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The Internals of the Mono C# Compiler
Miguel de Icaza
2002, 2007, 2009
* Abstract
The Mono C# compiler is a C# compiler written in C# itself.
Its goals are to provide a free and alternate implementation
of the C# language. The Mono C# compiler generates ECMA CIL
images through the use of the System.Reflection.Emit API which
enable the compiler to be platform independent.
* Overview: How the compiler fits together
The compilation process is managed by the compiler driver (it
lives in driver.cs).
The compiler reads a set of C# source code files, and parses
them. Any assemblies or modules that the user might want to
use with his project are loaded after parsing is done.
Once all the files have been parsed, the type hierarchy is
resolved. First interfaces are resolved, then types and
Once the type hierarchy is resolved, every type is populated:
fields, methods, indexers, properties, events and delegates
are entered into the type system.
At this point the program skeleton has been completed. The
next process is to actually emit the code for each of the
executable methods. The compiler drives this from
Each type then has to populate its methods: populating a
method requires creating a structure that is used as the state
of the block being emitted (this is the EmitContext class) and
then generating code for the topmost statement (the Block).
Code generation has two steps: the first step is the semantic
analysis (Resolve method) that resolves any pending tasks, and
guarantees that the code is correct. The second phase is the
actual code emission. All errors are flagged during in the
"Resolution" process.
After all code has been emitted, then the compiler closes all
the types (this basically tells the Reflection.Emit library to
finish up the types), resources, and definition of the entry
point are done at this point, and the output is saved to
The following list will give you an idea of where the
different pieces of the compiler live:
This drives the compilation process: loading of
command line options; parsing the inputs files;
loading the referenced assemblies; resolving the type
hierarchy and emitting the code.
The state tracking for code generation.
Code to do semantic analysis and emit the attributes
is here.
Keeps track of the types defined in the source code,
as well as the assemblies loaded.
This contains the MCS type system.
Error and warning reporting methods.
Assorted utility functions used by the compiler.
The tokenizer for the C# language, it includes also
the C# pre-processor.
cs-parser.jay, cs-parser.cs:
The parser is implemented using a C# port of the Yacc
parser. The parser lives in the cs-parser.jay file,
and cs-parser.cs is the generated parser.
The `location' structure is a compact representation
of a file, line, column where a token, or a high-level
construct appears. This is used to report errors.
Basic expression classes, and interfaces most shared
code and static methods are here.
Most of the different kinds of expressions classes
live in this file.
The assignment expression got its own file.
The classes that represent the constant expressions.
Literals are constants that have been entered manually
in the source code, like `1' or `true'. The compiler
needs to tell constants from literals apart during the
compilation process, as literals sometimes have some
implicit extra conversions defined for them.
The constant folder for binary expressions.
All of the abstract syntax tree elements for
statements live in this file. This also drives the
semantic analysis process.
Contains the support for implementing iterators from
the C# 2.0 specification.
Declarations, Classes, Structs, Enumerations
This contains the base class for Members and
Declaration Spaces. A declaration space introduces
new names in types, so classes, structs, delegates and
enumerations derive from it.
Methods for holding and defining class and struct
information, and every member that can be in these
(methods, fields, delegates, events, etc).
The most interesting type here is the `TypeContainer'
which is a derivative of the `DeclSpace'
Handles delegate definition and use.
Handles enumerations.
Holds and defines interfaces. All the code related to
interface declaration lives here.
During the parsing process, the compiler encapsulates
parameters in the Parameter and Parameters classes.
These classes provide definition and resolution tools
for them.
Routines to track pending implementations of abstract
methods and interfaces. These are used by the
TypeContainer-derived classes to track whether every
method required is implemented.
* The parsing process
All the input files that make up a program need to be read in
advance, because C# allows declarations to happen after an
entity is used, for example, the following is a valid program:
class X : Y {
static void Main ()
a = "hello"; b = "world";
string a;
class Y {
public string b;
At the time the assignment expression `a = "hello"' is parsed,
it is not know whether a is a class field from this class, or
its parents, or whether it is a property access or a variable
reference. The actual meaning of `a' will not be discovered
until the semantic analysis phase.
** The Tokenizer and the pre-processor
The tokenizer is contained in the file `cs-tokenizer.cs', and
the main entry point is the `token ()' method. The tokenizer
implements the `yyParser.yyInput' interface, which is what the
Yacc/Jay parser will use when fetching tokens.
Token definitions are generated by jay during the compilation
process, and those can be references from the tokenizer class
with the `Token.' prefix.
Each time a token is returned, the location for the token is
recorded into the `Location' property, that can be accessed by
the parser. The parser retrieves the Location properties as
it builds its internal representation to allow the semantic
analysis phase to produce error messages that can pin point
the location of the problem.
Some tokens have values associated with it, for example when
the tokenizer encounters a string, it will return a
LITERAL_STRING token, and the actual string parsed will be
available in the `Value' property of the tokenizer. The same
mechanism is used to return integers and floating point
C# has a limited pre-processor that allows conditional
compilation, but it is not as fully featured as the C
pre-processor, and most notably, macros are missing. This
makes it simple to implement in very few lines and mesh it
with the tokenizer.
The `handle_preprocessing_directive' method in the tokenizer
handles all the pre-processing, and it is invoked when the '#'
symbol is found as the first token in a line.
The state of the pre-processor is contained in a Stack called
`ifstack', this state is used to track the if/elif/else/endif
nesting and the current state. The state is encoded in the
top of the stack as a number of values `TAKING',
To debug problems in your grammar, you need to edit the
Makefile and make sure that the -ct options are passed to
jay. The current incarnation says:
./../jay/jay -c < ./../jay/skeleton.cs cs-parser.jay
During debugging, you want to change this to:
./../jay/jay -cvt < ./../jay/skeleton.cs cs-parser.jay
This generates a parser with debugging information and allows
you to activate verbose parser output in both the csharp
command and the mcs command by passing the "-v -v" flag (-v
When you do this, standard output will have a dump of the
tokens parsed and how the parser reacted to those. You can
look up the states with the y.output file that contains the
entire parser state diagram in human readable form.
** Locations
Locations are encoded as a 32-bit number (the Location
struct) that map each input source line to a linear number.
As new files are parsed, the Location manager is informed of
the new file, to allow it to map back from an int constant to
a file + line number.
Prior to parsing/tokenizing any source files, the compiler
generates a list of all the source files and then reserves the
low N bits of the location to hold the source file, where N is
large enough to hold at least twice as many source files as were
specified on the command line (to allow for a #line in each file).
The upper 32-N bits are the line number in that file.
The token 0 is reserved for ``anonymous'' locations, ie. if we
don't know the location (Location.Null).
* The Parser
The parser is written using Jay, which is a port of Berkeley
Yacc to Java, that I later ported to C#.
Many people ask why the grammar of the parser does not match
exactly the definition in the C# specification. The reason is
simple: the grammar in the C# specification is designed to be
consumed by humans, and not by a computer program. Before
you can feed this grammar to a tool, it needs to be simplified
to allow the tool to generate a correct parser for it.
In the Mono C# compiler, we use a class for each of the
statements and expressions in the C# language. For example,
there is a `While' class for the `while' statement, a
`Cast' class to represent a cast expression and so on.
There is a Statement class, and an Expression class which are
the base classes for statements and expressions.
** Namespaces
Using list.
* Internal Representation
** Expressions
Expressions in the Mono C# compiler are represented by the
`Expression' class. This is an abstract class that particular
kinds of expressions have to inherit from and override a few
The base Expression class contains two fields: `eclass' which
represents the "expression classification" (from the C#
specs) and the type of the expression.
During parsing, the compiler will create the various trees of
expressions. These expressions have to be resolved before they
can be used. The semantic analysis is implemented by
resolving each of the expressions created during parsing and
creating fully resolved expressions.
A common pattern that you will notice in the compiler is this:
Expression expr;
expr = expr.Resolve (ec);
if (expr == null)
// There was an error, stop processing by returning
The resolution process is implemented by overriding the
`DoResolve' method. The DoResolve method has to set the `eclass'
field and the `type', perform all error checking and computations
that will be required for code generation at this stage.
The return value from DoResolve is an expression. Most of the
time an Expression derived class will return itself (return
this) when it will handle the emission of the code itself, or
it can return a new Expression.
For example, the parser will create an "ElementAccess" class
a [0] = 1;
During the resolution process, the compiler will know whether
this is an array access, or an indexer access. And will
return either an ArrayAccess expression or an IndexerAccess
expression from DoResolve.
All errors must be reported during the resolution phase
(DoResolve) and if an error is detected the DoResolve method
will return null which is used to flag that an error condition
has occurred, this will be used to stop compilation later on.
This means that anyone that calls Expression.Resolve must
check the return value for null which would indicate an error
The second stage that Expressions participate in is code
generation, this is done by overwriting the "Emit" method of
the Expression class. No error checking must be performed
during this stage.
We take advantage of the distinction between the expressions that
are generated by the parser and the expressions that are the
result of the semantic analysis phase for lambda expressions (more
information in the "Lambda Expressions" section).
But what is important is that expressions and statements that are
generated by the parser should implement the cloning
functionality. This is used lambda expressions require the
compiler to attempt to resolve a given block of code with
different possible types for parameters that have their types
implicitly inferred.
** Simple Names, MemberAccess
One of the most important classes in the compiler is
"SimpleName" which represents a simple name (from the C#
specification). The names during the resolution time are
bound to field names, parameter names or local variable names.
More complicated expressions like:
Are composed using the MemberAccess class which contains a
name (Math) and a SimpleName (Sin), this helps driving the
resolution process.
** Types
The parser creates expressions to represent types during
compilation. For example:
class Sample {
Version vers;
That will produce a "SimpleName" expression for the "Version"
word. And in this particular case, the parser will introduce
"Version vers" as a field declaration.
During the resolution process for the fields, the compiler
will have to resolve the word "Version" to a type. This is
done by using the "ResolveAsType" method in Expression instead
of using "Resolve".
ResolveAsType just turns on a different set of code paths for
things like SimpleNames and does a different kind of error
checking than the one used by regular expressions.
** Constants
Constants in the Mono C# compiler are represented by the
abstract class `Constant'. Constant is in turn derived from
Expression. The base constructor for `Constant' just sets the
expression class to be an `ExprClass.Value', Constants are
born in a fully resolved state, so the `DoResolve' method
only returns a reference to itself.
Each Constant should implement the `GetValue' method which
returns an object with the actual contents of this constant, a
utility virtual method called `AsString' is used to render a
diagnostic message. The output of AsString is shown to the
developer when an error or a warning is triggered.
Constant classes also participate in the constant folding
process. Constant folding is invoked by those expressions
that can be constant folded invoking the functionality
provided by the ConstantFold class (cfold.cs).
Each Constant has to implement a number of methods to convert
itself into a Constant of a different type. These methods are
called `ConvertToXXXX' and they are invoked by the wrapper
functions `ToXXXX'. These methods only perform implicit
numeric conversions. Explicit conversions are handled by the
`Cast' expression class.
The `ToXXXX' methods are the entry point, and provide error
reporting in case a conversion can not be performed.
** Constant Folding
The C# language requires constant folding to be implemented.
Constant folding is hooked up in the Binary.Resolve method.
If both sides of a binary expression are constants, then the
ConstantFold.BinaryFold routine is invoked.
This routine implements all the binary operator rules, it
is a mirror of the code that generates code for binary
operators, but that has to be evaluated at runtime.
If the constants can be folded, then a new constant expression
is returned, if not, then the null value is returned (for
example, the concatenation of a string constant and a numeric
constant is deferred to the runtime).
** Side effects
a [i++]++
a [i++] += 5;
** Optimalizations
Compiler does some limited high-level optimalizations when
-optimize option is used
*** Instance field initializer to default value
Code to optimize:
class C
enum E
int i = 0; // Field will not be redundantly assigned
int i2 = new int (); // This will be also completely optimized out
E e = E.Test; // Even this will go out.
** Statements
*** Invariant meaning in a block
The seemingly small section in the standard entitled
"invariant meaning in a block" has several subtleties
involved, especially when we try to implement the semantics
Most of the semantics are trivial, and basically prevent local
variables from shadowing parameters and other local variables.
However, this notion is not limited to that, but affects all
simple name accesses within a block. And therein lies the rub
-- instead of just worrying about the issue when we arrive at
variable declarations, we need to verify this property at
every use of a simple name within a block.
The key notion that helps us is to note the bi-directional
action of a variable declaration. The declaration together
with anti-shadowing rules can maintain the IMiaB property for
the block containing the declaration and all nested sub
blocks. But, the IMiaB property also forces all surrounding
blocks to avoid using the name. We thus need to maintain a
blacklist of taboo names in all surrounding blocks -- and we
take the expedient of doing so simply: actually maintaining a
(superset of the) blacklist in each block data structure, which
we call the 'known_variable' list.
Because we create the 'known_variable' list during the parse
process, by the time we do simple name resolution, all the
blacklists are fully populated. So, we can just enforce the
rest of the IMiaB property by looking up a couple of lists.
This turns out to be quite efficient: when we used a block
tree walk, a test case took 5-10mins, while with this simple
mildly-redundant data structure, the time taken for the same
test case came down to a couple of seconds.
The IKnownVariable interface is a small wrinkle. Firstly, the
IMiaB also applies to parameter names, especially those of
anonymous methods. Secondly, we need more information than
just the name in the blacklist -- we need the location of the
name and where it's declared. We use the IKnownVariable
interface to abstract out the parser information stored for
local variables and parameters.
* The semantic analysis
Hence, the compiler driver has to parse all the input files.
Once all the input files have been parsed, and an internal
representation of the input program exists, the following
steps are taken:
* The interface hierarchy is resolved first.
As the interface hierarchy is constructed,
TypeBuilder objects are created for each one of
* Classes and structure hierarchy is resolved next,
TypeBuilder objects are created for them.
* Constants and enumerations are resolved.
* Method, indexer, properties, delegates and event
definitions are now entered into the TypeBuilders.
* Elements that contain code are now invoked to
perform semantic analysis and code generation.
* References loading
Most programs use external references (assemblies and modules).
Compiler loads all referenced top-level types from referenced
assemblies into import cached. It imports initialy only C#
valid top-level types all other members are imported on demand
when needed.
* Namespaces definition
Before any type resolution can be done we define all compiled
namespaces. This is mainly done to prepare using clauses of each
namespace block before any type resolution takes a place.
* Types definition
The first step of type definition is to resolve base class or
base interfaces to correctly setup type hierarchy before any
member is defined.
At this point we do some error checking and verify that the
members inheritance is correct and some other members
oriented checks.
By the time we are done, all classes, structs and interfaces
have been defined and all their members have been defined as
* MemberCache
MemberCache is one of core compiler components. It maintains information
about types and their members. It tries to be as fast as possible
because almost all resolve operations end up querying members info in
some way.
MemberCache is not definition but specification oriented to maintain
differences between inflated versions of generic types. This makes usage
of MemberCache simple because consumer does not need to care how to inflate
current member and returned type information will always give correctly
inflated type. However setting MemberCache up is one of the most complicated
parts of the compiler due to possible dependencies when types are defined
and complexity of nested types.
* Output Generation
** Code Generation
The EmitContext class is created any time that IL code is to
be generated (methods, properties, indexers and attributes all
create EmitContexts).
The EmitContext keeps track of the current namespace and type
container. This is used during name resolution.
An EmitContext is used by the underlying code generation
facilities to track the state of code generation:
* The ILGenerator used to generate code for this
* The TypeContainer where the code lives, this is used
to access the TypeBuilder.
* The DeclSpace, this is used to resolve names through
RootContext.LookupType in the various statements and
Code generation state is also tracked here:
* CheckState:
This variable tracks the `checked' state of the
compilation, it controls whether we should generate
code that does overflow checking, or if we generate
code that ignores overflows.
The default setting comes from the command line
option to generate checked or unchecked code plus
any source code changes using the checked/unchecked
statements or expressions. Contrast this with the
ConstantCheckState flag.
* ConstantCheckState
The constant check state is always set to `true' and
cant be changed from the command line. The source
code can change this setting with the `checked' and
`unchecked' statements and expressions.
* IsStatic
Whether we are emitting code inside a static or
instance method
* ReturnType
The value that is allowed to be returned or NULL if
there is no return type.
* ReturnLabel
A `Label' used by the code if it must jump to it.
This is used by a few routines that deals with exception
* HasReturnLabel
Whether we have a return label defined by the toplevel
* ContainerType
Points to the Type (extracted from the
TypeContainer) that declares this body of code
* IsConstructor
Whether this is generating code for a constructor
* CurrentBlock
Tracks the current block being generated.
* ReturnLabel;
The location where return has to jump to return the
A few variables are used to track the state for checking in
for loops, or in try/catch statements:
* InFinally
Whether we are in a Finally block
* InTry
Whether we are in a Try block
* InCatch
Whether we are in a Catch block
* InUnsafe
Whether we are inside an unsafe block
Methods exposed by the EmitContext:
* EmitTopBlock()
This emits a toplevel block.
This routine is very simple, to allow the anonymous
method support to roll its two-stage version of this
routine on its own.
* NeedReturnLabel ():
This is used to flag during the resolution phase that
the driver needs to initialize the `ReturnLabel'
* Anonymous Methods
The introduction of anonymous methods in the compiler changed
various ways of doing things in the compiler. The most
significant one is the hard split between the resolution phase
and the emission phases of the compiler.
For instance, routines that referenced local variables no
longer can safely create temporary variables during the
resolution phase: they must do so from the emission phase,
since the variable might have been "captured", hence access to
it can not be done with the local-variable operations from the
The code emission is in:
EmitTopBlock ()
Which drives the process, it first resolves the topblock, then
emits the required metadata (local variable definitions) and
finally emits the code.
A detailed description of anonymous methods and iterators is
on the new-anonymous-design.txt file in this directory.
* Lambda Expressions
Lambda expressions can come in two forms: those that have implicit
parameter types and those that have explicit parameter types, for
Foo ((int x) => x + 1);
Foo (x => x + 1)
One of the problems that we faced with lambda expressions is
that lambda expressions need to be "probed" with different
types until a working combination is found.
For example:
x => x.i
The above expression could mean vastly different things depending
on the type of "x". The compiler determines the type of "x" (left
hand side "x") at the moment the above expression is "bound",
which means that during the compilation process it will try to
match the above lambda with all the possible types available, for
delegate int di (int x);
delegate string ds (string s);
Foo (di x) {}
Foo (ds x) {}
Foo (x => "string")
In the above example, overload resolution will try "x" as an "int"
and will try "x" as a string. And if one of them "compiles" thats
the one it picks (and it also copes with ambiguities if there was
more than one matching method).
To compile this, we need to hook into the resolution process,
but since the resolution process has side effects (calling
Resolve can either return instances of the resolved expression
type, or can alter field internals) it was necessary to
incorporate a framework to "clone" expressions before we
The support for cloning was added into Statements and
Expressions and is only necessary for objects of those types
that are created during parsing. It is not necessary to
support these in the classes that are the result of calling
Resolve. This means that SimpleName needs support for
Cloning, but FieldExpr does not need it (SimpleName is created
by the parser, FieldExpr is created during semantic analysis
The work happens through the public method called "Clone" that
clones the given Statement or Expression. The base method in
Statement and Expression merely does a MemberwiseCopy of the
elements and then calls the virtual CloneTo method to complete
the copy. By default this method throws an exception, this
is useful to catch cases where we forgot to override CloneTo
for a given Statement/Expression.
With the cloning capability it became possible to call resolve
multiple times (once for each Cloned copy) and based on this
picking the one implementation that would compile and that
would not be ambiguous.
The cloning process is basically a deep copy that happens in the
LambdaExpression class and it clones the top-level block for the
lambda expression. The cloning has the side effect of cloning
the entire containing block as well.
This happens inside this method:
public override bool ImplicitStandardConversionExists (Type delegate_type)
This is used to determine if the current Lambda expression can be
implicitly converted to the given delegate type.
And also happens as a result of the generic method parameter
type inferencing.
** Lambda Expressions and Cloning
All statements that are created during the parsing method should
implement the CloneTo method:
protected virtual void CloneTo (CloneContext clonectx, Statement target)
This method is called by the Statement.Clone method after it has
done a shallow-copy of all the fields in the statement, and they
should typically Clone any child statements.
Expressions should implement the CloneTo method as well:
protected virtual void CloneTo (CloneContext clonectx, Expression target)
** Lambda Expressions and Contextual Return
When an expression is parsed as a lambda expression, the parser
inserts a call to a special statement, the contextual return.
The expression:
a => a+1
Is actually compiled as:
a => contextual_return (a+1)
The contextual_return statement will behave differently depending
on the return type of the delegate that the expression will be
converted to.
If the delegate return type is void, the above will basically turn
into an empty operation. Otherwise the above will become
a return statement that can infer return types.
* Debugger support
Compiler produces .mdb symbol file for better debugging experience. The
process is quite straightforward. For every statement or a block there
is an entry in symbol file. Each entry includes of start location of
the statement and it's starting IL offset in the method. For most statements
this is easy but few need special handling (e.g. do, while).
When sequence point is needed to represent original location and no IL
entry is written for the line we emit `nop' instruction. This is done only
for very few constructs (e.g. block opening brace).
Captured variables are not treated differently at the moment. Debugger has
internal knowledge of their mangled names and how to decode them.
* IKVM.Reflection vs System.Reflection
Mono compiler can be compiled using different reflection backends. At the
moment we support System.Reflection and IKVM.Reflection they both use same
API as official System.Reflection.Emit API which allows us to maintain only
single version of compiler with few using aliases to specialise.
The backends are not plug-able but require compiler to be compiled with
specific STATIC define when targeting IKVM.Reflection.
IKVM.Reflection is used for static compilation. This means the compiler runs
in batch mode like most compilers do. It can target any runtime version and
use any mscorlib. The mcs.exe is using IKVM.Reflection.
System.Reflection is used for dynamic compilation. This mode is used by
our REPL and Evaluator API. Produced IL code is not written to disc but
executed by runtime (JIT). Mono.CSharp.dll is using System.Reflection and
* Evaluation API
The compiler can now be used as a library, the API exposed
lives in the Mono.CSharp.Evaluator class and it can currently
compile statements and expressions passed as strings and
compile or compile and execute immediately.
As of April 2009 this creates a new in-memory assembly for
each statement evaluated.
To support this evaluator mode, the evaluator API primes the
tokenizer with an initial character that would not appear in
valid C# code and is one of:
int EvalStatementParserCharacter = 0x2190; // Unicode Left Arrow
int EvalCompilationUnitParserCharacter = 0x2191; // Unicode Arrow
int EvalUsingDeclarationsParserCharacter = 0x2192; // Unicode Arrow
These character are turned into the following tokens:
This means that the first token returned by the tokenizer when
used by the Evalutor API is a special token that helps the
yacc parser go from the traditional parsing of a full
compilation-unit to the interactive parsing:
The entry production for the compiler basically becomes:
// The standard rules
: outer_declarations opt_EOF
| outer_declarations global_attributes opt_EOF
| global_attributes opt_EOF
| opt_EOF /* allow empty files */
// The rule that allows interactive parsing
| interactive_parsing { Lexer.CompleteOnEOF = false; } opt_EOF
// This is where Evaluator API drives the compilation
interactive_statement_list opt_COMPLETE_COMPLETION
Since there is a little bit of ambiguity for example in the
presence of the using directive and the using statement a
micro-predicting parser with multiple token look aheads is
used in eval.cs to resolve the ambiguity and produce the
actual token that will drive the compilation.
This helps this scenario:
using System;
using (var x = File.OpenRead) {}
This is the meaning of these new initial tokens:
Used to parse statements or expressions as statements.
This instructs the parser to merely do using-directive
parsing instead of statement parsing.
Used to evaluate toplevel declarations like namespaces
and classes.
The feature is currently disabled because later stages
of the compiler are not yet able to lookup previous
definitions of classes.
What happens is that between each call to Evaluate()
we reset the compiler state and at this stage we drop
also any existing definitions, so evaluating "class X
{}" followed by "class Y : X {}" does not currently
We need to make sure that new type definitions used
interactively are preseved from one evaluation to the
The evaluator the expression or statement `BODY' is hosted
inside a wrapper class. If the statement is a variable
declaration then the declaration is split from the assignment
This is what the code generated looks like:
public class Foo : $InteractiveBaseClass {
static void Host (ref object $retval)
Since both statements and expressions are mixed together and
it is useful to use the Evaluator to compute expressions we
return expressions for example for "1+2" in the `retval'
reference object.
To support this, the reference retval parameter is set to a
special internal value that means "Value was not set" before
the method Host is invoked. During parsing the parser turns
expressions like "1+2" into:
retval = 1 + 2;
This is done using a special OptionalAssign
ExpressionStatement class.
When the Host method return, if the value of retval is still
the special flag no value was set. Otherwise the result of
the expression is in retval.
The `InteractiveBaseClass' is the base class for the method,
this allows for embedders to provide different base classes
that could expose new static methods that could be useful
during expression evaluation.
Our default implementation is InteractiveBaseClass and new
implementations should derive from this and set the property
in the Evaluator to it.
In the future we will move to creating dynamic methods as the
wrapper for this code.
* Code Completion
Support for code completion is available to allow the compiler
to provide a list of possible completions at any given point
int he parsing process. This is used for Tab-completion in
an interactive shell or visual aids in GUI shells for possible
method completions.
This method is available as part of the Evaluator API where a
special method GetCompletions returns a list of possible
completions given a partial input.
The parser and tokenizer work together so that the tokenizer
upon reaching the end of the input generates the following
tokens: GENERATE_COMPLETION followed by as many
COMPLETE_COMPLETION token and finally the EOF token.
GENERATE_COMPLETION needs to be handled in every production
where the user is likely to press the TAB key in the shell (or
in the future the GUI, or an explicit request in an IDE).
COMPLETE_COMPLETION must be handled throughout the grammar to
provide a way of completing the parsed expression. See below
for details.
For the member access case, I have added productions that
mirror the non-completing productions, for example:
LocatedToken lt = (LocatedToken) $3;
$$ = new CompletionMemberAccess ((Expression) $1, lt.Value, lt.Location);
This mirrors:
primary_expression DOT IDENTIFIER opt_type_argument_list
LocatedToken lt = (LocatedToken) $3;
$$ = new MemberAccess ((Expression) $1, lt.Value, (TypeArguments) $4, lt.Location);
The CompletionMemberAccess is a new kind of
Mono.CSharp.Expression that does the actual lookup. It
internally mimics some of the MemberAccess code but has been
tuned for this particular use.
After this initial token is processed GENERATE_COMPLETION the
tokenizer will emit COMPLETE_COMPLETION tokens. This is done
to help the parser basically produce a valid result from the
partial input it received. For example it is able to produce
a valid AST from "(x" even if no parenthesis has been closed.
This is achieved by sprinkling the grammar with productions
that can cope with this "winding down" token, for example this
is what parenthesized_expression looks like now:
$$ = new ParenthesizedExpression ((Expression) $2);
// New production
$$ = new ParenthesizedExpression ((Expression) $2);
Once we have wrapped up everything we generate the last EOF token.
When the AST is complete we actually trigger the regular
semantic analysis process. The DoResolve method of each node
in our abstract syntax tree will compute the result and
communicate the possible completions by throwing an exception
of type CompletionResult.
So for example if the user type "T" and the completion is
"ToString" we return "oString".
** Enhancing Completion
Code completion is a process that will be curated over time.
Just like producing good error reports and warnings is an
iterative process, to find a good balance, the code completion
engine in the compiler will require tuning to find the right
balance for the end user.
This section explains the basic process by which you can
improve the code completion by using a real life sample.
Once you add the GENERATE_COMPLETION token to your grammar
rule, chances are, you will need to alter the grammar to
support COMPLETE_COMPLETION all the way up to the toplevel
To debug this, you will want to try the completion with either
a sample program or with the `csharp' tool.
I use this setup:
$ csharp -v -v
This will turn on the parser debugging output and will
generate a lot of data when parsing its input (make sure that
your parser has been compiled with the -v flag, see above for
To start with a new completion scheme, type your C# code and
then hit the tab key to trigger the completion engine. In the
generated output you will want to look for the first time that
the parser got the GENERATE_COMPLETION token, it will look
like this:
lex state 414 reading GENERATE_COMPLETION value {interactive}(1,35):
The first word `lex' indicates that the parser called the
lexer at state 414 (more on this in a second) and it got back
from the lexer the token GENERATE_COMPLETION. If this is a
kind of completion chances are, you will get an error
immediately as the rules at that point do not know how to cope
with the stream of COMPLETE_COMPLETION tokens that will
follow, they will look like this:
error syntax error
pop state 414 on error
pop state 805 on error
pop state 628 on error
pop state 417 on error
The first line means that the parser has entered the error
state and will pop states until it can find a production that
can deal with the error. At that point an error message will
be displayed.
Open the file `y.output' which describes the parser states
generated by jay and search for the state that was reported
previously in `lex' that got the GENERATE_COMPLETION:
state 414
object_or_collection_initializer : OPEN_BRACE . opt_member_initializer_list CLOSE_BRACE (444)
object_or_collection_initializer : OPEN_BRACE . member_initializer_list COMMA CLOSE_BRACE (445)
opt_member_initializer_list : . (446)
We now know that the parser was in the middle of parsing an
`object_or_collection_initializer' and had alread seen the
The `.' after OPEN_BRACE indicates the current state of the
parser, and this is where our parser got the
GENERATE_COMPLETION token. As you can see from the three
rules in this sample, support for GENERATE_COMPLETION did not
So we must edit the grammar to add a production for this case,
I made the code look like this:
LocatedToken lt = $1 as LocatedToken;
$$ = new CompletionElementInitializer (GetLocation ($1));
This new production creates the class
CompletionElementInitializer and returns this as the value for
this. The following is a trivial implementation that always
returns "foo" and "bar" as the two completions and it
illustrates how things work:
public class CompletionElementInitializer : CompletingExpression {
public CompletionElementInitializer (Location l)
this.loc = l;
public override Expression DoResolve (EmitContext ec)
string [] = new string [] { "foo", "bar" };
throw new CompletionResult ("", result);
// You should implement CloneTo if your CompletingExpression
// keeps copies to Statements or Expressions. CloneTo
// is used by the lambda engine, so you should always
// implement this
protected override void CloneTo (CloneContext clonectx, Expression t)
// We do not keep references to anything interesting
// so cloning is an empty operation.
We then rebuild our compiler:
(cd mcs/; make cs-parser.jay)
(cd class/Mono.CSharp; make install)
And re-run csharp:
(cd tools/csharp; csharp -v -v)
Chances are, you will get another error, but this time it will
not be for the GENERATE_COMPLETION, we already handled that
one. This time it will be for COMPLETE_COMPLETION.
The remaining of the process is iterative: you need to locate
the state where this error happens. It will look like this:
lex state 623 reading COMPLETE_COMPLETION value {interactive}(1,35):
error syntax error
And make sure that the state can handle at this point a
parser needs to complete constructing the parse tree, so
productions that handle COMPLETE_COMPLETION need to wrap
things up with whatever data they have available and just make
it so that the parser can complete.
To avoid rule duplication you can use the
opt_COMPLETE_COMPLETION production and append it to an
existing production:
* Miscellaneous
** Error Processing.
Errors are reported during the various stages of the
compilation process. The compiler stops its processing if
there are errors between the various phases. This simplifies
the code, because it is safe to assume always that the data
structures that the compiler is operating on are always
The error codes in the Mono C# compiler are the same as those
found in the Microsoft C# compiler, with a few exceptions
(where we report a few more errors, those are documented in
mcs/errors/errors.txt). The goal is to reduce confusion to
the users, and also to help us track the progress of the
compiler in terms of the errors we report.
The Report class provides error and warning display functions,
and also keeps an error count which is used to stop the
compiler between the phases.
A couple of debugging tools are available here, and are useful
when extending or fixing bugs in the compiler. If the
`--fatal' flag is passed to the compiler, the Report.Error
routine will throw an exception. This can be used to pinpoint
the location of the bug and examine the variables around the
error location. If you pass a number to --fatal the exception
will only be thrown when the error count reaches the specified
Warnings can be turned into errors by using the `--werror'
flag to the compiler.
The report class also ignores warnings that have been
specified on the command line with the `--nowarn' flag.
Finally, code in the compiler uses the global variable
RootContext.WarningLevel in a few places to decide whether a
warning is worth reporting to the user or not.
** Debugging the compiler
Sometimes it is convenient to find *how* a particular error
message is being reported from, to do that, you might want to use
the --fatal flag to mcs. The flag will instruct the compiler to
abort with a stack trace execution when the error is reported.
You can use this with -warnaserror to obtain the same effect
with warnings.
** Debugging the Parser.
A useful trick while debugging the parser is to pass the -v
command line option to the compiler.
The -v command line option will dump the various Yacc states
as well as the tokens that are being returned from the
tokenizer to the compiler.
This is useful when tracking down problems when the compiler
is not able to parse an expression correctly.
You can match the states reported with the contents of the
y.output file, a file that contains the parsing tables and
human-readable information about the generated parser.
* Editing the compiler sources
The compiler sources are intended to be edited with 134
columns of width.
* Quick Hacks
Once you have a full build of mcs, you can improve your
development time by just issuing make in the `mcs' directory or
using `make qh' in the gmcs directory.