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Title: Lightweight multi-language syntax transformation with parser parser combinators
Automatically transforming programs is hard, yet critical for automated program refactoring, rewriting, and repair. Multi-language syntax transformation is especially hard due to heterogeneous representations in syntax, parse trees, and abstract syntax trees (ASTs). Our insight is that the problem can be decomposed such that (1) a common grammar expresses the central context-free language (CFL) properties shared by many contemporary languages and (2) open extension points in the grammar allow customizing syntax (e.g., for balanced delimiters) and hooks in smaller parsers to handle language-specific syntax (e.g., for comments). Our key contribution operationalizes this decomposition using a Parser Parser combinator (PPC), a mechanism that generates parsers for matching syntactic fragments in source code by parsing declarative user-supplied templates. This allows our approach to detach from translating input programs to any particular abstract syntax tree representation, and lifts syntax rewriting to a modularly-defined parsing problem. A notable effect is that we skirt the complexity and burden of defining additional translation layers between concrete user input templates and an underlying abstract syntax representation. We demonstrate that these ideas admit efficient and declarative rewrite templates across 12 languages, and validate effectiveness of our approach by producing correct and desirable lightweight transformations on popular real-world projects (over 50 syntactic changes produced by our approach have been merged into 40+). Our declarative rewrite patterns require an order of magnitude less code compared to analog implementations in existing, language-specific tools.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the 40th ACM SIGPLAN Conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation
Page Range / eLocation ID:
363 to 378
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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