Sexplib - S-Expressions for OCaml
sexplib contains functionality for parsing and pretty-printing
s-expressions. S-expressions are defined by the following type:
type sexp = Atom of string | List of sexp list
In this example we build an s-expression that corresponds to
(is an) (s expression)), serialize that into a string, and then parse
the string back into an s-expression.
open Sexplib let () = (* Build an Sexp from: (This (is an) (s expression)) *) let exp1 = Sexp.(List [ Atom "This"; List [Atom "is"; Atom "an"]; List [Atom "s"; Atom "expression"] ]) in (* Serialize an Sexp object into a string *) print_endline (Sexp.to_string exp1); (* Parse a string and produce a Sexp object *) let exp2 = Sexp.of_string "(This (is an) (s expression))" in (* Ensure we parsed what we expected. *) assert (Sexp.compare exp1 exp2 = 0)
This library is often used in conjunction with
syntax extension which generates code from type definitions for
efficiently converting OCaml-values to s-expressions and vice versa.
Together, these two libraries make it easy to convert your OCaml values to and from a human-readable serializable form, without the tedium of having to write your own converters.
The library also offers functionality for extracting and replacing
sub-expressions in s-expressions. Here, we’ll only document
proper. If you want to know more about the way in which OCaml types
are mapped on to s-expressions, you should look at the documentation
Lexical conventions of s-expression
Whitespace, which consists of the space, newline, horizontal tab, and form feed characters, is ignored unless within an OCaml-string, where it is treated according to OCaml-conventions. The left parenthesis opens a new list, the right one closes it again. Lists can be empty.
The double quote denotes the beginning and end of a string following the lexical conventions of OCaml (see the OCaml-manual for details). All characters other than double quotes, left and right parentheses, whitespace, carriage return, and comment-introducing characters or sequences (see next paragraph) are considered part of a contiguous string.
There are three kinds of comments:
- line comments are introduced with
;, and end at the newline.
- sexp comments are introduced with
#;, and end at the end of the following s-expression.
- block comments are introduced with
#|and end with
|#. These can be nested, and double-quotes within them must be balanced and be lexically correct OCaml strings.
Grammar of s-expressions
S-expressions are either strings (= atoms) or lists. The lists can recursively contain further s-expressions or be empty, and must be balanced, i.e., parentheses must match.
this_is_an_atom_123'&^%! ; this is a comment "another atom in an OCaml-string \"string in a string\" \123" ; empty list follows below () ; a more complex example ( ( list in a list ; comment within a list (list in a list in a list) 42 is the answer to all questions #; (this S-expression (has been commented out) ) #| Block comments #| can be "nested" |# |# ) )
I/O and Type Conversions
There are multiple ways to perform I/O with s-expressions. If exact error locations are required when type conversions fail, s-expressions need to be parsed with location annotations. The associated parser is slower, however, and needs more memory.
In most cases users may therefore want to use functions like
load_sexp_conv_exn, which load s-expressions
from files and convert them. They initially read the file without
location annotations for performance reasons. Only if conversions
fail will the file be reparsed with location annotations. Type errors
can then be reported accurately with file name, line number, column,
and file position.
In addition to the converters provided automatically by
ppx_sexp_conv, it’s possible to write one’s own sexp-converter. For
such converters to be available by other automatically generated
converters, it should follow the convention of being defined in the
same scope as the type, and should be named
You must report failures by raising the
sexplib’s tools for pinpointing the location of type
errors within an s-expression file will work properly.