[Haskell-cafe] Re: What *is* a DSL?

Ben Franksen ben.franksen at online.de
Sun Oct 11 15:54:22 EDT 2009

Ben Franksen wrote:
> Next thing I'll try is to transform such a grammar into an actual
> parser...

Which I also managed to get working. However, this exposed yet another
problem I am not sure how to solve.

The problem manifests itself with non-left-factored rules like

  Number ::= Digit Number | Digit

Translating such a grammar directly into a Parsec parser leads to parse
errors because Parsec's choice operator is predictive: if a production has
consumed any input the whole choice fails, even if alternative productions
would not:

*Main> P.parseTest (parseGrammar myGrm) "2"
parse error at (line 1, column 2):
unexpected end of input
expecting Number

Of course, one solution is to apply Parsec's try combinator to all choices
in a rule. But this rather defeats the purpose of using a (by default)
predictive parser in the first place which is to avoid unnecessary

So, a better solution is to left-factor the grammar before translating to
Parsec. Since we have a data representation of the grammar that we can
readily analyse and transform, this should be possible given some suitable
algorithm. But how is this transformation to be typed?

My first naive attempt was to define (recap: nt :: * -> * is the type of
nonterminals, t :: * is the type of terminals a.k.a. tokens, and a is the
result type):

> leftFactor :: Grammar nt t a -> Grammar nt t a

Of course, this is wrong:  Left-factoring is expected to introduce new
nonterminals, so on the right-hand side of the type we should not have the
same 'nt' as on the left. Instead we shoudl have some other type that
is "'nt' extended with new constructors". Moreover, we cannot statically
know how many new nonterminals are added, so we cannot simply apply a type
function to nt. Is this solvable at all in Haskell or do I need proper
dependent types to express this?

I have very vague ideas that revolve around setting up some recursive type
function that on each level adds one constructor, define a common interface
with a (multiparam) type class and then use existential quantification in
the result type to hide the resulting type of nonterminals.

The next question is: Even if this turns out to be possible, isn't it
overkill? Maybe it is better to use an infinite type for the nonterminals
in the first place and let the grammar be a partial function? OTOH, the
formulation of the grammar as a function that pattern matches on the
nonterminals is very elegant.


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