Syntax tree

In Camlp5, one often uses syntax trees. For example, in grammars of the language (semantic actions), in pretty printing (as patterns), in optimizing syntax code (typically stream parsers). Syntax trees are mainly defined by sum types, one for each kind of tree: "expr" for expressions, "patt" for patterns, "ctyp" for types, "str_item" for structure items, and so on. Each node corresponds to a possible value of this type.

  1. Transitional and Strict modes
  2. Compatibility
  3. Two quotations expanders
  4. Syntax tree and Quotations in the two modes

Transitional and Strict modes

Since version 5.00 of Camlp5, the definition of the syntax tree has been different according to the mode Camlp5 has been installed:

The advantage of the transitional mode is that the abstract syntax tree is fully compatible with previous versions of Camlp5. Its drawback is that when using the syntax tree quotations in user syntax, it is not possible to use antiquotations, a significatant limitation.

In strict mode, the abstract syntax is not compatible with versions of Camlp5 previous to 5.00. Most of the parameters of the constructor are enclosed with the type "Ploc.vala" whose aim is to allow nodes to be either of the type argument, or an antiquotation. In this mode, the syntax tree quotations in user syntax can be used, with the same power of the previous syntax tree quotations provided by Camlp5.


As there is a problem of compatibility in strict mode, a good solution, for the programmer, is to always use syntax trees using quotations, which is backward compatible. See the chapter about syntax tree in strict mode.

For example, if the program made a value of the syntax tree of the "let" statement, like this:

  ExLet loc rf pel e

In strict mode, to be equivalent, this expression should be rewritten like this:

  ExLet loc (Ploc.VaVal rf) (Ploc.VaVal pel) e

where "Ploc.VaVal" is a value of the type "vala" defined in the module Ploc (see its section "pervasives").

This necessary conversion is a drawback if the programmer wants that his programs remain compilable with previous versions of Camlp5.

The recommended solution is to always write this code with quotations, namely, in this example, like this:

  <:expr< let $flag:rf$ $list:pel$ in $e$ >>

The quotation expanders ensure that, in strict mode, the variable "rf" is still of type "bool", and that the variable "pel" of type "list (patt * expr)", by enclosing them around "Ploc.VaVal".

In transitional mode, it is equivalent to the first form above. In strict mode, it is equivalent to the second form. And the previous versions of Camlp5 also recognizes this form.

Two quotations expanders

Camlp5 provides two quotations expanders of syntax trees: "q_MLast.cmo" and "q_ast.cmo".

Both allow writing syntax trees in concrete syntax as explained in the previous section.

The first one, "q_MLast.cmo" requires that the contents of the quotation be in revised syntax without any syntax extension (even the stream parsers). It works in transitional and in strict modes.

The second one, "q_ast.cmo" requires that the contents of the quotation be in the current user syntax (normal, revised, lisp, scheme, or other) and can accept all the syntax extensions he added to compile his program. It fully works only in strict mode. In transitional mode, the antiquotations are not available.

Syntax tree and Quotations in the two modes

For the detail of the syntax tree and the quotations forms, see the chapters about the syntax tree in transitional mode and the syntax tree in strict mode.

Copyright 2007-2012 Daniel de Rauglaudre (INRIA)

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