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Understanding and Writing Compilers: A Do It Yourself Guide (Macmillan Computer Science Series)

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In the past compiler writers and designers seemed to form an elite group within computing science, set apart by their esoteric knowledge and their ability to produce large, important system programs which really worked. The admiration of the computing public, whether it was once deserved or not, is no longer merited now that the principles of programming-language implementation are so well understood. Compiler-writing is no longer a mystery.

This book attempts to explain and demystify the principles of compiler writing so that you can go out and build a working compiler of your own. There is enough detail in this book for you to build a compiler for quite a complicated language { certainly PASCAL, perhaps ALGOL 68 or SIMULA 67 { but it doesn't attempt an encyclopaedic coverage of the eld. It is intended more as an introduction to compiler-writing and a do-it-yourself kit for the compiler-writer, giving enough detail for you to understand the principles of the subject, than as a survey of past history or present horizons. The principles of interpretation are close enough to those of compilation for chapter 19 to give a simple introduction to interpreter writing.

The method of treatment and the relative amount of attention given to various topics in this book re ects my own views about the relative importance of those topics. There is a separate section on run-time support, less attention is paid than is perhaps usual to the topic of parsing or syntax analysis and the discussion of translation is totally oriented to tree-walking. I have presented the subject in this way for both practical and educational reasons. First, the object code instruction sequences which implement run-time support are more important in practice than is usually recognised. It is di erences in run-time mechanisms, as much as or more than anything else, which distinguish one language from another { say SIMULA 67 from ALGOL 68, POP-2 from ALGOL 60 { and the efficiency of run-time support code fragments is crucial to the efficiency of the object program. Second, I believe it is more important to give a practical description of syntax analysis in a book which is intended for the practical compiler-writer than to give a more formal and complete introduction to the topic. The syntax analysis mechanisms chosen for illustration in section IV] are selected for their practical relevance. Of the three mechanisms presented, the `one-track' and `operator-precedence' mechanisms are now rather old-fashioned but are still quite adequate to the task of parsing popular modern languages.
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