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ManyDSL One Host for All Language Need


Danilewski,  Piotr
International Max Planck Research School, MPI for Informatics, Max Planck Society;

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Danilewski, P. (2017). ManyDSL One Host for All Language Need. PhD Thesis, Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken.

Languages shape thoughts. This is true for human spoken languages as much as for programming languages. As computers continue to expand their dominance in almost every aspect of our lives, the need to more adequately express new concepts and domains in computer languages arise. However, to evolve our thoughts we need to evolve the languages we speek in. But what tools are there to create and upgrade the computer languages? How can we encourage developers to define their own languages quickly to best match the domains they work in? Nowadays two main approaches exists. Dedicated language tools and parser generators allows to define new standalone languages from scratch. Alternatively, one can “abuse” sufficiently flexible host languages to embed small domain- specific languages within them. Both approaches have their own respective limitations. Creating standalone languages is a major endeavor. Such languages cannot be combined easily with other languages. Embedding, on the other hand, is limited by the syntax of the host language. Embedded languages, once defined, are always present without clear distinction between them and the host language. When used extensively, it leads to one humungous conglomerate of languages, with confusing syntax and unexpected interactions. In this work we present an alternative: ManyDSL. It is a unique interpreter and compiler taking strength from both approaches, while avoiding the above weaknesses. ManyDSL features its own LL1 parser generator, breaking the limits of the syntax of the host language. The grammar description is given in the same host language as the rest of the program. Portions of the grammar can be parametrized and abstracted into functions, in order to be used in other language definitions. Languages are created on the fly during the interpretation process and may be used to parse selected fragments of the subsequent source files. Similarly to embedded languages, ManyDSL translates all custom languages to the same host language before execution. The host language uses a continuation- passing style approach with a novel, dynamic approach to staging. The staging allows for arbitrary partial evaluation, and executing code at different phases of the compilation process. This can be used to define domain-specific optimiza- tions and auxiliary computation (e.g. for verification) — all within an entirely functional approach, without any explicit use of abstract syntax trees and code transformations. With the help of ManyDSL a user is able to create new languages with distinct, easily recognizable syntax. Moreover, he is able to define and use many of such languages within a single project. Languages can be switched with a well-defined boundary, enabling their interaction in a clear and controlled way. ManyDSL is meant to be the first step towards a broader language pluralism. With it we want to encourage developers to design and use languages that best suit their needs. We believe that over time, with the help of grammar libraries, creating new languages will become accessible to every programmer.