GLL parser-combinator library

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4.1.09 years ago12 years agoMinified + gzip package size for packrattle in KB


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This is a simple GLL-based parser-combinator library for javascript. It lets you write parsing code without the use of an external tool like lex or antlr: the parser is written in javascript just like the rest of your code!
An example, from the unit tests:
var packrattle = require("packrattle");

var csv = packrattle.repeatSeparated(
  packrattle.regex(/([^,]*)/).map(match => match[0]),
// [ "this", "is", "csv" ]



Parser-combinators start from a simple idea: A "parser" is a function that takes a string and a position within that string, and either fails to match, or succeeds, returning the matched value and moving the position forward. In other words, a parser does:
position => { newPosition, value }
on success, or
position => error
on failure.
You can start with a few basic parsers which match a string or regular expression, and build more complex parsers out of functions that combine them: "a or b", "a then b", "repeat(a)", and so on.
Being "GLL-based" means that a work queue and memoization is used to avoid loops and make backtracking fast. This lets you parse almost any grammar, even if it's left recursive or ambiguous. For example, the grammar
expr ::= (expr "+" expr) | /\d+/
would need to be restructured to work in most parser libraries. It can be expressed in packrattle as
var expr = packrattle.alt(
  [ () => expr, "+", () => expr ],
  packrattle.regex(/\d+/).map(match => match[0])

and it actually matches strings:"3+10+200");
// [ [ '3', '+', '10' ], '+', '200' ]

The nested functions (() => expr) on line 2 allow javascript to handle recursive definitions by delaying evaluation. The functions will only be called once (when first invoked) and then cached.

Further reading

  • There's a wiki page on parser-combinators here:

  • Vegard Øye has an excellent (highly-recommended) tutorial on how GLL parsers work, with an implementation in a lisp-like language:

  • Daniel Spiewak wrote a paper on GLL and his work upgrading scala's parser-combinator library to use it:


Apache 2 (open-source) license, included in 'LICENSE.txt'.


Credit and blame: Robey Pointer
Special thanks to Daniel Spiewak, Brian McKenna, and Vegard Øye for sharing info about GLL.