Parser combinators built for speed and memory efficiency
OCaml Other
Latest commit 01fa1de Jan 19, 2017 @seliopou seliopou committed on GitHub Merge pull request #62 from andreas/covariant
Make Angstrom.t covariant


Angstrom is a parser-combinator library that makes it easy to write efficient, expressive, and reusable parsers suitable for high-performance applications. It exposes monadic and applicative interfaces for composition, and supports incremental input through buffered and unbuffered interfaces. Both interfaces give the user total control over the blocking behavior of their application, with the unbuffered interface enabling zero-copy IO. Parsers are backtracking by default and support unbounded lookahead.

Build Status


Install the library and its dependencies via OPAM:

opam install angstrom


Angstrom is written with network protocols and serialization formats in mind. As such, its source distribution includes implementations of various RFCs that are illustrative of real-world applications of the library. These include an HTTP parser and a JSON parser.

In addition, it is an informal tradition for OCaml parser-combinator libraries to include in their READMEs a parser for a simple arithmetic expression language. The code below implements a parser for such a language and computes the numerical result of the expression as it is being parsed. Because Angstrom is written with network protocols and serialization libraries in mind, it does not include combinators for creating infix expression parsers. Such combinators, e.g., chainl1, are nevertheless simple to define.

open Angstrom

let parens p = char '(' *> p <* char ')'
let add = char '+' *> return (+)
let sub = char '-' *> return (-)
let mul = char '*' *> return ( * )
let div = char '/' *> return (/)
let integer =
  take_while1 (function '0' .. '9' -> true | _ -> false) >>| int_of_string

let chainl1 e op =
  fix (fun r ->
    e >>= fun x -> (op <*> (return x) <*> r) <|> return x)

let expr : int t =
  fix (fun expr ->
    let factor = parens expr <|> integer in
    let term   = chainl1 factor (mul <|> div) in
    chainl1 term (add <|> sub))

let eval (str:string) : int =
  match parse_only expr (`String str) with
  | Result.Ok v      -> v
  | Result.Error msg -> failwith msg

Comparison to Other Libraries

There are several other parser-combinator libraries available for OCaml that may suit your needs, and are worth considering. Most of them are derivatives of or inspired by Parsec. As such, they require the use of a try combinator to achieve backtracking, rather than providing it by default. They also all use something akin to a lazy character stream as the underlying input abstraction. While this suits Haskell quite nicely, it requires blocking read calls when the entire input is not immediately available—an approach that is inherently incompatible with monadic concurrency libraries such as Async and Lwt, and writing high-performance, concurrent applications in general. Another consequence of this approach to modeling and retrieving input is that the parsers cannot iterate over sections of input in a tight loop, which adversely affects performance.

Below is a table that compares the features of Angstrom agains the those of other parser-combinator libraries.

Feature \ Library Angstrom mparser planck opal
Monadic interface
Backtracking by default
Unbounded lookahead
Reports line numbers in errors
Efficient take_while/skip_while
Unbuffered (zero-copy) interface
Non-blocking incremental interface
Async Support
Lwt Support


To install development dependencies, pin the package from the root of the repository:

opam pin add -n angstrom .
opam install --deps-only angstrom

After this, you may install a development version of the library using the install command as usual.

For building and running the tests during development, you will need to install the alcotest package and reconfigure the build process to enable tests:

opam install alcotest
./configure --enable-tests
make && make test


This library started off as a direct port of the inimitable attoparsec library. While the original approach of continuation-passing still survives in the source code, several modifications have been made in order to adapt the ideas to OCaml, and in the process allow for more efficient memory usage and integration with monadic concurrency libraries. This library will undoubtedly diverge further as time goes on, but it's name will stand as an homage to its origin.


BSD3, see LICENSE file for its text.