Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Scannerless parsing

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

In computer science, scannerless parsing (also called lexerless parsing) refers to performing both tokenization (breaking a stream of characters into words) and parsing (arranging the words into phrases) in a single step, rather than breaking it up into a pipeline of a lexer followed by a parser, executing concurrently. It also refers to the associated grammar: using a single formalism to express both the lexical (word level) grammar and phrase level grammar used to parse a language.


Dividing processing up into a lexer followed by a parser is generally viewed as better design because it is more modular, and scannerless parsing is primarily used when a clear lexer–parser distinction is unneeded or unwanted. Examples of when this is appropriate include TeX, most wiki grammars, makefiles, simple per application scripting languages, and Perl 6.


  • Only one metalanguage is needed
  • Non-regular lexical structure is handled easily
  • "Token classification" is unneeded which removes the need for design accommodations such as "the lexer hack" and language reserved words (such as "while" in C)
  • Grammars can be compositional (can be merged without human intervention) [1]
  • Disadvantages

  • Since the lexical scanning and syntactic parsing processing is combined, the resulting parser tends to be harder to understand and debug for more complex languages
  • Most parsers of character-level grammars are nondeterministic
  • There is no guarantee that the resulting grammar is unambiguous
  • Required extensions

    Eelco Visser identified five key extensions to classical context-free syntax which handle almost all common non-context-free constructs arising in practice:

  • Follow restrictions, a limited form of "longest match"
  • Reject productions, a limited form of negative matching (as found in boolean grammars)
  • Preference attributes to handle the dangling else construct in C-like languages
  • Per-production transitions rather than per-nonterminal transitions in order to facilitate:
  • Associativity attributes, which prevent a self-reference in a particular production of a nonterminal from producing that same production
  • Precedence/priority rules, which prevent self-references in higher-precedence productions from producing lower-precedence productions
  • Implementations

  • SGLR is a parser for the modular Syntax Definition Formalism SDF, and is part of the ASF+SDF Meta-Environment and the Stratego/XT program transformation system.
  • JSGLR, a pure Java implementation of SGLR, also based on SDF.
  • TXL supports character-level parsing.
  • dparser generates ANSI C code for scannerless GLR parsers.
  • Spirit allows for both scannerless and scanner-based parsing.
  • SBP is a scannerless parser for boolean grammars (a superset of context-free grammars), written in Java.
  • Laja is a two phase scannerless parser generator with support for mapping the grammar rules into objects, written in Java.
  • The Perl 6 Grammars feature of the general purpose programming language Perl 6.
  • PyParsing is a scannerless parser written in pure Python.
  • META II Has built in token parsers functions.
  • TREE-META Like META II also is scanerless having builtin lexer functions.
  • CWIC Compiler for Writing and Implementing Compilers. Has token rules as part of its language. Rules in CWIC were compiled into boolean functions returning success or failure.
  • References

    Scannerless parsing Wikipedia

    Similar Topics
    The Sea (2013 film)
    Sam Masich
    John Contreras