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Posts Tagged ‘context information’

Using local context to disambiguate source

February 12th, 2009 No comments

Developers can often do a remarkably good job of figuring out what a snippet of code does without seeing (i.e., knowing anything about) most of the declarations of the identifiers involved. In a previous post I discussed how frequency of occurrence information could be used to help parse C without using a symbol table. Other information that could be used is the context in which particular identifiers occur. For instance, in:

f(x);
y = (f)z;

while the code f(x); is probably a function call, the use of f as the type in a cast means that f(x) is actually a definition an object x having type f.

A project investigating the analysis of partial Java programs uses this context information as its sole means of disambiguating Java source (while they do build a symbol table they do not analyze the source of any packages that might be imported). Compared to C Java parsers have it easy, but Java’s richer type system means that semantic analysis can be much more complicated.

On a set of benchmarks the researchers obtained a very reasonable 91.2% accuracy in deducing the type of identifiers.

There are other kinds of information that developers probably use to disambiguate source: the operation that the code is intended to perform and the identifier names. Figuring out the ‘high level’ operation that code performs is a very difficult problem, but the names of Java identifiers have been used to predict object lifetime and appear to be used to help deduce operator precedence. Parsing source by just looking at the identifiers (i.e., treating all punctuators and operators as whitespace) has been on my list of interesting project to do for some time, but projects that are likely to provide a more immediate interesting result keep getting in the way.