Finding Counterexamples from Parsing Conflicts
May 2015, Portland, Oregon, USA
Writing a parser remains remarkably painful. Automatic parser generators offer a powerful and systematic way to parse complex grammars, but debugging conflicts in grammars can be time-consuming even for experienced language designers. Better tools for diagnosing parsing conflicts will alleviate this difficulty. This paper proposes a practical algorithm that generates compact, helpful counterexamples for LALR grammars. For each parsing conflict in a grammar, a counterexample demonstrating the conflict is constructed. When the grammar in question is ambiguous, the algorithm usually generates a compact counterexample illustrating the ambiguity. This algorithm has been implemented as an extension to the CUP parser generator. We apply this implementation to a diverse collection of faulty grammars; the results show that the algorithm is practical, effective, and suitable for inclusion in other LALR parser generators.