The role of the scanner is to take the program text as input and recognize the keywords, constants, operator symbols and other items in the input text. It also recognizes comments and discards them as they are not needed for processing the program.

The output of the scanner can be thought of as a sequence of tokens; each indicating the type of symbol recognized, the string in the input that was recognized, and, typically, a line and column number.

The “type” of symbols that are recognized in a language is determined by specifying a set of terminal symbols, simply called terminals. For example, a terminal may be defined that matches integer constants, another for program variable names, another for the “while” keyword in an imperative language. To specify this, terminals are defined by a name and a regular expression defines the strings the terminal symbol should match. We may define a terminal symbol named Intt with a regular expression that matches a sequence of 1 or more digits.

A token generated for a sequence of characters is an object that specifies what type of token, the text that was recognized as generating the token (called the lexeme), and in many cases, the line and column number of the file where the lexeme is located.

A scanner is constructed from the specifications of terminal symbols in the grammar. Terminal symbols are given names which must be capitalized since terminals are essentially types in Silver and type names must be capitalized.

Regular expressions associated with a terminal are written after the terminal name between forward slashes. The file Terminals.sv in the tutorial grammar dc contains the following declaration for integer literal terminals.

terminal IntLit_t /[0-9]+/ ;

Regular expressions that are constant strings may be represented using single quotes, as seen in the declaration of the plus symbol in the same file:

terminal Plus t ’+’ ;

Terminal declarations have the form

terminal <name> ( /<regex>/ | ’<string>’ ) <optional-clauses> ;

Terminals in which the regular expression is written between single quotes require that the regular expression be a simple string that when considered as a regular expression will match only that string. In Silver specifications we can then refer to that terminal symbol using the quoted string instead of its name.

Consider a simple imperative language, such as Simple defined in the tutorial grammar simple. Because the regular expression for the keywords such as Whilet, Ift, and Elset all overlap with the language defined by the regular expression for identifiers Idt we need some mechanism to disambiguate them. This is done by giving the keyword terminal lexical precedence over the identifier terminal. Thus the string “while” which matches both the regular expression of Whilet and Idt will be matched with Whilet as we would expect. Lexical precedence can be specified in two ways. First, as done in the example, an optional clause of the form

submits to { <comma-separated-names> }

indicates that the terminal being defined has lower lexical precedence than those listed. A second form

dominates { <comma-separated-names> }

indicates the opposite, that the terminal being defined has higher lexical precedence than those in the list. The names between curly braces may be the names of terminal symbols or of lexer classes, to which terminals may claim membership and thus be considered in any lexical precedence relations specified using the lexer class name. Examples of this can be found in the Terminals.sv file in the tutorial grammar simple:terminals, a few of which are copied below:

lexer class keywords ;

terminal If_t    'if'   lexer classes { keywords } ;
terminal Else_t  'else' lexer classes { keywords } ;
terminal While_t 'while' lexer classes { keywords } ;

terminal Id_t /[a-zA-Z][a-zA-Z0-9_]*/ submits to { keywords } ;

Here, keywords specify that they are members of the keywords class. The identifier terminal indicates that it has lower lexical precedence than keywords as desired.

Terminals declarations with the optional leading ignore keyword are recognized by the scanner but then dropped and not returned to the parser. Below are the specifications of white space and line comments from simple, both of which are recognized by the scanner but not returned to the parser.

ignore terminal WhiteSpace_t /[\t\n\ ]+/ ;     -- white space
ignore terminal LineComment_P /[\/][\/].*/ ;   -- line comments

Next Section: Parsing