Comparing Bottom-Up with Top-Down Parsing Architectures for the Syntax Definition Formalism from a Disambiguation Standpoint

Author Jurgen J. Vinju

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Jurgen J. Vinju
  • NWO-I Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI), Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • TU Eindhoven, The Netherlands


This essay would not have been possible without the past teamwork with Eelco Visser, Paul Klint, Jan Heering, Jeroen Scheerder, Mark van den Brand, Chris Verhoef, Alex Sellink, Pieter Olivier, Hayco de Jong, Georgios (Rob) Economopoulos, Martin Bravenboer, Tijs van der Storm, Joost Visser, Merijn de Jonge, Jørgen Iversen, Arnold Lankamp, Ali Afroozeh, Anastasia Izmaylova, Bas Basten, Martin Bravenboer, Adrian Johnstone and Elizabeth Scott on the topic of context-free general parsing and disambiguation and supporting technologies. However, any error or inconsistency in the following is all mine.

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Jurgen J. Vinju. Comparing Bottom-Up with Top-Down Parsing Architectures for the Syntax Definition Formalism from a Disambiguation Standpoint. In Eelco Visser Commemorative Symposium (EVCS 2023). Open Access Series in Informatics (OASIcs), Volume 109, pp. 31:1-31:16, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2023)


Context-free general parsing and disambiguation algorithms are threaded throughout the research and engineering career of Eelco Visser. Both our Ph.D. theses featured the study of "disambiguation." Disambiguation is the declarative definition of choices among different parse trees, derived using the same context-free grammar, for the same input sentence. This essay highlights the differences between syntactic disambiguation for context-free general parsing in a top-down architecture and a bottom-up architecture. The differences between top-down and bottom-up are mainly observed as practical aspects of the software architecture and software implementation. Eventually, the concept of data-dependent context-free grammar brings all engineering perspectives of disambiguation back into a conceptual (declarative) framework independent of the parsing architecture. The novelty in this essay is the juxtaposition of three general parsing architectures from a disambiguation point of view: SGLR, SGLL, and DDGLL. It also motivates design decisions in the parsing architectures for SDF{1,2} and Rascal with previously unpublished detail. The essay falls short of a literature review and a tool evaluation since it does not investigate the disambiguation methods of the many other parser generator tools that exist. The fact that only the implementation algorithms are different between the compared parsing architectures, while the syntax definition formalisms have practically the same formal semantics for historical reasons, nicely "isolates the variable" of interest. We hope this essay lives up to the enormous enthusiasm, curiosity, and drive for perfection in syntax definition and parsing that Eelco always radiated. We dearly miss him.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Software and its engineering → Syntax
  • parser generation
  • context-free grammars
  • GLR
  • GLL
  • algorithms
  • disambiguation


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