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1b1ff89 Jul 22, 2016
@nikic @pra85 @jbrooksuk @fabpot
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Introduction

This project is a PHP 5.2 to PHP 7.1 parser written in PHP itself.

What is this for?

A parser is useful for static analysis, manipulation of code and basically any other application dealing with code programmatically. A parser constructs an Abstract Syntax Tree (AST) of the code and thus allows dealing with it in an abstract and robust way.

There are other ways of processing source code. One that PHP supports natively is using the token stream generated by token_get_all. The token stream is much more low level than the AST and thus has different applications: It allows to also analyze the exact formatting of a file. On the other hand the token stream is much harder to deal with for more complex analysis. For example an AST abstracts away the fact that in PHP variables can be written as $foo, but also as $$bar, ${'foobar'} or even ${!${''}=barfoo()}. You don't have to worry about recognizing all the different syntaxes from a stream of tokens.

Another question is: Why would I want to have a PHP parser written in PHP? Well, PHP might not be a language especially suited for fast parsing, but processing the AST is much easier in PHP than it would be in other, faster languages like C. Furthermore the people most probably wanting to do programmatic PHP code analysis are incidentally PHP developers, not C developers.

What can it parse?

The parser supports parsing PHP 5.2-5.6 and PHP 7.

As the parser is based on the tokens returned by token_get_all (which is only able to lex the PHP version it runs on), additionally a wrapper for emulating tokens from newer versions is provided. This allows to parse PHP 7.1 source code running on PHP 5.5, for example. This emulation is somewhat hacky and not perfect, but it should work well on any sane code.

What output does it produce?

The parser produces an Abstract Syntax Tree (AST) also known as a node tree. How this looks like can best be seen in an example. The program <?php echo 'Hi', 'World'; will give you a node tree roughly looking like this:

array(
    0: Stmt_Echo(
        exprs: array(
            0: Scalar_String(
                value: Hi
            )
            1: Scalar_String(
                value: World
            )
        )
    )
)

This matches the structure of the code: An echo statement, which takes two strings as expressions, with the values Hi and World!.

You can also see that the AST does not contain any whitespace information (but most comments are saved). So using it for formatting analysis is not possible.

What else can it do?

Apart from the parser itself this package also bundles support for some other, related features:

  • Support for pretty printing, which is the act of converting an AST into PHP code. Please note that "pretty printing" does not imply that the output is especially pretty. It's just how it's called ;)
  • Support for serializing and unserializing the node tree to XML
  • Support for dumping the node tree in a human readable form (see the section above for an example of how the output looks like)
  • Infrastructure for traversing and changing the AST (node traverser and node visitors)
  • A node visitor for resolving namespaced names