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---
title: Compiling a Functional Language Using C++, Part 13 - More Improvements
date: 2020-09-10T18:50:02-07:00
tags: ["C and C++", "Functional Languages", "Compilers"]
description: "In this post, we clean up our compiler and add some basic optimizations."
---
In [part 12]({{< relref "12_compiler_let_in_lambda" >}}), we added `let/in`
and lambda expressions to our compiler. At the end of that post, I mentioned
that before we move on to bigger and better things, I wanted to take a
step back and clean up the compiler.
Recently, I got around to doing that. Unfortunately, I also got around to doing
a lot more. Furthermore, I managed to make the changes in such a way that I
can't cleanly separate the 'cleanup' and 'optimization' portions of my work.
This is partially due to the way in which I organize code, where each post
is associated with a version of the compiler with the necessary changes.
Because of all this, instead of making this post about the cleanup, and the
next post about the optimizations, I have to merge them into one.
So, this post is split into two major portions: cleanup, which deals mostly
with touching up exceptions and improving the 'name mangling' logic, and
optimizations, which deals with adding special treatment to booleans,
unboxing integers, and implementing more binary operators.
### Section 1: Cleanup
The previous post was
{{< sidenote "right" "long-note" "rather long," >}}
Probably not as long as this one, though! I really need to get the
size of my posts under control.
{{< /sidenote >}} which led me to omit
a rather important aspect of the compiler: proper error reporting.
Once again our compiler has instances of `throw 0`, which is a cheap way
of avoiding properly handling a runtime error. Before we move on,
it's best to get rid of such blatantly lazy code.
Our existing exceptions (mostly type errors) can use some work, too.
Even the most descriptive issues our compiler reports -- unification errors --
don't include the crucial information of _where_ the error is. For large
programs, this means having to painstakingly read through the entire file
to try figure out which subexpression could possibly have an incorrect type.
This is far from the ideal debugging experience.
Addressing all this is a multi-step change in itself. We want to:
* Replace all `throw 0` code with actual exceptions.
* Replace some exceptions that shouldn't be possible for a user to trigger
with assertions.
* Keep track of source locations of each subexpression, so that we may
be able to print it if it causes an error.
* Be able to print out said source locations at will. This isn't
a _necessity_, but virtually all "big" compilers do this. Instead
of reporting that an error occurs on a particular line, we will
actually print the line.
Let's start with gathering the actual location data.
#### Bison's Locations
Bison actually has some rather nice support for location tracking. It can
automatically assemble the "from" and "to" locations of a nonterminal
from the locations of children, which would be very tedious to write
by hand. We enable this feature using the following option:
{{< codelines "text" "compiler/13/parser.y" 50 50 >}}
There's just one hitch, though. Sure, Bison can compute bigger
locations from smaller ones, but it must get the smaller ones
from somewhere. Since Bison operates on _tokens_, rather
than _characters_, it effectively doesn't interact with the source
text at all, and can't determine from which line or column a token
originated. The task of determining the locations of input tokens
is delegated to the tokenizer -- Flex, in our case. Flex, on the
other hand, doesn't doesn't have a built-in mechanism for tracking
locations. Fortunately, Bison provides a `yy::location` class that
includes most of the needed functionality.
A `yy::location` consists of `begin` and `end` source position,
which themselves are represented using lines and columns. It
also has the following methods:
* `yy::location::columns(int)` advances the `end` position by
the given number of columns, while `begin` stays the same.
If `begin` and `end` both point to the beginning of a token,
then `columns(token_length)` will move `end` to the token's end,
and thus make the whole `location` contain the token.
* `yy::location::lines(int)` behaves similarly to `columns`,
except that it advances `end` by the given number of lines,
rather than columns.
* `yy::location::step()` moves `begin` to where `end` is. This
is useful for when we've finished processing a token, and want
to move on to the next one.
For Flex specifically, `yyleng` has the length of the token
currently being processed. Rather than adding the calls
to `columns` and `step` to every rule, we can define the
`YY_USER_ACTION` macro, which is run before each token
is processed.
{{< codelines "C++" "compiler/13/scanner.l" 12 12 >}}
We'll see why we are using `drv` soon; for now, you can treat
`location` as if it were a global variable declared in the
tokenizer. Before processing each token, we ensure that
`location` has its `begin` and `end` at the same position,
and then advance `end` by `yyleng` columns. This is sufficient
to make `location` represent our token's source position.
So now we have a "global" variable `location` that gives
us the source position of the current token. To get it
to Bison, we have to pass it as an argument to each
of the `make_TOKEN` calls. Here are a few sample lines
that should give you the general idea:
{{< codelines "C++" "compiler/13/scanner.l" 41 44 >}}
That last line is actually new. Previously, we somehow
got away without explicitly sending the EOF token to Bison.
I suspect that this was due to some kind of implicit conversion
of the Flex macro `YY_NULL` into a token; now that we have
to pass a position to every token constructor, such an implicit
conversion is probably impossible.
Now we have Bison computing source locations for each nonterminal.
However, at the moment, we still aren't using them. To change that,
we need to add a `yy::location` argument to each of our `ast` nodes,
as well as to the `pattern` subclasses, `definition_defn` and
`definition_data`. To avoid breaking all the code that creates
AST nodes and definitions outside of the parser, we'll make this
argument optional. Inside of `ast.hpp`, we define it as follows:
{{< codelines "C++" "compiler/13/ast.hpp" 16 16 >}}
Then, we add a constructor to `ast` as follows:
{{< codelines "C++" "compiler/13/ast.hpp" 18 18 >}}
Note that it's not default here, since `ast` itself is an
abstract class, and thus will never be constructed directly.
It is in the subclasses of `ast` that we provide a default
value. The change is rather mechanical, but here's an example
from `ast_binop`:
{{< codelines "C++" "compiler/13/ast.hpp" 98 99 >}}
#### Line Offsets, File Input, and the Parse Driver
There are three more challenges with printing out the line
of code where an error occurred. First of all, to
print out a line of code, we need to have that line of code
available to us. We do not currently meet this requirement:
our compiler reads code form `stdin` (as is default for Flex),
and `stdin` doesn't always support rewinding. This, in turn,
means that once Flex has read a character from the input,
it may not be possible to go back and retrieve that character
again.
Second, even if we do have have the entire stream or buffer
available to us, to retrieve an offset and length within
that buffer from just a line and column number would be a lot
of work. A naive approach would be to iterate through
the input again, once more keeping track of lines and columns,
and print the desired line once we reach it. However, this
would lead us to redo a lot of work that our tokenizer
is already doing.
Third, Flex's input mechanism, even if it it's configured
not to read from `stdin`, uses a global file descriptor called
`yyin`. However, we're better off minimizing global state (especially
if we want to read, parse, and compile multiple files in
the future). While we're configuring Flex's input mechanism,
we may as well fix this, too.
There are several approaches to fixing the first issue. One possible
way is to store the content of `stdin` into a temporary file. Then,
it's possible to read from the file multiple times by using
the C functions `fseek` and `rewind`. However, since we're
working with files, why not just work directly with the files
created by the user? Instead of reading from `stdin`, we may
as well take in a path to a file via `argv`, and read from there.
Also, instead of `fseek` and `rewind`, we can just read the file
into memory, and access it like a normal character buffer.
To address the second issue, we can keep a mapping of line numbers
to their locations in the source buffer. This is rather easy to
maintain using an array: the first element of the array is 0,
which is the beginning of any line in any source file. From there,
every time we encounter the character `\n`, we can push
the current source location to the top, marking it as
the beginning of another line. Where exactly we store this
array is as yet unclear, since we're trying to avoid global variables.
Finally, begin addressing the third issue, we can use Flex's `reentrant`
option, which makes it so that all of the tokenizer's state is stored in an
opaque `yyscan_t` structure, rather than in global variables. This way,
we can configure `yyin` without setting a global variable, which is a step
in the right direction. We'll work on this momentarily.
Our tokenizing and parsing stack has more global variables
than just those specific to Flex. Among these variables is `global_defs`,
which receives all the top-level function and data type definitions. We
will also need some way of accessing the `yy::location` instance, and
a way of storing our file input in memory. Fortunately, we're not
the only ones to have ever come across the issue of creating non-global
state: the Bison documentation has a
[section in its C++ guide](https://www.gnu.org/software/bison/manual/html_node/Calc_002b_002b-Parsing-Driver.html) that describes a technique for manipulating
state -- "parsing context", in their words. This technique involves the
creation of a _parsing driver_.
The parsing driver is a class (or struct) that holds all the parse-related
state. We can arrange for this class to be available to our tokenizing
and parsing functions, which will allow us to use it pretty much like we'd
use a global variable. We can define it as follows:
{{< codelines "C++" "compiler/13/parse_driver.hpp" 14 34 >}}
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