Formalisms and tools supporting Constructive Action Semantics

Jørgen Iversen

May 2005


This dissertation deals with the problem of writing formal semantic descriptions of programming languages, that can easily be extended and partly reused in other descriptions. Constructive Action Semantics is a new version of the original Action Semantics framework that solves the problem by requiring that a description consists of independent modules describing single language constructs. We present a formalism and various tools for writing and using constructive action semantic descriptions of programming languages.

In part I we present formalisms for describing programming languages. The Action Semantics framework was developed by Mosses and Watt and is a framework for describing the semantics of real programming languages. The ASF+SDF formalism can among other things be used to describe the concrete syntax of a programming language and a mapping to abstract syntax, as we illustrate in a description of a subset of the Standard ML language. We also introduce a novel formalism, ASDF, for writing action semantic descriptions of single language constructs.

Part II of the dissertation is about tools that supports writing constructive action semantic descriptions and generating compilers from them. The Action Environment is an interactive development environment for writing action semantic descriptions using ASF+SDF and ASDF. A type checker available in the environment can be used to check the semantic functions in the ASDF modules. Actions can be evaluated using an action interpreter we have developed, and this is useful when prototyping a language description. Finally we present an action compiler that can be used in compiler generation. The action compiler consists of a type inference algorithm and a code generator

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