Extensions of syntax

Camlp5 allows one to extend the syntax of the OCaml language, and even change the entire syntax.

It uses for that one of its parsing tools: the extensible grammars.

To understand the whole syntax in the examples given in this chapter, it is good to understand this parsing tool (the extensible grammars), but we shall try to give some minimal explanations to allow the reader to follow them.

A syntax extension is an OCaml object file (ending with ".cmo" or ".cma") which is loaded inside Camlp5. The source of this file uses calls to the specific statement EXTEND applied to entries defined in the Camlp5 module "Pcaml".

  1. Entries
  2. Syntax tree quotations
  3. An example : repeat..until


The grammar of OCaml contains several entries, corresponding to the major notions of the language, which are modifiable this way, and even erasable. They are defined in this module "Pcaml".

Most important entries:

Entries of object programming:

Main entries of files and interactive toplevel parsing:

Extra useful entries also accessible:

Syntax tree quotations

A grammar rule is a list of rule symbols followed by the semantic action, i.e. the result of the rule. This result is a syntax tree, whose type is the type of the extended entry. The description of the types of the syntax tree are in the Camlp5 module "MLast".

There is however a simpler way to make values of these syntax tree types: the system quotations (see chapters about quotations and syntax tree). With this system, it is possible to represent syntax tree in concrete syntax, between specific parentheses, namely "<<" and ">>", or between "<:name<" and ">>".

For example, the syntax node of the "if" statement is, normally:

  MLast.ExIfe loc e1 e2 e3

where loc is the source location, and e1, e2, e3 are the expressions constituting the if statement. With quotations, it is possible to write it like this (which is stricly equivalent because this is evaluated at parse time, not execution time):

  <:expr< if $e1$ then $e2$ else $e3$ >>

With quotations, it is possible to build pieces of program as complex as desired. See the chapter about syntax trees.

An example : repeat..until

A classical extension is the creation of the "repeat" statement. The "repeat" statement is like a "while" except that the loop is executed at least one time and that the test is at the end of the loop and is inverted. The equivalent of:

  repeat x; y; z until c


  do {
    x; y; z;
    while not c do { x; y; z }

or, with a loop:

  loop () where rec loop () = do {
    x; y; z;
    if c then () else loop ()

The code

This syntax extension could be written like this (see the detail of syntax in the chapter about extensible grammars and the syntax tree quotations in the chapter about them):

  #load "pa_extend.cmo";
  #load "q_MLast.cmo";
  open Pcaml;
      [ [ "repeat"; el = LIST1 expr SEP ";"; "until"; c = expr ->
            let el = el @ [<:expr< while not $c$ do { $list:el$ } >>] in
            <:expr< do { $list:el$ } >> ] ]

Alternatively, with the loop version:

  #load "pa_extend.cmo";
  #load "q_MLast.cmo";
  open Pcaml;
      [ [ "repeat"; el = LIST1 expr SEP ";"; "until"; c = expr ->
            let el = el @ [<:expr< if $c$ then () else loop () >>] in
            <:expr< loop () where rec loop () = do { $list:el$ } >> ] ]

The first "#load" in the code (in both files) means that a syntax extension has been used in the file, namely the "EXTEND" statement. The second "#load" means that abstract tree quotations has been used, namely the "<:expr< ... >>".

The quotation, found in the second version:

  <:expr< loop () where rec loop () = do { $list:el$ } >>

is especially interesting. Written with abstract syntax tree, it would be:

  MLast.ExLet loc True
    [(MLast.PaLid loc "loop",
      MLast.ExFun loc [(MLast.PaUid loc "()", None, MLast.ExSeq loc el)])]
    (MLast.ExApp loc (MLast.ExLid loc "loop") (MLast.ExUid loc "()"));

This shows the interest of writing abstract syntax tree with quotations: it is easier to program and to understand.


If the file "foo.ml" contains one of these versions, it is possible to compile it like this:

  ocamlc -pp camlp5r -I +camlp5 -c foo.ml

Notice that the ocamlc option "-c" means that we are interested only in generating the object file "foo.cmo", not achieving the compilation by creating an executable. Anyway the link would not work because of usage of modules specific to Camlp5.


In the OCaml toplevel

  ocaml -I +camlp5 camlp5r.cma
          Objective Caml version ...

          Camlp5 Parsing version ...

  # #load "foo.cmo";
  # value x = ref 42;
  value x : ref int = {val=42}
  # repeat
      print_int x.val; print_endline ""; x.val := x.val + 3
    until x.val > 70;
  - : unit = ()

In a file

The code, above, used in the toplevel, can be written in a file, say "bar.ml":

  #load "./foo.cmo";
  value x = ref 42;
    print_int x.val;
    print_endline "";
    x.val := x.val + 3
  until x.val > 70;

with a subtile difference: the loaded file must be "./foo.cmo" and not just "foo.cmo" because Camlp5 does not have, by default, the current directory in its path.

The file can be compiled like this:

  ocamlc -pp camlp5r bar.ml

or in native code:

  ocamlopt -pp camlp5r bar.ml

And it is possible to check the resulting program by typing:

  camlp5r pr_r.cmo bar.ml

whose displayed result is:

  #load "./foo.cmo";
  value x = ref 42;
  do {
    print_int x.val;
    print_endline "";
    x.val := x.val + 3;
    while not (x.val > 70) do {
      print_int x.val;
      print_endline "";
      x.val := x.val + 3

See also the same example pretty printed in its original syntax, using the extendable programs printing.

Copyright 2007-2010 Daniel de Rauglaudre (INRIA)

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