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Good Representation for an Abstract Syntax Tree

I'm in the process of writing an interpreter for lambda calculus (i.e.
a small functional programming language) in C. I've previously written
one in Haskell so I understand at least some of the concepts involved
in writing an interpreter and I know how to define a grammar and use
lex/yacc to parse it. What I don't know is how to represent the
abstract syntax tree (AST) of my language in C. In Haskell I used
what's called an algebraic data type like so:

data Exp = Lam Id Exp
| Var Id
| App Exp Exp
| Lit Int

Legend:
Exp - expression (i.e. one of Lam, Var, App or Lit)
Lam - lambda abstraction (i.e. a function)
App - function application
Lit - integer literal
Id - variable name (i.e. a string)

How would I represent such a structure in C, perhaps with a union with
some sort of tag? I guess I would use a class hierarchy in an
object-oriented language but I really want to stay in C since I
consider this an educational experience for me (i.e. the goal is not to
write an interpreter as quickly as possible but rather learn how to do
it in an efficient way in C).

Once I have an AST I can begin applying transformations such as closure
and CPS (continuation-passing style) conversions to it and I think I
can achieve that on my own but right now finding a good AST
representation is holding me back.

P.S. For those who are interested my plan is to write an all C
interpreter for a strict functional language and use the Boehm garbage
collector.

Thanks in advance,

Johan Tibell

Jul 18 '06 #1
9 3750
jo**********@gmail.com wrote:
I'm in the process of writing an interpreter for lambda calculus (i.e.
a small functional programming language) in C. I've previously written
one in Haskell so I understand at least some of the concepts involved
in writing an interpreter and I know how to define a grammar and use
lex/yacc to parse it. What I don't know is how to represent the
abstract syntax tree (AST) of my language in C. In Haskell I used
what's called an algebraic data type like so:

data Exp = Lam Id Exp
| Var Id
| App Exp Exp
| Lit Int

Legend:
Exp - expression (i.e. one of Lam, Var, App or Lit)
Lam - lambda abstraction (i.e. a function)
App - function application
Lit - integer literal
Id - variable name (i.e. a string)

How would I represent such a structure in C, perhaps with a union with
some sort of tag? I guess I would use a class hierarchy in an
object-oriented language but I really want to stay in C since I
consider this an educational experience for me (i.e. the goal is not to
write an interpreter as quickly as possible but rather learn how to do
it in an efficient way in C).
Yes, a series of struct within a union would be reasonably efficient.
Here is one way to lay them out:

struct Exp;

struct Lam
{
char *id;
struct Exp *exp;
};

struct Var
{
char *id;
};

struct App
{
struct Exp *exp1;
struct Exp *exp2;
};

struct Lit
{
int value;
};

enum Type
{
LAM,
VAR,
APP,
LIT
};

struct Exp
{
enum Type type;
union {
struct Lam *lam;
struct Var *var;
struct App *app;
struct Lit *lit;
} form;
};

For those types of expression that only contain a single data member
(Var only contains a string and Lit only contains an integer), you may
choose to place their data directly into the union rather than adding a
level of indirection.

--
Simon.
Jul 18 '06 #2
jo**********@gmail.com wrote:
I'm in the process of writing an interpreter for lambda calculus (i.e.
a small functional programming language) in C. I've previously written
one in Haskell so I understand at least some of the concepts involved
in writing an interpreter and I know how to define a grammar and use
lex/yacc to parse it. What I don't know is how to represent the
abstract syntax tree (AST) of my language in C. In Haskell I used
what's called an algebraic data type like so:

data Exp = Lam Id Exp
| Var Id
| App Exp Exp
| Lit Int

Legend:
Exp - expression (i.e. one of Lam, Var, App or Lit)
Lam - lambda abstraction (i.e. a function)
App - function application
Lit - integer literal
Id - variable name (i.e. a string)

How would I represent such a structure in C, perhaps with a union with
some sort of tag?
I would (and, for a different language, have) do it in two layers.

I'd have a bunch of functions expressing the expression structure, eg,

isLambda(Exp), lambdaId(Exp), lambdaBody(Exp)
isVar(Exp), varId(Exp)
isApp(Exp), appFun(Exp), appArg(Exp)
isLit(Exp), litInt(Exp)

In the C file that defines those functions, I'd have whatever representation
I choose. It might be

struct ExpStruct
{
enum { LAM, VAR, APP, LIT } type;
union
{
struct LamStruct lam;
struct VarStruct var;
struct AppStruct app;
struct LitStruct lit; /* or perhaps `int lit` */
}
};

(And this /wouldn't/ be in the public header file, which would have
the minimum needed to give the function signatures. As a first
cut, it would say things like:

typedef struct ExpStruct *Exp;

While some people argue against typedefing struct pointers in this
way, it allows you, if necessary, to /completely/ change your
representation later, eg:

typedef int Exp;

and have expressions encoded as integers, which might be indexes
into an array of expression objects or immediate values or
whatever. The access-via-functions means that the code doesn't
care.
)

If this representation turned out to be naff, I'd pick a different one,
but all being well, the rest of the code would be protected from the
representation change by the functional API.

If performance of the API turned out to be a problem, I might be able to
judiciously inline or macroise the API.

[For the language I did, I had a fiendish representation that played
not-everso-portable games with pointers-as-integers so that I could
reduce the space taken up by nodes, since there was some assumption
that the code would be running in smallish devices with "sane" pointer
semantics. Don't do that unless you /have/ to, and I bet you won't.]

--
Chris "seeker" Dollin
"Reaching out for mirrors hidden in the web." - Renaissance, /Running Hard/

Jul 18 '06 #3
In article <e9**********@malatesta.hpl.hp.com>
Chris Dollin <ch**********@hp.comwrote:
struct ExpStruct
{
enum { LAM, VAR, APP, LIT } type;
union
{
struct LamStruct lam;
struct VarStruct var;
struct AppStruct app;
struct LitStruct lit; /* or perhaps `int lit` */
}
};
Note that the union-member of a "struct ExpStruct" needs a name.
For instance, the second-to-last line above should perhaps read
"} un;".

I occasionally wish that C had un-named union-members of outer
"struct"s. So I sometimes fake them, using code like this:

struct exp {
enum { LAM, VAR, APP, LIT } exp_type;
union {
struct lam un_lam;
struct var un_var;
struct app un_app;
struct lit un_lit;
} exp_un;
};
#define exp_lam exp_un.un_lam
#define exp_var exp_un.un_var
#define exp_app exp_un.un_app
#define exp_lit exp_un.un_lit

Then, given a "struct exp *ep" pointing to a valid "exp", I can
write:

switch (ep->exp_type) {
case LAM:
do something with ep->exp_lam;
...
case VAR:
do something with ep->exp_var;
...
...
}

The "#define"s make these expand to ep->exp_un.un_lam, ep->exp_un.un_var,
and so on.

Without the intermediate "#define"s (and using the names in Chris
Dollin's example code, with the small correction), this becomes:

switch (ep->type) {
case LAM:
do something with ep->un.lam;
...
...
}

You have to name the union member, then write the name of the
union member.

Some non-C languages (including Plan 9 C) do have a way to insert
anonymous items that "bubble out" to an outer enclosing struct,
but neither C89 nor C99 support this.
--
In-Real-Life: Chris Torek, Wind River Systems
Salt Lake City, UT, USA (4039.22'N, 11150.29'W) +1 801 277 2603
email: forget about it http://web.torek.net/torek/index.html
Reading email is like searching for food in the garbage, thanks to spammers.
Jul 18 '06 #4
Chris Torek wrote:
In article <e9**********@malatesta.hpl.hp.com>
Chris Dollin <ch**********@hp.comwrote:
> struct ExpStruct
{
enum { LAM, VAR, APP, LIT } type;
union
{
struct LamStruct lam;
struct VarStruct var;
struct AppStruct app;
struct LitStruct lit; /* or perhaps `int lit` */
}
};


Note that the union-member of a "struct ExpStruct" needs a name.
For instance, the second-to-last line above should perhaps read
"} un;".

I occasionally wish that C had un-named union-members of outer
"struct"s. So I sometimes fake them, using code like this:

struct exp {
enum { LAM, VAR, APP, LIT } exp_type;
union {
struct lam un_lam;
struct var un_var;
struct app un_app;
struct lit un_lit;
} exp_un;
};
#define exp_lam exp_un.un_lam
#define exp_var exp_un.un_var
#define exp_app exp_un.un_app
#define exp_lit exp_un.un_lit

Then, given a "struct exp *ep" pointing to a valid "exp", I can
write:

switch (ep->exp_type) {
case LAM:
do something with ep->exp_lam;
...
case VAR:
do something with ep->exp_var;
...
...
}

The "#define"s make these expand to ep->exp_un.un_lam, ep->exp_un.un_var,
and so on.

Without the intermediate "#define"s (and using the names in Chris
Dollin's example code, with the small correction), this becomes:

switch (ep->type) {
case LAM:
do something with ep->un.lam;
...
...
}

You have to name the union member, then write the name of the
union member.

Some non-C languages (including Plan 9 C) do have a way to insert
anonymous items that "bubble out" to an outer enclosing struct,
but neither C89 nor C99 support this.
lcc-win32 supports this.
Jul 18 '06 #5
Chris Torek wrote:
In article <e9**********@malatesta.hpl.hp.com>
Chris Dollin <ch**********@hp.comwrote:
> struct ExpStruct
{
enum { LAM, VAR, APP, LIT } type;
union
{
struct LamStruct lam;
struct VarStruct var;
struct AppStruct app;
struct LitStruct lit; /* or perhaps `int lit` */
}
};

Note that the union-member of a "struct ExpStruct" needs a name.
For instance, the second-to-last line above should perhaps read
"} un;".
ARGH. Thanks, Chris. Sorry, Johan.

It was a typo. Well, a braino.

--
Chris "Brain-O, Bray-ay-ay-ayn-O, daylight come & ..." Dollin
"Who are you? What do you want?" /Babylon 5/

Jul 19 '06 #6
jacob navia <ja***@jacob.remcomp.frwrote:
Chris Torek wrote:
[ SNIP! over 60 lines ]
Some non-C languages (including Plan 9 C) do have a way to insert
anonymous items that "bubble out" to an outer enclosing struct,
but neither C89 nor C99 support this.

<spamsupports this.
You just quoted _seventy lines_ just to add a oneliner that says that
<spammy spammy spamis non-conforming (which, btw, we already know all
too well)? Grief, have you so few customers that you need such tactics?

Richard
Jul 19 '06 #7
jacob navia said:
Chris Torek wrote:
<snip>
>>
Some non-C languages (including Plan 9 C) do have a way to insert
anonymous items that "bubble out" to an outer enclosing struct,
but neither C89 nor C99 support this.

lcc-win32 supports this.
That might be relevant in an lcc newsgroup, but what matters in comp.lang.c
is that the construct is non-standard and non-portable, and should thus be
avoided by those who need to write portable code.

Please stop confusing "Navia's implementation" with "the real world of
portable programming".

--
Richard Heathfield
"Usenet is a strange place" - dmr 29/7/1999
http://www.cpax.org.uk
email: rjh at above domain (but drop the www, obviously)
Jul 19 '06 #8
Simon Biber wrote:
Yes, a series of struct within a union would be reasonably efficient.
Here is one way to lay them out:

struct Exp;

struct Lam
{
char *id;
struct Exp *exp;
};

struct Var
{
char *id;
};

struct App
{
struct Exp *exp1;
struct Exp *exp2;
};

struct Lit
{
int value;
};

enum Type
{
LAM,
VAR,
APP,
LIT
};

struct Exp
{
enum Type type;
union {
struct Lam *lam;
struct Var *var;
struct App *app;
struct Lit *lit;
} form;
};

For those types of expression that only contain a single data member
(Var only contains a string and Lit only contains an integer), you may
choose to place their data directly into the union rather than adding a
level of indirection.

--
Simon.
When dynamically allocating memory for such a struct using malloc will
sizeof(Exp) be enough to get sufficient memory allocated for the
biggest union member? Will this work:

struct Exp *exp;
exp = malloc(sizeof(struct Exp));
if (!exp)
fprintf(stderr, "out of memory\n");

exp->form.lam = malloc(sizeof(struct Lam));
if (!exp->form.lam)
fprintf(stderr, "out of memory\n");

(Also, is it good style?)

Jul 20 '06 #9
"Johan Tibell" <jo**********@gmail.comwrites:
Simon Biber wrote:
[...]
>struct Exp
{
enum Type type;
union {
struct Lam *lam;
struct Var *var;
struct App *app;
struct Lit *lit;
} form;
};
[...]
>
When dynamically allocating memory for such a struct using malloc will
sizeof(Exp) be enough to get sufficient memory allocated for the
biggest union member?
Yes. sizeof for a union yields at least the size of its largest
member. (It's typically the size of its largest member rounded up to
the alignment of its most strictly aligned member.)
Will this work:

struct Exp *exp;
exp = malloc(sizeof(struct Exp));
if (!exp)
fprintf(stderr, "out of memory\n");

exp->form.lam = malloc(sizeof(struct Lam));
if (!exp->form.lam)
fprintf(stderr, "out of memory\n");

(Also, is it good style?)
Yes, and mostly.

Rather than
exp = malloc(sizeof(struct Exp));
...
exp->form.lam = malloc(sizeof(struct Lam));
I'd write:
exp = malloc(sizeof *exp);
...
exp->form.lam = malloc(sizeof *(exp->form.lam));

(The parentheses on the second malloc aren't strictly necessary, but I
find it easier to read with them.)

--
Keith Thompson (The_Other_Keith) ks***@mib.org <http://www.ghoti.net/~kst>
San Diego Supercomputer Center <* <http://users.sdsc.edu/~kst>
We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this.
Jul 20 '06 #10

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