The Parser

A parser is a program which determines if its input is syntactically valid and determines its structure. Parsers may be hand written or may be automatically generated by a parser generator from descriptions of valid syntactical structures. The descriptions are in the form of a context-free grammar. Parser generators may be used to develop a wide range of language parsers, from those used in simple desk calculators to complex programming languages.

Yacc is a program which given a context-free grammar, constructs a C program which will parse input according to the grammar rules. Yacc was developed by S. C. Johnson an others at AT\&T Bell Laboratories. Yacc provides for semantic stack manipulation and the specification of semantic routines. A input file for Yacc is of the form:

The first section of the Yacc file consists of a list of tokens (other than single characters) that are expected by the parser and the specification of the start symbol of the grammar. This section of the Yacc file may contain specification of the precedence and associativity of operators. This permits greater flexibility in the choice of a context-free grammar. Addition and subtraction are declared to be left associative and of lowest precedence while exponentiation is declared to be right associative and to have the highest precedence.

The second section of the Yacc file consists of the context-free grammar for the language. Productions are separated by semicolons, the '::=' symbol of the BNF is replaced with ':', the empty production is left empty, non-terminals are written in all lower case, and the multicharacter terminal symbols in all upper case. Notice the simplification of the expression grammar due to the separation of precedence from the grammar.

The third section of the Yacc file consists of C code. There must be a main() routine which calls the function yyparse(). The function yyparse() is the driver routine for the parser. There must also be the function yyerror() which is used to report on errors during the parse. Simple examples of the function main() and yyerror() are:

The parser, as written, has no output however, the parse tree is implicitly constructed during the parse. As the parser executes, it builds an internal representation of the the structure of the program. The internal representation is based on the right hand side of the production rules. When a right hand side is recognized, it is reduced to the corresponding left hand side. Parsing is complete when the entire program has been reduced to the start symbol of the grammar.

Compiling the Yacc file with the command yacc -vd file.y ( bison -vd file.y) causes the generation of two files and The contains the list of tokens is included in the file which defines the scanner. The file defines the C function yyparse() which is the parser.

Yacc is distributed with the Unix operating system while Bison is a product of the Free Software Foundation, Inc.

For more information on using Yacc/Bison see the appendex, consult the manual pages for bison, the paper Programming Utilities and Libraries LR Parsing by A. V. Aho and S. C. Johnson, Computing Surveys, June, 1974 and the document BISON the Yacc-compatible Parser Generator by Charles Donnelly and Richard Stallman.