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A parser generator tool for Mirah.
Mirah Java Ruby
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MMeta is a parser generator tool for Mirah. It creates Packrat type parsers, also known as PEGs or backtracking parsers. MMeta is heavily inspired by OMeta and JMeta.

See also:

Important features:

  • Mix and match Mirah with your parsers.
  • Error annotation to allow good error reporting.
  • Inherit parsers to extend them (from OMeta).
  • Semantic actions, using mirah or a shorthand notation.
  • Optional support for direct and indirect left recursion.
  • Parsing not just for text, but anything 'structured' (Strings, Arrays or Lists; because java is statically typed).
  • easy; easier compared to rats and antlr?


Compile with jruby -S rake. Requires java 1.5 or higher.

TODO: fix position in line/char. TODO: forbid rules names using java keywords, or build-in rules that should not
be overridden. TODO: allow inline classes; allow classes without qualifiers TODO: allow parsers with custom constructors. TODO: we could do without a runtime, by just creating inline classes, unless we inherit a grammar. TODO: implement a more fancy memoization schema, including argument support. TODO: change the syntax to be more mirah-like, or more OMeta like? TODO: Create multiple parser classes - string, list, generic, token, etc.

Error Reporting

MMeta uses ! syntax to annotate that a rule from that point on may no longer backtrack, if it does, instead of backtracking, a SyntaxError is reported, noting the last rule that was expected to pass, but failed. A rule must fully parse after the first ! appeared in the rule. It is allowed that the whole rule backtracks. Notice you cannot just put ! marks everywhere, since backtracking is the feature that makes PEGs work.

Bad Example; simplistic xml parsing:

    element: "<" ! n=name props "/>"
           | "<" ! n=name props ">" element* "<" n=name "/>" ;

The second alternative will never run, since the first is not allowed to backtrack, while it must backtrack in order to try the second alternative. (Both rule alternatives start with "<")

A much better, yet still simplistic xml parsing, which also ensures proper nesting:

    element: "<" n=name props "/" ! ">"
           | "<" ! n=name props ">" element*
             !"a closing '$n'" &("<" m=name ?{ m.equals(n) }) ! "<" name "/>" ;

Notice the use of a custom message, and the use of lookahead (&) in order to put the error message at the correct location.


In PEG based parsers, there is no separate tokenizer. This simplyfies things, but does require some thought. Best strategy is whenever you call a rule that you would normally think of as a token, to prepend it with a call to eat all whitespace, by default the . rule.

Extending the above xml sample:

    element: ."<"   .n=name props ."/" ! .">"
           | ."<" ! .n=name props        .">" element*
             !"a closing '$n'" .&("<" .m=name ?{return m.equals(n);}) ! ."<" .name ! ."/".">" ;

Notice the . just before the lookahead block (&...), and not inside, to keep the position of the error report correct.

Mirah Caveats

MMeta does not understand mirah code at all. It fakes it. This has some consequences:

  1. Methods must be surrounded with braces instead of using end.
  2. When writing semantic expressions, make sure to match the curly braces. Even inside strings. you may need to add a closing brace inside a comment, just to balance the braces.
  3. Memoized rules return Object by default. You either need to cast the result or you can use $Memo[String] to declare a rule should be memoized and return a string.
  4. The parser throws a SyntaxError on error, which is not an Exception, but an Error, so take care to catch it correctly.

Semantic Actions

Any rule always returns its last evaluated rule or semantic action. You can place semantic actions anywhere, and have many of them. They are like methods that get called with all previously defined variables.

To make it easier to parse text into an Array based AST, MMeta has a shorthand notation, and two list helper functions, that receive Objects which may be Object[] arrays or Lists: concat(head:Object, tail:Object); join(list:Object, sep="").

example shorthand:

  // equivalent
  name: f=nstart rs=nrest* { [f] + rs } ;
  name: f=nstart rs=nrest* { concat([ f ], rs) } ;

And example of the join method:

  string = "\"" xs=(~"\"" _)* "\"" { join(xs) } ;

Notice that in any semantic action you can execute arbitrary Mirah, including assigning to member fields or running methods.

Parser creation notes

Also see sample below. Since PEGs backtrack, you must be careful when using side-effects. That is, it is best that rules return a value that represents everything about that rule, instead of mutating some instance variable of the parser.

Also, since MMeta is good at parsing Array based structures too, it is recommended you parse in two steps (using two distict parsers):

1) Parse the string content to a (simplistic/verbose) AST. Focus on handling human input, so create a flexible syntax, easy to understand for humans, and provide good syntax error reporting.

2) Analyze the AST, rework it into the final thing you want. Here you report semantic errors. But you can rely on the fact that the AST is produced by your first parser, so is completely valid. Any syntax error here is a bug in either this parser, or the first.

annotated example

# single line comments
/* multi line comments

   A simple calculator example, save as `Calculator.mmeta`

   compile to java file:
     `java -jar mmeta.jar Calculator.mmeta Calculator.mirah`
   compile to class file:
     `mirahc --classpath /usr/share/java/jmeta-runtime.jar Calculator.mirah`
     `java -cp/usr/share/java/jmeta-runtime.jar:. Calculator "10 + 10"`
// this parser will turn into: `class Calculator < BaseParser; ...`
parser Calculator {
    // defining a mirah method
    def self.main(args:String): void {
        ast =[0])

    // this is mmeta syntax; the 'start' rule is the default rule to start with
    // notible:
    //  `!` means a syntax error occured if the rule backtracks after this point
    //  `.` means any whitespace (it runs the build-in rule `whitespace`)
    //  `end` matches end of input, equivalent to `~_` (not anything)
    //  `e=expr` means, parse an expression and assign it to the variable `e`
    //  `{ e }`  means run a semantic action, in this case, return `e`
    start: ! e=expr . end      { e };
        | l=expr ."+"! r=expr1 { ['ADD, l, r] }
        | l=expr ."-"! r=expr1 { ['SUB, l, r] }
        | expr1
        | l=expr1 ."*"! r=value { ['MUL, l, r] }
        | l=expr1 ."/"! r=value { ['DIV, l, r] }
        | l=expr1 ."%"! r=value { ['MOD, l, r] }
        | value
        | ."(" ! e=expr .")" { e }
        | . n=num              { ['INT, n] }
    num: ds=digit+ { Integer.valueOf(Integer.parseInt(join(ds))) } ;

// a second parser in the same file
// notice this parser does not process text, but a tree like nesting of Arrays
// and Lists
// the `[` opens up such a list, and starts parsing inside of it the matching
//  `]` backs up one level. `end` in this context means end of list, not
// necessarily end of input
parser Interpreter {
    start: destruct ;

    // a trick, parse anything and then apply the corresponding rule
    destruct: r=_ res=apply(r) end   { res } ;
    val: [ res=destruct ]            { res } ;

    ADD: l=val r=val
         { Integer.valueOf(Integer(l).intValue + Integer(r).intValue) } ;
    SUB: l=val r=val
         { Integer.valueOf(Integer(l).intValue - Integer(r).intValue) } ;
    MUL: l=val r=val
         { Integer.valueOf(Integer(l).intValue * Integer(r).intValue) } ;
    DIV: l=val r=val
         { Integer.valueOf(Integer(l).intValue / Integer(r).intValue) } ;
    MOD: l=val r=val
         { Integer.valueOf(Integer(l).intValue % Integer(r).intValue) } ;
    INT: v=_ ;
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