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C Minor Compiler

Abstract Syntax Tree

This is a Java-implemented compiler for a miniature programming language called "C Minor." The Makefile generates a Java program which reads C Minor code as input and prints compiled AT&T-syntax x86 assembly code as output, or else reports errors on ill-formed input.

This project was completed on May 10, 2013 for a university compilers course.


The Java Cup (java_cup/) and JFlex (jflex/) tools are used to generate the compiler's lexer and parser classes and are both included with this project in conformance with their respective licenses.

This project was developed in a Linux environment, and although the source code is written in portable Java, the peripheral scripts and Makefile may depend on commands or files not present on every system. These include dot, tempfile, xdg-open.

Of course, you must have javac, java, and make installed to compile and execute the program (ant is not used).


The Makefile provided contains rules for generating the C minor compiler from JFlex, Java Cup, and Java source files as well as rules for compiling test inputs using the generated compiler. All of the compiler code resides in the cminor Java package, and the main class which serves as the C Minor compiler is cminor.Compiler.

In order to build cminor.Compiler from its sources, simply use



Once the compiler has been built, it is invoked using

java cminor.Compiler [options]

The C Minor compiler has a number of different options and modes. These options can be used to control whether the compiler reads from stdin or from a file, writes code to stdout or a file, and generates x86 code or dot code for visualizing the abstract syntax tree. Without any arguments the compiler reads C Minor from stdin and sends compiled x86 code to stdout if the input is valid. Errors are otherwise reported on stderr. In order to see all of the available options, use

java cminor.Compiler -h


The project comes with a number of tests which were used to validate the behavior and features of the compiler. These files are all under the test/ directory. The directory test/ast/ contains a set of over 40 tests which demonstrate various features of the compiler. For any test file in this directory, use

make test/ast/<filename>

to attempt to use the C Minor compiler to produce x86 code from the corresponding .cm file, assemble it, and link it into an executable.

There is another test in the test/ms/ directory which pulls together several aspects of the project. It is the Fibonacci program provided for the syntax analysis phase of the project. To compile it, use

make test/ms/test

and then use


to verify that it prints out the first 20 or so Fibonacci numbers.

The scripts/ directory contains a number of scripts which abbreviate certain modes of the C Minor compiler to a single command. For example, the script scripts/resolve reads a C Minor file, prints its contents, and uses the C Minor compiler to generate dot code for displaying the abstract syntax tree of the input program including nodes for resolved symbols. It then uses the dot command to produce an image of the tree and opens it in the user's preferred application using xdg-open.


The compiler is written in Java and makes extensive use of the visitor pattern. This design decision is a result of the benefits of having closely-related code for each compiler phase kept in the same class file instead of spread out accross several abstract syntax tree node class files.

The project is separated into the following phases:

  1. Lexing (sends tokens to the parser using jflex)
  2. Parsing (builds an abstract syntax tree using java_cup)
  3. Symbol resolution (resolves identifiers and other symbols in the AST)
  4. Type checking (resolves and validates expression types and performs other semantic analyses)
  5. Code generation (assuming the AST has been fully validated and resolved, proceeds to generate x86 code)

For the sake of simplicity, the generated code simulates a stack machine. It should be considered pre-optimization assembly code. All return and expression values are passed through %eax; all function arguments are passed through the stack.

State of Completion

All intended functionality appears to be working, and the program works on all test inputs provided. The experience of using the compiler suggests that it is generally quite sound, but of course there is no guarantee that there are no hidden bugs, that there isn't a glitch in the matrix, and that the entire universe isn't just a hologram. Seriously though, it's quite solid.

The compiler implements (or at least supposes to implement) the following features:

  • Error checking during the scanning phase
  • Error recovery during the parsing phase
  • Input file location information for errors in the input and descriptive error messages for semantic errors
  • Validation that a main function exists with the correct signature
  • Validation that functions with non-void return types return values in all branches of execution
  • Detection of unreachable statements
  • Use of a string table to minimize the number of string literals included in the resulting program
  • Packing of constant values, at compile time, into the format strings used by the calls to libc's printf which underlie C Minor print statements
  • Ensurance that the literal arguments to print cannot be used to insert extra format specifiers that break the underlying printf format specifiers
  • Printing of true and false for boolean values
  • Implementation of lexical scoping rules
  • Control flow statements if, else, and while
  • Short-circuited logical operators
  • Awesomeness


A compiler for a small C-like language.




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