GNU.WIKI: The GNU/Linux Knowledge Base

  [HOME] [HowTo] [ABS] [MAN1] [MAN2] [MAN3] [MAN4] [MAN5] [MAN6] [MAN7] [MAN8] [MAN9]


  Lex and YACC primer/HOWTO
  PowerDNS BV (bert hubert <>)
  v0.8 $Date: 2002/04/20 19:46:46 $

  This document tries to help you get started using Lex and YACC

  Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

     1.1 What this document is NOT
     1.2 Downloading stuff
     1.3 License

  2. What Lex & YACC can do for you

     2.1 What each program does on its own

  3. Lex

     3.1 Regular expressions in matches
     3.2 A more complicated example for a C like syntax
     3.3 What we've seen

  4. YACC

     4.1 A simple thermostat controller
        4.1.1 A complete YACC file
        4.1.2 Compiling & running the thermostat controller
     4.2 Expanding the thermostat to handle parameters
     4.3 Parsing a configuration file

  5. Making a Parser in C++

  6. How do Lex and YACC work internally

     6.1 Token values
     6.2 Recursion: 'right is wrong'
     6.3 Advanced yylval: %union

  7. Debugging

     7.1 The state machine
     7.2 Conflicts: 'shift/reduce', 'reduce/reduce'

  8. Further reading

  9. Acknowledgements & Thanks


  1.  Introduction

  Welcome, gentle reader.

  If you have been programming for any length of time in a Unix
  environment, you will have encountered the mystical programs Lex &
  YACC, or as they are known to GNU/Linux users worldwide, Flex & Bison,
  where Flex is a Lex implementation by Vern Paxon and Bison the GNU
  version of YACC. We will call these programs Lex and YACC throughout -
  the newer versions are upwardly compatible, so you can use Flex and
  Bison when trying our examples.
  These programs are massively useful, but as with your C compiler,
  their manpage does not explain the language they understand, nor how
  to use them.  YACC is really amazing when used in combination with
  Lex, however, the Bison manpage does not describe how to integrate Lex
  generated code with your Bison program.

  1.1.  What this document is NOT

  There are several great books which deal with Lex & YACC. By all means
  read these books if you need to know more. They provide far more
  information than we ever will. See the 'Further Reading' section at
  the end. This document is aimed at bootstrapping your use of Lex &
  YACC, to allow you to create your first programs.

  The documentation that comes with Flex and BISON is also excellent,
  but no tutorial. They do complement my HOWTO very well though. They
  too are referenced at the end.

  I am by no means a YACC/Lex expert. When I started writing this
  document, I had exactly two days of experience. All I want to
  accomplish is to make those two days easier for you.

  In no way expect the HOWTO to show proper YACC and Lex style. Examples
  have been kept very simple and there may be better ways to write them.
  If you know how to, please let me know.

  1.2.  Downloading stuff

  Please note that you can download all the examples shown, which are in
  machine readable form. See the homepage <> for

  1.3.  License

  Copyright (c) 2001 by bert hubert. This material may be distributed
  only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open
  Publication License, vX.Y or later (the latest version is presently
  available at

  2.  What Lex & YACC can do for you

  When properly used, these programs allow you to parse complex
  languages with ease. This is a great boon when you want to read a
  configuration file, or want to write a compiler for any language you
  (or anyone else) might have invented.

  With a little help, which this document will hopefully provide, you
  will find that you will never write a parser again by hand - Lex &
  YACC are the tools to do this.

  2.1.  What each program does on its own

  Although these programs shine when used together, they each serve a
  different purpose. The next chapter will explain what each part does.

  3.  Lex

  The program Lex generates a so called `Lexer'. This is a function that
  takes a stream of characters as its input, and whenever it sees a
  group of characters that match a key, takes a certain action. A very
  simple example:

       #include <stdio.h>

       stop    printf("Stop command received\n");
       start   printf("Start command received\n");

  The first section, in between the %{ and %} pair is included directly
  in the output program. We need this, because we use printf later on,
  which is defined in stdio.h.

  Sections are separated using '%%', so the first line of the second
  section starts with the 'stop' key. Whenever the 'stop' key is
  encountered in the input, the rest of the line (a printf() call) is

  Besides 'stop', we've also defined 'start', which otherwise does
  mostly the same.

  We terminate the code section with '%%' again.

  To compile Example 1, do this:

       lex example1.l
       cc lex.yy.c -o example1 -ll

       NOTE: If you are using flex, instead of lex, you may have to change
       '-ll' to '-lfl' in the compilation scripts. RedHat 6.x and SuSE need
       this, even when you invoke 'flex' as 'lex'!

  This will generate the file 'example1'. If you run it, it waits for
  you to type some input. Whenever you type something that is not
  matched by any of the defined keys (ie, 'stop' and 'start') it's
  output again. If you enter 'stop' it will output 'Stop command

  Terminate with a EOF (^D).

  You may wonder how the program runs, as we didn't define a main()
  function.  This function is defined for you in libl (liblex) which we
  compiled in with the -ll command.

  3.1.  Regular expressions in matches

  This example wasn't very useful in itself, and our next one won't be
  either.  It will however show how to use regular expressions in Lex,
  which are massively useful later on.

  Example 2:

  #include <stdio.h>

  [0123456789]+           printf("NUMBER\n");
  [a-zA-Z][a-zA-Z0-9]*    printf("WORD\n");

  This Lex file describes two kinds of matches (tokens): WORDs and
  NUMBERs.  Regular expressions can be pretty daunting but with only a
  little work it is easy to understand them. Let's examine the NUMBER


  This says: a sequence of one or more characters from the group
  0123456789.  We could also have written it shorter as:


  Now, the WORD match is somewhat more involved:


  The first part matches 1 and only 1 character that is between 'a' and
  'z', or between 'A' and 'Z'. In other words, a letter. This initial
  letter then needs to be followed by zero or more characters which are
  either a letter or a digit. Why use an asterisk here? The '+'
  signifies 1 or more matches, but a WORD might very well consist of
  only one character, which we've already matched. So the second part
  may have zero matches, so we write a '*'.

  This way, we've mimicked the behaviour of many programming languages
  which demand that a variable name *must* start with a letter, but can
  contain digits afterwards. In other words, 'temperature1' is a valid
  name, but '1temperature' is not.

  Try compiling Example 2, lust like Example 1, and feed it some text.
  Here is a sample session:

       $ ./example2





  You may also be wondering where all this whitespace is coming from in
  the output. The reason is simple: it was in the input, and we don't
  match on it anywhere, so it gets output again.

  The Flex manpage documents its regular expressions in detail. Many
  people feel that the perl regular expression manpage (perlre) is also
  very useful, although Flex does not implement everything perl does.

  Make sure that you do not create zero length matches like '[0-9]*' -
  your lexer might get confused and start matching empty strings

  3.2.  A more complicated example for a C like syntax

  Let's say we want to parse a file that looks like this:

       logging {
               category lame-servers { null; };
               category cname { null; };

       zone "." {
               type hint;
               file "/etc/bind/db.root";

  We clearly see a number of categories (tokens) in this file:

  �  WORDs, like 'zone' and 'type'

  �  FILENAMEs, like '/etc/bind/db.root'

  �  QUOTEs, like those surrounding the filename

  �  OBRACEs, {

  �  EBRACEs, }

  �  SEMICOLONs, ;

  The corresponding Lex file is Example 3:

       #include <stdio.h>

       [a-zA-Z][a-zA-Z0-9]*    printf("WORD ");
       [a-zA-Z0-9\/.-]+        printf("FILENAME ");
       \"                      printf("QUOTE ");
       \{                      printf("OBRACE ");
       \}                      printf("EBRACE ");
       ;                       printf("SEMICOLON ");
       \n                      printf("\n");
       [ \t]+                  /* ignore whitespace */;

  When we feed our file to the program this Lex file generates (using
  example3.compile), we get:



  When compared with the configuration file mentioned above, it is clear
  that we have neatly 'Tokenized' it. Each part of the configuration
  file has been matched, and converted into a token.

  And this is exactly what we need to put YACC to good use.

  3.3.  What we've seen

  We've seen that Lex is able to read arbitrary input, and determine
  what each part of the input is. This is called 'Tokenizing'.

  4.  YACC

  YACC can parse input streams consisting of tokens with certain values.
  This clearly describes the relation YACC has with Lex, YACC has no
  idea what 'input streams' are, it needs preprocessed tokens. While you
  can write your own Tokenizer, we will leave that entirely up to Lex.

  A note on grammars and parsers. When YACC saw the light of day, the
  tool was used to parse input files for compilers: programs. Programs
  written in a programming language for computers are typically *not*
  ambiguous - they have just one meaning. As such, YACC does not cope
  with ambiguity and will complain about shift/reduce or reduce/reduce
  conflicts. More about ambiguity and YACC "problems" can be found in
  'Conflicts' chapter.

  4.1.  A simple thermostat controller

  Let's say we have a thermostat that we want to control using a simple
  language. A session with the thermostat may look like this:

       heat on
               Heater on!
       heat off
               Heater off!
       target temperature 22
               New temperature set!

  The tokens we need to recognize are: heat, on/off (STATE), target,
  temperature, NUMBER.

  The Lex tokenizer (Example 4) is:

       #include <stdio.h>
       #include ""
       [0-9]+                  return NUMBER;
       heat                    return TOKHEAT;
       on|off                  return STATE;
       target                  return TOKTARGET;
       temperature             return TOKTEMPERATURE;
       \n                      /* ignore end of line */;
       [ \t]+                  /* ignore whitespace */;

  We note two important changes. First, we include the file '',
  and secondly, we no longer print stuff, we return names of tokens.
  This change is because we are now feeding it all to YACC, which isn't
  interested in what we output to the screen. has definitions
  for these tokens.

  But where does come from? It is generated by YACC from the
  Grammar File we are about to create. As our language is very basic, so
  is the grammar:

       commands: /* empty */
               | commands command


               TOKHEAT STATE
                       printf("\tHeat turned on or off\n");

                       printf("\tTemperature set\n");

  The first part is what I call the 'root'. It tells us that we have
  'commands', and that these commands consist of individual 'command'
  parts. As you can see this rule is very recursive, because it again
  contains the word 'commands'. What this means is that the program is
  now capable of reducing a series of commands one by one. Read the
  chapter 'How do Lex and YACC work internally' for important details on

  The second rule defines what a command is. We support only two kinds
  of commands, the 'heat_switch' and the 'target_set'. This is what the
  |-symbol signifies - 'a command consists of either a heat_switch or a

  A heat_switch consists of the HEAT token, which is simply the word
  'heat', followed by a state (which we defined in the Lex file as 'on'
  or 'off').

  Somewhat more complicated is the target_set, which consists of the
  TARGET token (the word 'target'), the TEMPERATURE token (the word
  'temperature') and a number.

  4.1.1.  A complete YACC file

  The previous section only showed the grammar part of the YACC file,
  but there is more. This is the header that we omitted:

       #include <stdio.h>
       #include <string.h>

       void yyerror(const char *str)
               fprintf(stderr,"error: %s\n",str);

       int yywrap()
               return 1;




  The yyerror() function is called by YACC if it finds an error. We sim�
  ply output the message passed, but there are smarter things to do. See
  the 'Further reading' section at the end.

  The function yywrap() can be used to continue reading from another
  file. It is called at EOF and you can than open another file, and
  return 0. Or you can return 1, indicating that this is truly the end.
  For more about this, see the 'How do Lex and YACC work internally'

  Then there is the main() function, that does nothing but set
  everything in motion.

  The last line simply defines the tokens we will be using. These are
  output using if YACC is invoked with the '-d' option.
  4.1.2.  Compiling & running the thermostat controller

       lex example4.l
       yacc -d example4.y
       cc lex.yy.c -o example4

  A few things have changed. We now also invoke YACC to compile our
  grammar, which creates and We then call Lex as usual.
  When compiling, we remove the -ll flag: we now have our own main()
  function and don't need the one provided by libl.

       NOTE: if you get an error about your compiler not being able to find
       'yylval', add this to example4.l, just beneath #include <>:

       extern YYSTYPE yylval;

       This is explained in the 'How Lex and YACC work internally' section.

  A sample session:

       $ ./example4
       heat on
               Heat turned on or off
       heat off
               Heat turned on or off
       target temperature 10
               Temperature set
       target humidity 20
       error: parse error

  This is not quite what we set out to achieve, but in the interest of
  keeping the learning curve manageable, not all cool stuff can be
  presented at once.

  4.2.  Expanding the thermostat to handle parameters

  As we've seen, we now parse the thermostat commands correctly, and
  even flag mistakes properly. But as you might have guessed by the
  weasely wording, the program has no idea of what it should do, it does
  not get passed any of the values you enter.

  Let's start by adding the ability to read the new target temperature.
  In order to do so, we need to learn the NUMBER match in the Lexer to
  convert itself into an integer value, which can then be read in YACC.

  Whenever Lex matches a target, it puts the text of the match in the
  character string 'yytext'. YACC in turn expects to find a value in the
  variable 'yylval'. In Example 5, we see the obvious solution:

  #include <stdio.h>
  #include ""
  [0-9]+                  yylval=atoi(yytext); return NUMBER;
  heat                    return TOKHEAT;
  on|off                  yylval=!strcmp(yytext,"on"); return STATE;
  target                  return TOKTARGET;
  temperature             return TOKTEMPERATURE;
  \n                      /* ignore end of line */;
  [ \t]+                  /* ignore whitespace */;

  As you can see, we run atoi() on yytext, and put the result in yylval,
  where YACC can see it. We do much the same for the STATE match, where
  we compare it to 'on', and set yylval to 1 if it is equal. Please note
  that having a separate 'on' and 'off' match in Lex would produce
  faster code, but I wanted to show a more complicated rule and action
  for a change.

  Now we need to learn YACC how to deal with this. What is called
  'yylval' in Lex has a different name in YACC. Let's examine the rule
  setting the new temperature target:

                       printf("\tTemperature set to %d\n",$3);

  To access the value of the third part of the rule (ie, NUMBER), we
  need to use $3. Whenever yylex() returns, the contents of yylval are
  attached to the terminal, the value of which can be accessed with the

  To expound on this further, let's observe the new 'heat_switch' rule:

               TOKHEAT STATE
                               printf("\tHeat turned on\n");
                               printf("\tHeat turned off\n");

  If you now run example5, it properly outputs what you entered.

  4.3.  Parsing a configuration file

  Let's repeat part of the configuration file we mentioned earlier:

       zone "." {
               type hint;
               file "/etc/bind/db.root";

  Remember that we already wrote a Lexer for this file. Now all we need
  to do is write the YACC grammar, and modify the Lexer so it returns
  values in a format YACC can understand.

  In the lexer from Example 6 we see:

       #include <stdio.h>
       #include ""


       zone                    return ZONETOK;
       file                    return FILETOK;
       [a-zA-Z][a-zA-Z0-9]*    yylval=strdup(yytext); return WORD;
       [a-zA-Z0-9\/.-]+        yylval=strdup(yytext); return FILENAME;
       \"                      return QUOTE;
       \{                      return OBRACE;
       \}                      return EBRACE;
       ;                       return SEMICOLON;
       \n                      /* ignore EOL */;
       [ \t]+                  /* ignore whitespace */;

  If you look carefully, you can see that yylval has changed! We no
  longer expect it to be an integer, but in fact assume that it is a
  char *. In the interest of keeping things simple, we invoke strdup and
  waste a lot of memory. Please note that this may not be a problem in
  many areas where you only need to parse a file once, and then exit.

  We want to store character strings because we are now mostly dealing
  with names: file names and zone names. In a later chapter we will
  explain how to deal with multiple types of data.

  In order to tell YACC about the new type of yylval, we add this line
  to the header of our YACC grammar:

  #define YYSTYPE char *

  The grammar itself is again more complicated. We chop it in parts to
  make it easier to digest.

          commands command SEMICOLON


          ZONETOK quotedname zonecontent
                  printf("Complete zone for '%s' found\n",$2);

  This is the intro, including the aforementioned recursive 'root'.
  Please note that we specify that commands are terminated (and
  separated) by ;'s. We define one kind of command, the 'zone_set'. It
  consists of the ZONE token (the word 'zone'), followed by a quoted
  name and the 'zonecontent'. This zonecontent starts out simple enough:

               OBRACE zonestatements EBRACE

  It needs to start with an OBRACE, a {. Then follow the zonestatements,
  followed by an EBRACE, }.


  This section defines what a 'quotedname' is: a FILENAME between
  QUOTEs.  Then it says something special: the value of a quotedname
  token is the value of the FILENAME. This means that the quotedname has
  as its value the filename without quotes.

  This is what the magic '$$=$2;' command does. It says: my value is the
  value of my second part. When the quotedname is now referenced in
  other rules, and you access its value with the $-construct, you see
  the value that we set here with $$=$2.

       NOTE: this grammar chokes on filenames without either a '.' or a '/'
       in them.

          zonestatements zonestatement SEMICOLON

          FILETOK quotedname
                  printf("A zonefile name '%s' was encountered\n", $2);

  This is a generic statement that catches all kinds of statements
  within the 'zone' block. We again see the recursiveness.

               OBRACE zonestatements EBRACE SEMICOLON

               | statements statement

       statement: WORD | block | quotedname

  This defines a block, and 'statements' which may be found within.

  When executed, the output is like this:

       $ ./example6
       zone "." {
               type hint;
               file "/etc/bind/db.root";
               type hint;
       A zonefile name '/etc/bind/db.root' was encountered
       Complete zone for '.' found

  5.  Making a Parser in C++

  Although Lex and YACC predate C++, it is possible to generate a C++
  parser.  While Flex includes an option to generate a C++ lexer, we
  won't be using that, as YACC doesn't know how to deal with it

  My preferred way to make a C++ parser is to have Lex generate a plain
  C file, and to let YACC generate C++ code. When you then link your
  application, you may run into some problems because the C++ code by
  default won't be able to find C functions, unless you've told it that
  those functions are extern "C".
  To do so, make a C header in YACC like this:

       extern "C"
               int yyparse(void);
               int yylex(void);
               int yywrap()
                       return 1;


  If you want to declare or change yydebug, you must now do it like

       extern int yydebug;


  This is because C++'s One Definition Rule, which disallows multiple
  definitions of yydebug.

  You may also find that you need to repeat the #define of YYSTYPE in
  your Lex file, because of C++'s stricter type checking.

  To compile, do something like this:

       lex bindconfig2.l
       yacc --verbose --debug -d bindconfig2.y -o
       cc -c lex.yy.c -o lex.yy.o
       c++ lex.yy.o -o bindconfig2

  Because of the -o statement, is now called,
  so take that into account.

  To summarize: don't bother to compile your Lexer in C++, keep it in C.
  Make your Parser in C++ and explain your compiler that some functions
  are C functions with extern "C" statements.

  6.  How do Lex and YACC work internally

  In the YACC file, you write your own main() function, which calls
  yyparse() at one point. The function yyparse() is created for you by
  YACC, and ends up in

  yyparse() reads a stream of token/value pairs from yylex(), which
  needs to be supplied. You can code this function yourself, or have Lex
  do it for you.  In our examples, we've chosen to leave this task to

  The yylex() as written by Lex reads characters from a FILE * file
  pointer called yyin. If you do not set yyin, it defaults to standard
  input. It outputs to yyout, which if unset defaults to stdout. You can
  also modify yyin in the yywrap() function which is called at the end
  of a file. It allows you to open another file, and continue parsing.

  If this is the case, have it return 0. If you want to end parsing at
  this file, let it return 1.

  Each call to yylex() returns an integer value which represents a token
  type.  This tells YACC what kind of token it has read. The token may
  optionally have a value, which should be placed in the variable

  By default yylval is of type int, but you can override that from the
  YACC file by re#defining YYSTYPE.

  The Lexer needs to be able to access yylval. In order to do so, it
  must be declared in the scope of the lexer as an extern variable. The
  original YACC neglects to do this for you, so you should add the
  following to your lexter, just beneath #include <>:

  extern YYSTYPE yylval;

  Bison, which most people are using these days, does this for you

  6.1.  Token values

  As mentioned before, yylex() needs to return what kind of token it
  encountered, and put its value in yylval. When these tokens are
  defined with the %token command, they are assigned numerical id's,
  starting from 256.

  Because of that fact, it is possible to have all ascii characters as a
  token. Let's say you are writing a calculator, up till now we would
  have written the lexer like this:

       [0-9]+          yylval=atoi(yytext); return NUMBER;
       [ \n]+          /* eat whitespace */;
       -               return MINUS;
       \*              return MULT;
       \+              return PLUS;

  Our YACC grammer would then contain:

          exp:    NUMBER
                  exp PLUS exp
                  exp MINUS exp
                  exp MULT exp

  This is needlessly complicated. By using characters as shorthands for
  numerical token id's, we can rewrite our lexer like this:

  [0-9]+          yylval=atoi(yytext); return NUMBER;
  [ \n]+          /* eat whitespace */;
  .               return (int) yytext[0];

  This last dot matches all single otherwise unmatched characters.

  Our YACC grammer would then be:

               exp:    NUMBER
                       exp '+' exp
                       exp '-' exp
                       exp '*' exp

  This is lots shorter and also more obvious. You do not need to declare
  these ascii tokens with %token in the header, they work out of the

  One other very good thing about this construct is that Lex will now
  match everything we throw at it - avoiding the default behaviour of
  echoing unmatched input to standard output. If a user of this
  calculator uses a ^, for example, it will now generate a parsing
  error, instead of being echoed to standard output.

  6.2.  Recursion: 'right is wrong'

  Recursion is a vital aspect of YACC. Without it, you can't specify
  that a file consists of a sequence of independent commands or
  statements. Out of its own accord, YACC is only interested in the
  first rule, or the one you designate as the starting rule, with the
  '%start' symbol.

  Recursion in YACC comes in two flavours: right and left. Left
  recursion, which is the one you should use most of the time, looks
  like this:

  commands: /* empty */
          commands command

  This says: a command is either empty, or it consists of more commands,
  followed by a command. They way YACC works means that it can now eas�
  ily chop off individual command groups (from the front) and reduce

  Compare this to right recursion, which confusingly enough looks better
  to many eyes:

  commands: /* empty */
          command commands

  But this is expensive. If used as the %start rule, it requires YACC to
  keep all commands in your file on the stack, which may take a lot of
  memory. So by all means, use left recursion when parsing long state�
  ments, like entire files. Sometimes it is hard to avoid right recur�
  sion but if your statements are not too long, you do not need to go
  out of your way to use left recursion.

  If you have something terminating (and therefore separating) your
  commands, right recursion looks very natural, but is still expensive:

  commands: /* empty */
          command SEMICOLON commands

  The right way to code this is using left recursion (I didn't invent
  this either):

  commands: /* empty */
          commands command SEMICOLON

  Earlier versions of this HOWTO mistakenly used right recursion. Markus
  Triska kindly informed us of this.

  6.3.  Advanced yylval: %union

  Currently, we need to define *the* type of yylval. This however is not
  always appropriate. There will be times when we need to be able to
  handle multiple data types. Returning to our hypothetical thermostat,
  perhaps we want to be able to choose a heater to control, like this:

       heater mainbuiling
               Selected 'mainbuilding' heater
       target temperature 23
               'mainbuilding' heater target temperature now 23

  What this calls for is for yylval to be a union, which can hold both
  strings and integers - but not simultaneously.

  Remember that we told YACC previously what type yylval was supposed to
  by by defining YYSTYPE. We could conceivably define YYSTYPE to be a
  union this way, by YACC has an easier method for doing this: the
  %union statement.
  Based on Example 4, we now write the Example 7 YACC grammar. First the


               int number;
               char *string;

       %token <number> STATE
       %token <number> NUMBER
       %token <string> WORD

  We define our union, which contains only a number and a string. Then
  using an extended %token syntax, we explain to YACC which part of the
  union each token should access.

  In this case, we let the STATE token use an integer, as before. Same
  goes for the NUMBER token, which we use for reading temperatures.

  New however is the WORD token, which is declared to need a string.

  The Lexer file changes a bit too:

       #include <stdio.h>
       #include <string.h>
       #include ""
       [0-9]+                  yylval.number=atoi(yytext); return NUMBER;
       heater                  return TOKHEATER;
       heat                    return TOKHEAT;
       on|off                  yylval.number=!strcmp(yytext,"on"); return STATE;
       target                  return TOKTARGET;
       temperature             return TOKTEMPERATURE;
       [a-z0-9]+               yylval.string=strdup(yytext);return WORD;
       \n                      /* ignore end of line */;
       [ \t]+                  /* ignore whitespace */;

  As you can see, we don't access the yylval directly anymore, we add a
  suffix indicating which part we want to access. We don't need to do
  that in the YACC grammar however, as YACC performs the magic for us:

               TOKHEATER WORD
                       printf("\tSelected heater '%s'\n",$2);

  Because of the %token declaration above, YACC automatically picks the
  'string' member from our union. Note also that we store a copy of $2,
  which is later used to tell the user which heater he is sending
  commands to:

                       printf("\tHeater '%s' temperature set to %d\n",heater,$3);

  For more details, read example7.y.

  7.  Debugging

  Especially when learning, it is important to have debugging
  facilities.  Luckily, YACC can give a lot of feedback. This feedback
  comes at the cost of some overhead, so you need to supply some
  switches to enable it.

  When compiling your grammar, add --debug and --verbose to the YACC
  commandline. In your grammar C heading, add the following:

  int yydebug=1;

  This will generate the file 'y.output' which explains the state
  machine that was created.

  When you now run the generated binary, it will output a *lot* of what
  is happening. This includes what state the state machine currently
  has, and what tokens are being read.

  Peter Jinks wrote a page on debugging
  <> which contains some
  common errors and how to solve them.

  7.1.  The state machine

  Internally, your YACC parser runs a so called 'state machine'. As the
  name implies, this is a machine that can be in several states. Then
  there are rules which govern transitions from one state to another.
  Everything starts with the so called 'root' rule I mentioned earlier.

  To quote from the output from the Example 7 y.output:

       state 0

           ZONETOK     , and go to state 1

           $default    reduce using rule 1 (commands)

           commands    go to state 29
           command     go to state 2
           zone_set    go to state 3

  By default, this state reduces using the 'commands' rule. This is the
  aforementioned recursive rule that defines 'commands' to be built up
  from individual command statements, followed by a semicolon, followed
  by possibly more commands.

  This state reduces until it hits something it understands, in this
  case, a ZONETOK, ie, the word 'zone'. It then goes to state 1, which
  deals further with a zone command:

       state 1

           zone_set  ->  ZONETOK . quotedname zonecontent   (rule 4)

           QUOTE       , and go to state 4

           quotedname  go to state 5

  The first line has a '.' in it to indicate where we are: we've just
  seen a ZONETOK and are now looking for a 'quotedname'. Apparently, a
  quotedname starts with a QUOTE, which sends us to state 4.

  To follow this further, compile Example 7 with the flags mentioned in
  the Debugging section.

  7.2.  Conflicts: 'shift/reduce', 'reduce/reduce'

  Whenever YACC warns you about conflicts, you may be in for trouble.
  Solving these conflicts appears to be somewhat of an art form that may
  teach you a lot about your language. More than you possibly would have
  wanted to know.

  The problems revolve around how to interpret a sequence of tokens.
  Let's suppose we define a language that needs to accept both these

               delete heater all
               delete heater number1

  To do this, we define this grammar:

                  TOKDELETE TOKHEATER mode

          mode:   WORD


  You may already be smelling trouble. The state machine starts by
  reading the word 'delete', and then needs to decide where to go based
  on the next token.  This next token can either be a mode, specifying
  how to delete the heaters, or the name of a heater to delete.

  The problem however is that for both commands, the next token is going
  to be a WORD. YACC has therefore no idea what to do. This leads to a
  'reduce/reduce' warning, and a further warning that the
  'delete_a_heater' node is never going to be reached.

  In this case the conflict is resolved easily (ie, by renaming the
  first command to 'delete heaters all', or by making 'all' a separate
  token), but sometimes it is harder. The y.output file generated when
  you pass yacc the --verbose flag can be of tremendous help.

  8.  Further reading

  GNU YACC (Bison) comes with a very nice info-file (.info) which
  documents the YACC syntax very well. It mentions Lex only once, but
  otherwise it's very good. You can read .info files with Emacs or with
  the very nice tool 'pinfo'. It is also available on the GNU site:
  BISON Manual <>.

  Flex comes with a good manpage which is very useful if you already
  have a rough understanding of what Flex does. The Flex Manual
  <> is also available online.

  After this introduction to Lex and YACC, you may find that you need
  more information. I haven't read any of these books yet, but they
  sound good:

     Bison-The Yacc-Compatible Parser Generator
        By Charles Donnelly and Richard Stallman. An Amazon
        user found it useful.

     Lex & Yacc
        By John R. Levine, Tony Mason and Doug Brown. Considered to be
        the standard work on this subject, although a bit dated. Reviews
        over at Amazon

     Compilers : Principles, Techniques, and Tools
        By Alfred V. Aho, Ravi Sethi, Jeffrey D. Ullman. The 'Dragon
        Book'. From 1985 and they just keep printing it. Considered the
        standard work on constructing compilers.  Amazon
  Thomas Niemann wrote a document discussing how to write compilers and
  calculators with Lex & YACC. You can find it here

  The moderated usenet newsgroup comp.compilers can also be very useful
  but please keep in mind that the people there are not a dedicated
  parser helpdesk! Before posting, read their interesting page
  <> and especially the FAQ

  Lex - A Lexical Analyzer Generator by M. E. Lesk and E. Schmidt is one
  of the original reference papers. It can be found here

  Yacc: Yet Another Compiler-Compiler by Stephen C. Johnson is one of
  the original reference papers for YACC. It can be found here
  <>.  It contains
  useful hints on style.

  9.  Acknowledgements & Thanks

  �  Pete Jinks <>

  �  Chris Lattner <>

  �  John W. Millaway <>

  �  Martin Neitzel <>

  �  Esmond Pitt <>

  �  Eric S. Raymond

  �  Bob Schmertz <>

  �  Adam Sulmicki <>

  �  Markus Triska <>

  �  Erik Verbruggen <>

  �  Gary V. Vaughan <> (read his awesome Autobook

  �  Ivo van der Wijk <> ( Amaze Internet

  All copyrights belong to their respective owners. Other site content (c) 2014, GNU.WIKI. Please report any site errors to