Posts Tagged ‘preprocessing’

A change of guard in the C standard’s world?

March 17th, 2011 2 comments

I have just gotten back from the latest ISO C meeting (known as WG14 in the language standard’s world) which finished a whole day ahead of schedule; always a good sign that things are under control. Many of the 18 people present in London were also present when the group last met in London four years ago and if memory serves this same subset of people were also attending meetings 20 years ago when I traveled around the world as UK head of delegation (these days my enthusiasm to attend does not extend to leaving the country).

The current convenor, John Benito, is stepping down after 15 years and I suspect that many other active members will be stepping back from involvement once the current work on revising C99 is published as the new C Standard (hopefully early next year meaning it will probably be known as C12).

From the very beginning the active UK participants in WG14 have held one important point of view that has consistently been at odds with a view held by the majority of US participants; we in the UK have believed that it should be possible to deduce the requirements contained in the C Standard without reference to any deliberations of WG14, while many US participants have actively argued against what they see as over specification. I think one of the problems with trying to change US minds has been that the opinion leaders have been involved for so long and know the issues so well they cannot see how anybody could possible interpret wording in the standard in anything other than the ‘obvious’ way.

An example of the desire to not over specify is provided by a defect report I submitted 18 years ago, in particular question 19; what does:

#define f(a) a*g
#define g(a) f(a)

expand to? There are two possibilities and WG14 came to the conclusion that both were valid macro expansions, making the behavior unspecified. However, when it came to a vote the consensus came down on the side of saying nothing about this case in the normative body of the standard, the only visible evidence for this behavior being a bulleted item added to the annex containing the list of unspecified behaviors.

A new member of WG14 (he has only been involved for a few years) spotted this bulleted item that had no corresponding text in the main body of the standard, tracked down the defect report that generated it and submitted a new defect report asking for wording to be added. At the meeting today the straw poll of those present was in favor of adding an appropriate example to C12 {I will link to the appropriate paper once it appears on the public WG14 site}. A minor victory on the road to a full and complete specification.

It will be interesting to see what impact a standing down of the old guard, after the publication of C12, has C2X (the revision of C that is likely to be published around 10 years from now).

For those of you still scratching their head, the two possibilities are:




Semantic pattern matching (Coccinelle)

January 8th, 2009 No comments

I have just discovered Coccinelle a tool that claims to fill a remarkable narrow niche (providing semantic patch functionality; I have no idea how the name is pronounced) but appears to have a lot of other uses. The functionality required of a semantic patch is the ability to write source code patterns and a set of transformation rules that convert the input source into the desired output. What is so interesting about Coccinelle is its pattern matching ability and the ability to output what appears to be unpreprocessed source (it has to be told the usual compile time stuff about include directory paths and macros defined via the command line; it would be unfair of me to complain that it needs to build a symbol table).

Creating a pattern requires defining identifiers to have various properties (eg, an expression in the following example) followed by various snippets of code that specify the pattern to match (in the following <… …> represents a bracketed (in the C compound statement sense) don’t care sequence of code and the lines starting with +/- have the usual patch meaning (ie, add/delete line)). The tool builds an abstract syntax tree so urb is treated as a complete expression that needs to be mapped over to the added line).

expression lock, flags;
expression urb;
  spin_lock_irqsave(lock, flags);
- usb_submit_urb(urb)
+ usb_submit_urb(urb, GFP_ATOMIC)
  spin_unlock_irqrestore(lock, flags);

Coccinelle comes with a bunch of predefined equivalence relations (they are called isomophisms) so that constructs such as if (x), if (x != NULL) and if (NULL != x) are known to be equivalent, which reduces the combinatorial explosion that often occurs when writing patterns that can handle real-world code.

It is written in OCaml (I guess there had to be some fly in the ointment) and so presumably borrows a lot from CIL, perhaps in this case a version number of 0.1.3 is not as bad as it might sound.

My main interest is in counting occurrences of various kinds of patterns in source code. A short-term hack is to map the sought-for pattern to some unique character sequence and pipe the output through grep and wc. There does not seem to be any option to output a count of the matched patterns … yet :-)

Parsing without a symbol table

December 19th, 2008 No comments

When processing C/C++ source for the first time through a compiler or static analysis tool there are invariably errors caused by missing header files (often because the search path has not been set) or incorrectly defined, or not defined, macro names. One solution to this configuration problem is to be able to process source without handling preprocessing directives (e.g., skipping them, such as not reading the contents of header files or working out which arm of a conditional directive is applicable). Developers can do it, why not machines?

A few years ago GLR support was added to Bison, enabling it to process ambiguous grammars, and I decided to create a C parser that simply skipped all preprocessing directives. I knew that at least one reasonably common usage would generate a syntax error:


and wanted to minimize its consequences (i.e., cascading syntax errors to the end of the file). The solution chosen was to parse the source a single statement or declaration at a time, so any syntax error would be localized to a single statement or declaration.

Systems for parsing ambiguous grammars work on the basis that while the input may be locally ambiguous, once enough tokens have been seen the number of possible parses will be reduced to one. In C (and even more so in C++) there are some situations where it is impossible to resolve which of several possible parses apply without declaration information on one or more of the identifiers involved (a traditional parser would maintain a symbol table where this information could be obtained when needed). For instance, x * y; could be a declaration of the identifier y to have type x or an expression statement that multiplies x and y. My parser did not have a symbol table and even if it did the lack of header file processing meant that its contents would only contain a partial set of the declared identifiers. The ambiguity resolution strategy I adopted was to pick the most likely case, which in the example is the declaration parse.

Other constructs where the common case (chosen by me and I have yet to get around to actually verifying via measurement) was used to resolve an ambiguity deadlock included:

f(p);      // Very common, 
            // confidently picked function call as the common case
(m)*p;   // Not rare,
            // confidently picked multiplication as the common case
(s) - t;      // Quiet rare,
               // picked binary operator as the common case
(r) + (s) - t; // Very rare,
                  //an iteration on the case above

At the moment I am using the parser to measure language usage, so less than 100% correctness can be tolerated. Some of the constructs that cause a syntax error to be generated every few hundred statement/declarations include:

offsetof(struct tag, field_name)  // Declarators cannot be 
                                            //function arguments
int f(p, q)
int p;     // Tries to reduce this as a declaration without handling
char q;   // it as part of an old style function definition
MACRO(+); // Preprocessing expands to something meaningful

Some of these can be handled by extensions to the grammar, while others could be handled by an error recovery mechanism that recognized likely macro usage and inserted something appropriate (e.g., a dummy expression in the MACRO(x) case).