Low-level hobby programming language that compiles to 16-bit x86 assembly.
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ReadMe.md

U Programming Language

Introduction

Around 10 years ago, I became obsessed with computer operating systems. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think the idea of controlling the entire computer, the individual bits and bytes, appealed to me. At the time, I had been programming for a couple years and, being young and naïve, I decided I would take on the challenge of writing my own hobby system.

I had heard that one needed assembly language (at least at some level) to write such programs. From here, I searched the Internet (not as simple back then with my finicky dialup connection) for free x86 assemblers and documentation relating to them. I found a couple good ones, and proceeded to write my system.

...but assembly was HARD! It was a lot of fun to write small optimized blocks of code (and I still get a good deal of enjoyment from this) but a few years later and with only meager results (I managed to develop a control program with a basic command prompt and the beginnings of a file system) I put the project on hold indefinitely. I attempted to rewrite the system in C, but constantly got fed up with linkers and some of the housekeeping inherent to the language. The OS I wanted to write was just for fun, and using a language like this would be sort of like pheasant hunting with a howitzer, to borrow a phrase.

Recently, during my senior year as an undergrad, I took a programming languages and compilers course. In it, I was exposed to the tools Flex and Bison and they instantly became my new favorite software toys. Prior to this, I had been thinking of things that I would like in my ideal language, particularly a simple, albeit low-level one. After graduating, I was able to implement a number of these ideas in the compiler for this language that I dubbed, “U”. Granted, not all of the features that would make it an ideal language are, or may ever be, added to it (I'm quite lazy). But, in the words of Bjarne Stroustrup, such endeavors constitute a “sterile quest for perfection”.

Some things I wanted U to be:

  • a hobby language - writing a compiler for the sake of writing a compiler
  • tightly integrated with x86 assembly -> easy to read / write low-level code for real mode
  • easy to learn / read overall -> no curly braces, small list of reserved words, simple grammar (granted, some of these things are due to my inherent laziness in coding it up)
  • education -> maybe it can be helpful for learning low-level programming, assembly, and how compilers work in general

Some things that it's not meant to be / isn't:

  • well tested and suited for production code
  • portable (it's not C)
  • completely elegant and efficient (take a look at my source files - you'll understand)

At any rate, feel free to play around with the language. I can't promise it's bug free (in fact, I know it's not), but hopefully it will get improved further over time. Like Larry Wall, I reserve the right to be its "benevolent dictator", but feel free to make suggestions and use the source code for your own projects. It should finally be noted that small portions of the code (mostly in the parsetree and symboltable files) were written by Dr. Brian Turnquist at Bethel University and I have him to thank for the excellent intro course he taught on compiler construction.

With that, here's some sparse documentation. Happy coding!


License

The MIT License (MIT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Rob Upcraft

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.


Building

To make a working executable, you will need the following installed on your development machine:

In theory, other compilers and platforms should work but I haven't done extensive testing.

To build the compiler, change to the directory containing the source code and type "make". This will build an executable using the included Makefile.


Compiler

The U compiler compiles source code to a single output file containing Intel x86 opcodes. These can then be assembled to executable machine code with assemblers such as FASM or NASM.

Invoking the compiler: u [input file] [optional output file] [flags]

Invoking the compiler without any input arguments will present the user with a help screen outlining the options offered.


Language Features & Examples

General Program Structure

Every program in U, like C, contains a main() function that returns 'void'. Note that instead of opening and closing braces, each function (and other code blocks in the language) are terminated with the 'end' keyword:

void main()
	// code here
end

Comments, as in C, are expressed with either single line (//) or multi-line (/* and */) syntax. Every program is composed of a collection of functions like the following example. Note that the compiler takes multiple passes through the input files, so header files, prototypes, and function ordering are neither necessary nor relevant. Also, 'import' statements can be used outside of function blocks to import external U source files into the compiler:

// Import some other source files
import "somefile.u"
import "anotherfile.u"

/* Main function */
void main()
	print("Hello, world")
	putc('!')
end

/* Print function */
void print(byte[] str)
	// some code for printing the input string . . .
end

/* Character printing function */
void putc(byte c)
	// code for printing a single character . . .
end

Variables and Data Types

U includes 5 data types (in addition to the 'void' type) that can be used to declare variables within a program:

byte - An 8 bit byte. word - A 16 bit word. bool - Data type dedicated to storing boolean (true/false) values. byte[] - A pointer to an array of bytes. The pointer itself requires 32 bits of memory. word[] - A pointer to an array of words. The pointer itself requires 32 bits of memory.

Variables are declared and initialized in a manner very similar to C:

void main()
	byte a = 'A'	// store the character 'A' in the variable, a
	byte c			// declare the variable 'C'
	c = a			// set c to a's value
	
	// Here we declare a variable called, x, and initialize it to point to
	// the location 10:5 in memory.  In U, the value 10:5 represents the
	// 10th segment in memory with an offset of 5 bytes (seg:off).  This
	// ':' operator can be used this way in other non-constant expressions
	// as well
	byte[] x = 10:5
	byte[] y			// declare the byte pointer, y
	y = x				// set y's pointer value to x's pointer value
	
	// Point str to the string "hello, world!" in memory.  Note that this
	// string is stored in a single location, so modifying it will modify
	// in other locations that point to the identical string.
	byte[] str = "hello, world!"
end

As in C, basic mathematical operators (+, -, *, and /) as well as % (modulus) are supported. Increment (++) and decrement (--), as well as other shortcuts like the '+=' operator do not currently exist in the language.

Conditional Statements

At present, the only conditional control structure supported in U is the if-else block. Note that the words 'true' and 'false' are reserved and have their conventional boolean values:

void main()
	byte a = 'A'
	byte b = 'B'
	
	// simple if-else
	if (a == b)
		// this code shouldn't be executed
	else
		// this code should be executed
	end
	
	// if (without else)
	if (false)
		// never execute this block
	end
	
	// if with else-if blocks
	if (a == 'C')
		// don't execute this
	else if (a == 'B')
		// don't execute this either
	else if (a == 'A')
		// this looks right!
	else
		// an extra condition, just in case
	end
end

Iteration

Currently, the only loop structure supported in U is the 'while' block:

include "someio.u"
void main()
	word i = 0
	
	// print 'X' 10 times
	while (i < 10)
		putc('X')
		i = i + 1
	end
end

Inline Assembly

One of the relatively unique features of U is that is is designed to support inline Intel x86 assembly. At present, only the 'mov' and 'int' calls are supported (to take advantage of BIOS interrupt calls) but more are planned to be added as the language is further developed:

/* Main function */
void main()
	putc('A')		// print character
	putc(getc())	// print a character that the user types
end

/* Function that actually prints a character using a BIOS call */
void putc(byte c)
	asm					// start of assembly block
		mov ah, 0Eh
		mov al, [c]
		int 10h
	end					// end of assembly block
end

/* Function that gets a character from the keyboard using a BIOS call */
byte getc()
	byte c
	asm
		mov ah, 0
		int 16h
		mov [c], al
	end
	return c
end