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Jison

An API for creating parsers in JavaScript

Jison generates bottom-up parsers in JavaScript. Its API is similar to Bison's, hence the name. It supports many of Bison's major features, plus some of its own. If you are new to parser generators such as Bison, and Context-free Grammars in general, a good introduction is found in the Bison manual. If you already know Bison, Jison should be easy to pickup.

A brief warning before proceeding: the API is ridiculously unstable right now. The goal is to mirror Bison where it makes sense, but we're not even there yet. Also, optimization has not been a main focus as of yet.

Briefly, Jison takes a JSON encoded grammar specification and outputs a JavaScript file capable of parsing the language described by that grammar specification. You can then use the generated script to parse inputs and accept, reject, or perform actions based on the input.

Installation

Prerequisite: To run Jison from the command line, you'll need to have Narwhal installed and available from your PATH.

Clone the github repository:

git clone git://github.com/zaach/jison.git

Usage from the command line

Now you're ready to generate some parsers:

cd jison
narwhal bin/jison examples/calculator.json

This will generate a calculator.js file in your current working directory. This file can be used to parse an input file, like so:

echo "2^32 / 1024" > testcalc
narwhal calculator.js testcalc

This will print out 4194304.

Usage from a CommonJS module

You can generate parsers programatically from JavaScript as well. Assuming Jison is in your commonjs environment's load path:

// mygenerator.js
var Parser = require("jison").Parser;

var grammar = {
    "lex": {
        "rules": [
           ["\\s+", "/* skip whitespace */"],
           ["[a-f0-9]+", "return 'HEX';"]
        ]
    },

    "bnf": {
        "hex_strings" :[ "hex_strings HEX",
                         "HEX" ]
    }
};

var parser = new Parser(grammar);

// generate source, ready to be written to disk
var parserSource = parser.generate();

// you can also use the parser directly from memory

// returns true
parser.parse("adfe34bc e82a");

// throws lexical error
parser.parse("adfe34bc zxg");

Using the generated parser

So, you have generated your parser through the command line or JavaScript API and have saved it to disk. Now it can be put to use.

As demonstrated before, the parser can be used from the command line:

narwhal calculator.js testcalc

Though, more ideally, the parser will be a dependency of another module. You can require it from another module like so:

// mymodule.js
var parser = require("./calculator").parser;

function exec (input) {
    return parser.parse(input);
}

var twenty = exec("4 * 5");

Or more succinctly:

// mymodule.js
function exec (input) {
    return require("./calculator").parse(input);
}

var twenty = exec("4 * 5");

Specifying a language

The process of parsing a language involves two phases: lexical analysis (tokenizing) and parsing, which the Lex/Yacc and Flex/Bison combinations are famous for. Both lexing and parsing information can be included in the Jison grammar specification for a language.

For example here is calculator.json:

{
    "comment": "Parses end executes mathematical expressions.",

    "lex": {
        "rules": [
           ["\\s+",                    "/* skip whitespace */"],
           ["[0-9]+(?:\\.[0-9]+)?\\b", "return 'NUMBER';"],
           ["\\*",                     "return '*';"],
           ["\\/",                     "return '/';"],
           ["-",                       "return '-';"],
           ["\\+",                     "return '+';"],
           ["\\^",                     "return '^';"],
           ["\\(",                     "return '(';"],
           ["\\)",                     "return ')';"],
           ["PI\\b",                   "return 'PI';"],
           ["E\\b",                    "return 'E';"],
           ["$",                       "return 'EOF';"]
        ]
    },

    "operators": [
        ["left", "+", "-"],
        ["left", "*", "/"],
        ["left", "^"],
        ["left", "UMINUS"]
    ],

    "bnf": {
        "S" :[[ "e EOF",   "print($1); return $1;"  ]],

        "e" :[[ "e + e",   "$$ = $1+$3;" ],
              [ "e - e",   "$$ = $1-$3;" ],
              [ "e * e",   "$$ = $1*$3;" ],
              [ "e / e",   "$$ = $1/$3;" ],
              [ "e ^ e",   "$$ = Math.pow($1, $3);" ],
              [ "- e",     "$$ = -$2;", {"prec": "UMINUS"} ],
              [ "( e )",   "$$ = $2;" ],
              [ "NUMBER",  "$$ = Number(yytext);" ],
              [ "E",       "$$ = Math.E;" ],
              [ "PI",      "$$ = Math.PI;" ]]
    }
}

This is all that is needed for Jison to generate a parser capable of recognizing the language and executing the semantic actions.

More examples can be found in the examples/ directory.

JSON isn't so bad, but a more author friendly format is in the works. It will be similar to Bison's .y files.

Sharing scope

In Bison, code is expected to be lexically defined within the scope of the semantic actions. E.g., chunks of code may be included in the generated parser source, which are available from semantic actions.

Jison is more modular. Instead of pulling code into the generated module, the generated module is expected to be required and used by other modules. This means that if you want to expose functionality to the semantic actions, you can't rely on it being available through lexical scoping. Instead, the parser has a yy property which is exposed to actions as the yy free variable. Any functionality attached to this property is available in both lexical and semantic actions through the yy free variable.

An example from orderly.js:

var parser = require("./orderly/parse").parser;

// set parser's shared scope
parser.yy = require("./orderly/scope");

// returns the JSON object
var parse = exports.parse = function (input) {
    return parser.parse(input);
};
...

The scope module contains logic for building data structures, which is used within the semantic actions.

TODO: More on this.

Lexical Analysis

Jison includes a rather rudimentary lexer, though any module that supports the basic lexer API could be used in its place. Jison's lexer uses the lex key of the JSON grammar spec, where the rules for matching a token are defined along with the action to execute on a match. Usually, the action will return the token which is used by the Jison parser. A custom lexer could be used instead with it's own methods of tokenizing.

TODO: More on this.

Parsing algorithms

Like Bison, Jison can recognize languages described by LALR(1) grammars, though it also has modes for LR(0), SLR(1), and LR(1). It also has a special mode for generating LL(1) parse tables (requested by my professor,) and could be extended to generate a recursive descent parser for LL(k) languages in the future. But, for now, Jison is geared toward bottom-up parsing.

**LR(1) mode is currently not practical for use with anything other than toy grammars, but that is entirely a consequence of the algorithm used, and may change in the future.*

Real world example

I wrote a parser for Orderly using Jison. Some benefits I found were:

  • If modeled after the normative language grammar, it is guaranteed to recognize the correct language.
  • Adding new syntax is straight forward.
  • It was much faster to develop than if I were to attempt implementing a (top-down) parser from scratch. But for others not used to grammar specifications, this might not be the case.

Contributors

  • Zach Carter
  • Jarred Ligatti
  • Manuel E. Bermúdez

License

Copyright (c) 2009 Zachary Carter

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.

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