Monday, October 3, 2011

Grammar parser in C++


Recently I stumbled upon implementing a simple parser in C++. The task is very classic, however I couldn't find any good resources on the web to help me out.
I tried different tools (including ANTLR), but finally the easiest way I found was bison + flex. It's unbelievable that this technology from 1989 is still actively developed. Latest stable release is from May 14, 2011. Moreover, many important projects make use of it. Among them are Ruby, PHP, Google Go, Bash shell.
So I decided to create a minimalistic example, which works from scratch.
I published the code on github Calculator, so you can check it out.
The whole example is 88 lines long and evaluates common expressions, like 2+2*2-13*(7+19/2).
Let's start with lexer. In flex, you need to define regular expressions, which produce tokens. Such tokens are later processed by a scanner. So we have to define calculator.lex, like this:

Flex will generate yylex() function, which we can call later to produce tokens.
Next, we need to create a scanner (calculator.y), which specifies a grammar. It's simple like that:

Here, we specify types for all tokens using C/C++ union like structure. Variable $$ is used to store result of particular reductions.
Additionally, we need to specify %left precedence for +, -, *, / operators to resolve shift / reduce conflicts between them.
And that's basically it. We have a working expression parser.
I implemented it in a way, that executable takes a file name containing expressions as an argument.
So you can try ./calculator input.txt to see the result.

1 comment:

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