomita: Generalized LR

1992/1995: Hutton, Wadler: Combinator parsing

2006: GNU C reverts to hand-written recursive descent‽

2008: McBride, Paterson: Applicative-based combinator parsing

What?

  • Alternative way of working with parsers.

Combinator Parsing:

generators:

combinators:

What?

  • Alternative way of working with parsers.
  • Generators:
    • Monolithic grammar file \(\xrightarrow{generate}\) parser code
  • Combinators:
    • parser + parser = new parser

Combinator Parsing:

How?

Basic idea

  • A parser is a function istream & \(\rightarrow\) T    ...

Basic idea

  • A parser is a function istream & \(\rightarrow\) T    ...

  • ... or rather
    istream & \(\rightarrow\) T (on success)
    and
    istream & \(\rightarrow\) ErrorMessage (on parse failure)

Result<T>

  • Contains either a 'T' or an ErrorMessage
  • can be modeled as follows:
template <typename T>
struct Result {
  bool contains_success = false;
  union {
    T success_val;
    ErrorMessage error_val;
  };
    
  Result(T const &val) : contains_success(true), success_val(val) {};
  Result(ErrorMessage const &error) : contains_success(false), error_val(error) {};
    
  // NOTE: CopyCons, MoveCons and Destructor ommitted
  // But need to be written!
};

Result<T>

  • Contains either a 'T' or an ErrorMessage
  • can be modeled as follows:
#include <variant>

template <typename T>
struct Result : std::variant<T, ErrorMessage> {
  using std::variant<T, ErrorMessage>::variant;
};

Result<T>

  • Contains either a 'T' or an ErrorMessage
  • can be modeled as follows:
  • Adding some extra sugar
#include <variant>

template <typename T>
struct Result : std::variant<T, ErrorMessage> {
  using std::variant<T, ErrorMessage>::variant;
  
  /// Shorthand to check for success
  explicit operator bool() const {
  	std::holds_alternative<T>(*this);
  }
  
  /// Allow implicit conversions of
  /// char -> string
  /// T -> vector<T>
  /// string -> vector<char>
  /// std::tuple<char, char> -> string
  /// etc.
  template<typename C>
  operator Result<C>() const {
    if(bool(*this)) {
      return convert<C>(std::get<T>(*this));
    } else {
      return std::get<ErrorMessage>(*this);
    }
  }
};

Parser:

istream & \(\rightarrow\) Result<T>

Parser:

istream & \(\rightarrow\) Result<T>

#include <functional>

struct Parser : public std::function<Result<T>(std::istream &)> {
  using std::function<Result<T>(std::istream &)>::function;
  
  typedef T value_type;
};

Basic Idea redux

  1. A parser is a function...
  2. ... but still a first-class datatype!

 

\(\rightarrow\) Write functions returning parsers...

\(\rightarrow\) Write functions taking parsers as params...

\(\rightarrow\) ... or both!

 

Basic Idea redux

  1. A parser is a function...
  2. ... but still a first-class datatype!

 

\(\rightarrow\) Write functions returning parsers...

\(\rightarrow\) Write functions taking parsers as params...

\(\rightarrow\) ... or both!

 

Combinators

{

Building blocks:

  • Some primitive 'builtin' parsers
  • Ways to combine them: combinators
  • operator overloading: Domain-Specific Language/Syntactic Sugar

Primitive parsers

constant

template<typename T>
Parser<T> constant(T const &val){
  return [=](std::istream &){ return val; });
}

Primitive parsers

char_

/// Parse exactly the character `target`.
Parser<char> char_(char target) {
  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<char> {
    char val = input.peek();
    if (val == target) {
      input.ignore();
      return val;
    } else {
      return ErrorMessage{std::string{1, target}};
    }
  };
}

Primitive parsers

satisfy

/// Parse and return any character satisfying `checking_fun`.
/// examples: `satisfy(isspace, "space")`, `satisfy(isdigit, "digit")` etc.
Parser<char> satisfy(std::function<bool(char)> checking_fun, const char *name) {
  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<char> {
    char val = input.peek();
    if(checking_fun(val)) {
      input.ignore();
      return val;
    } else {
      return ErrorMessage{std::string{"any `"} + name + '`'};
    }
  };
}

Primitive parsers

digit

/// Parse any decimal digit
Parser<char> digit() {
  return satisfy(isdigit, "digit");
}

Primitive parsers

space

/// Parse any single whitespace character
Parser<char> space() {
  return satisfy(isspace, "space");
}

Primitive parsers

char_  redux

// Or alternatively:
Parser<char> char_(char target) {
  return satisfy(
    [target](char val) { return val == target; }, 
    std::string{target}.c_str()
  );
}

Primitive parsers

string_

/// Parse exactly the string `target`.
/// Note that this implementation allows for backtracking and is inefficient.
/// A more efficient implementation is left as an exercise for the reader ;-)
Parser<std::string> string_(std::string const &target) {
  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<std::string> {
    for(size_t index = 0; index < target.size(); ++index) {
      if(input.peek() == target[index]) {
        input.get();
      } else {
        // Restore input:
        while(index--) {
          input.unget();
        }
        return ErrorMessage{target};
      }
    }
    return target;
  };
}

Primitive parsers:

  • constant
  • char_
  • satisfy
  • string_

Combinators:

...

Examples:

  • digit
  • space

Combinators

transform

/// Transform the result of a parser into another type of result
/// by running a function `fun` on it.
///
/// (Note: The templated arguments allow C++ to do more automatic type-inference
/// than if we'd use `std::function` instead.)
template<typename A, typename F> 
auto transform(Parser<A> const &parser, F const &fun) 
  -> Parser<decltype(fun(std::declval<A>()))> 
  {
  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<decltype(fun(std::declval<A>()))> {
    Result<A> res = parser(input);
    
    if (!bool(res)) { return std::get<ErrorMessage>(res); }

    return fun(std::get<A>(res));
  };
}

Combinators

transformError






template<typename A, typename F> 
auto transformError(Parser<A> const &parser, F const &fun) 
  -> Parser<A> 
  {
  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<A> {
    Result<A> res = parser(input);
    
    if (!bool(res)) { return ErrorMessage{fun(std::get<ErrorMessage>(res))}; }

    return res;
  };
}

Combinators

sequence (>>)

/// Compose two parsers in sequence: Run `p1` followed by `p2`.
/// Fails when either one fails, only succeeds if both suceed.
template<typename A, typename B>
auto operator >>(Parser<A> const &p1, Parser<B> const &p2) 
-> Parser<typename decltype(Result<A>() + Result<B>())::value_type>
{
  return [=](std::istream &input) -> decltype(Result<A>() + Result<B>()) {
    Result<A> res1 = p1(input);
    if(!bool(res1)) { return std::get<ErrorMessage>(res1); }
    
    Result<B> res2 = p2(input);
    if(!bool(res2)) { return std::get<ErrorMessage>(res2); }
    
    return res1 + res2;
    }
  };
}

Combinators

Side note: Adding two results

template <typename A, typename B>
auto operator +(Result<A> const &lhs, Result<B> const &rhs) 
  -> Result<decltype(wrapInTuple(std::get<A>(lhs), std::get<B>(rhs)))> 
  {
  if(!bool(lhs)) { return std::get<ErrorMessage>(lhs); }
  if(!bool(rhs)) { return std::get<ErrorMessage>(rhs); }

  return wrapInTuple(std::get<A>(lhs), std::get<B>(rhs));
};

Combinators

alternative (|)

/// Compose two parsers as alternatives: Run `p1` or alternatively `p2`.
/// Fails when both fail, succeeds when either one succeeds.
template<typename A>
Parser<A> operator |(Parser<A> const &lhs, Parser<A> const &rhs) {
  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<A> {
    Result<A> res1 = lhs(input);
    if (bool(res1)) { return res1; }

    Result<A> res2 = rhs(input);
    if (bool(res2)) { return res2; }

    return ErrorMessage{
      std::get<ErrorMessage>(res1).message + 
      " or " + 
      std::get<ErrorMessage>(res2).message
    };
  };
}

Combinators

choice

template <typename T>
Parser<T> choice(Parser<T> const &parser) {
  return parser;
}

template <typename T, typename... Ts>
Parser<T> choice(Parser<T> const &first, Ts... rest) {
  return first | choice(rest...);
}
  • transform
  • transformError
  • sequence (>>)
  • alternative (|)

Primitive parsers:

  • constant
  • char_
  • satisfy
  • string_

Combinators:

Examples:

  • digit
  • space

Done with the foundation

  • From now on, no need to look into the internals of Parser/Result anymore.
  • (Sometimes it is still nicer for efficiency, though)

Extending our Toolbox

ignore

/// ignore result of `parser`
/// and just return an empty tuple
/// (which will disappear when this parser is used in sequence with other parsers)
template<typename T>
Parser<std::tuple<>> ignore(Parser<T> const &parser) {
  auto discard = [](T const &) { return std::make_tuple(); };
  return transform(parser, discard);
}

Extending our Toolbox

maybe

template<typename T>
Parser<T> maybe(Parser<T> elem) {
  return elem | constant(T{});
}

Extending our Toolbox

many, many1

template<typename Container>
Parser<Container> many(Parser<typename Container::value_type> element_parser) {
  return many1(element_parser) | constant(Container{});
}

template<typename Container>
Parser<Container> many1(Parser<typename Container::value_type> element_parser) {
  return element_parser >> many(element_parser);
}

Extending our Toolbox

many, many1

template<typename Container>
Parser<Container> many(Parser<typename Container::value_type> element_parser) {
  return many1<Container>(element_parser) | constant(Container{});
}

template<typename Container>
Parser<Container> many1(Parser<typename Container::value_type> element_parser) {
  return element_parser >> many<Container>(element_parser);
}

Extending our Toolbox

many, many1

template<typename Container>
Parser<Container> many(Parser<typename Container::value_type> element_parser) {
  return lazy(many1<Container>(element_parser)) | constant(Container{});
}

template<typename Container>
Parser<Container> many1(Parser<typename Container::value_type> element_parser) {
  return element_parser >> many<Container>(element_parser);
}
#define lazy(parser) [=](std::istream &input) { return (parser)(input); }

Extending our Toolbox

many, many1

template<typename Container>
Parser<Container> many(Parser<typename Container::value_type> element_parser) {
  return many1<Container>(element_parser) | constant(Container{});
}

template <typename Container>
Parser<Container> many1(Parser<typename Container::value_type> element_parser) {
  using T = typename Container::value_type;
  
  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<Container> {
    auto first = element_parser(input);
    if (!bool(first)) { return std::get<ErrorMessage>(first); }

    Container container;
    container.push_back(std::get<T>(first));

    while (true) {
      auto next = element_parser(input);
      if (!bool(next)) { return container; }

      container.push_back(std::get<T>(next));
    }
  };
}

Extending our Toolbox

digits

Parser<std::string> digits() 
{
  return many1<std::string>(digit);
}

Extending our Toolbox

uint

Parser<std::string> uint() 
{
  return transform(digits, std::stoul);
}

Extending our Toolbox

int_

Parser<char> sign()
{
  return char_('+') | char_('-');
}

Parser<std::string> signed_digits()
{
  return maybe(sign) >> digits;
}

Parser<long int> int_() 
{
  return transform(signed_digits, std::stol);
}

Extending our Toolbox

double_

Parser<double> double_() {
  Parser<std::string> vals = 
    signed_digits 
    >> maybe(char_('.') >> digits) 
    >> maybe(char_('e') >> signed_digits);
  
  return transform(vals, std::stod);
}

But what about binary expressions?

But what about binary expressions?

Solution:

  •  chainl1/chainr1, each taking:
  • element parser Parser<A>,
  • combining parser Parser<A(A, A)>

 

But what about binary expressions?

Solution:

  •  chainl1/chainr1, each taking:
  • element parser Parser<A>,
  • combining parser Parser<A(A, A)>

 

!!

Extending our Toolbox

chainl1

template<typename A>
Parser<A> chainl1(Parser<A> const &elem, Parser<std::function<A(A, A)>> const &binop) {
  using F = std::function<A(A, A)>;

  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<A> {
    Result<A> lhs = elem(input);
    if (!bool(lhs)) { return lhs; }

    Result<A> res = lhs;

    while(true) {
      Result<F> binop_res = binop(input);
      if (!bool(binop_res)) { return res; }

      Result<A> rhs = elem(input);
      if (!bool(rhs)) { return res; }

      res = std::get<F>(binop_res)(std::get<A>(res), std::get<A>(rhs));
    }
  };
}

Extending our Toolbox

chainr1

template<typename A>
Parser<A> chainr1(Parser<A> const &elem, Parser<std::function<A(A, A)>> const &binop) {
  using F = std::function<A(A, A)>;

  return [=](std::istream &input) -> Result<A> {
    Result<A> lhs = elem(input);
    if (!bool(lhs)) { return lhs; }

    Result<A> res = lhs;


    Result<F> binop_res = binop(input);
    if (!bool(binop_res)) { return res; }

    Result<A> rhs = chainr1(elem, binop)(input); // <- recurse!
    if (!bool(rhs)) { return res; }

    return std::get<F>(binop_res)(std::get<A>(res), std::get<A>(rhs));
  };
}

Extending our Toolbox

example

Parser<std::function<double(double, double)>> plus() {
  return ignore(char_('+')) >> constant(std::plus());
}

Parser<std::function<double(double, double)>> minus() {
  return ignore(char_('-')) >> constant(std::minus());
}

Parser<double> adding_doubles() {
   return chainl1(double_, plus | minus);
};

Extending our Toolbox

example

Parser<std::function<Expr(Expr, Expr)>> plus() {
  return ignore(char_('+')) >> constant([](auto lhs, auto rhs){ return PlusExpr{lhs, rhs}; });
}

Parser<std::function<Expr(Expr, Expr)>> minus() {
  return ignore(char_('-')) >> constant([](auto lhs, auto rhs){ return MinusExpr{lhs, rhs}; });
}

Parser<Expr> adding_example2() {
   return chainl1(term, plus | minus);
};
  • transform
  • transformError
  • sequence (>>)
  • alternative (|)
  • ignore
  • many
  • many1
  • maybe
  • chainl
  • chainr

Primitive parsers:

  • constant
  • char_
  • satisfy
  • string_

Combinators:

Examples:

  • digit
  • space
  • digits
  • uint
  • int_
  • double_
  • plus
  • minus
  • expr

Et Cetera...

How to deal with nested expressions & operator precedence?

How to deal with nested expressions & operator precedence?

Parser<double> term();

Parser<double> expression() 
{
  return makeExpressionParser(
    term,
    prefix(neg),
    binary_right(exp),
    binary_left(mul, divide),
    binary_left(plus, minus)
  );
}

Parser<double> term() 
{
  return double_ | parenthesized(expression);
}

Separate lexer?

  • Possible, but often replaced by just:

 

 

 

 

we'll get back to this

/// parses `parser` followed by possible whitespace which is ignored.
template<typename T>
Parser<T> lex(Parser<T> parser) {
  return parser >> ignore(whitespace);
}

Why?

  • Disadvantages
    • (Only) as ergonomic as the EDSL
    • Relies on the host compiler for efficiency
    • Less well-known (around for 'only' 20 years vs. 50 for generators)
  • Advantages:
    • Small building blocks
    • Stay inside the host language
      • Parsers are first-class datatypes: tests, highlighting, compiler errors, etc.
    • Parsers compose!

LL vs. LR etc...

  • Parser Combinators are commonly LL...
  • ... but need not be!

LL, LR, Regex, GLR, etc!

LL, LR, Regex, GLR, etc!

Even pretty-printers!

Conclusion

  • Promising alternative parsing approach
    • Boost.Spirit, Lexy (C++), Parsec and derivatives (Haskell), Nom (Rust), NimbleParsec (Elixir), parsy (Python) ... and many more

Outline

  • What?
  • How?
  • Why?
  • Conclusion

Remarks

  • Presentation Example code online
    • MF1F for simplicity's sake
    • Two implementations:
      • Simple one you saw during presentation
      • semi-optimized one (partially finished) using an IR with CRTP & constexpr.

Thank You!

Parser Combinators in C++

By qqwy

Parser Combinators in C++

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