Attribute grammar

Attribute grammar

An Attribute grammar is a formal way to define attributes for the productions of a formal grammar, associating these attributes to values. The evaluation occurs in the nodes of the abstract syntax tree, when the language is processed by some parser or compiler.

The attributes are divided into two groups: synthesized attributes and inherited attributes. The synthesized attributes are the result of the attribute evaluation rules, and may also use the values of the inherited attributes. The inherited attributes are passed down from parent nodes.

In some approaches, synthesized attributes are used to pass semantic information up the parse tree, while inherited attributes help pass semantic information down it. For instance, when constructing a language translation tool, such as a compiler, it may be used to assign semantic values to syntax constructions. Also, it is possible to validate semantic checks associated with a grammar, representing the rules of a language not explicitly imparted by the syntax.

Attribute grammars can also be used to translate the syntax tree directly into code for some specific machine, or into some intermediate language.

One strength of attribute grammars is that they can transport information from anywhere in the abstract syntax tree to anywhere else, in a controlled and formal way.

Types of attribute grammars

External links

  • Why Attribute Grammars Matter, The Monad Reader, Issue 4, July 5, 2005
  • Semantics of context-free grammars, by Don Knuth, is the original paper introducing attributed grammars.
  • D. E. Knuth: The genesis of attribute grammars Proceedings of the international conference on Attribute grammars and their applications (1990), 1–12. Some informal, historical information.
  • Jukka Paakki: Attribute grammar paradigms—a high-level methodology in language implementation. ACM Computing Surveys 27:2 (June 1995), 196–255.

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