Yet Another Useless Language Part 5 — Variables

This is the fifth part of the YAUL series. For your convenience you can find other parts in the table of contents in Part 1 — Introduction

Hi! Today we are going to add variables support to our language.


In previous parts we saw implementation of variable type for storing values and performing operations. We also saw the grammar for YAUL which allows us to declare variables, create arrays, and perform operations on values. We do not need to declare variables explicitly, however, we need to assign them any value before they are used in subsequent operations.

Before we dig into C# code, let’s see the Python code for parsing operations.


First, we start with defining lexems.


Before we do anything in our language, let’s define symbols, operator precedence, and compound operators:

First, we define all allowed characters in our source code. Any other character will be ignored silently. Next, we define operators’ precedence. We will use it when it comes to operations on variables.

Next, let’s define keywords and operators:

First, we define a list of keywords. You can see that we have keyword for all common constructions, we also have custom keyword for printing variables. We also define how to match operators consisting of two characters.

Let’s also ignore comments in the source code:

We should also handle line numbers and errors in order to present better error descriptions:


We have only two primitives in our language: numbers (integers) and strings. So let’s handle them with PLY:

String is basically anything delimited with double quotation marks. Notice that we have non-greedy match in order to not catch too many characters. Numbers are just bunch of digits, nothing more. We do not handle real numbers.

OK, we can handle literals.


Let’s now handle identifiers for variables:

Identifier is anything starting with letter or underscore, followed by any number of letters, digits, and underscores. We parse the lexem and store its type.

OK, we are able to match literals and identifiers. Let’s write code to store value in the variable:

Here we match expressions in form variable = literal. We can match any expression as right side of assignment, and store data in Assignment object to utilize it later. Expression is allowed to have the following form:

First, we handle operators like addition or multiplication. We parse them and store as BinaryOperation which we will examine in next parts of this series. We can also handle different things as expressions: function calls, literals, other variables, array elements, array definitions, and empty arrays. We will cover most of them in next parts. For now let’s focus on few of them.

First, literals. We assume that literal is string or number:

Since we will handle types in C# code, we do not need to handle them explicitly, we just store the value.

Next, let’s handle assigning one variable to another:

We treat variable as VariableDereference. In the C# counterpart we will need to check whether the variable is already defined. If it is so — we can perform assignment.


When it comes to arrays, we can create empty array with specified size:

We create new array and initialize its elements to zeros. We can also define array as list of expressions:

We match two brackets and extract all values separated with commas. We can also extract element from array:

And we can assign value to array’s element:

That’s it when it comes to PLY code. Most of it is rather straightforward, we simply extract tokens from source code and store them in custom classes in order to handle them later. Nothing fancy here.


Now it is time to write C# code to handle values.

Basic variables assignment

Let’s start with assigning variables:

As we saw in previous part, we store all variables in visitor object. First, we try to find variable by name — if there is no such a variable, we simply create it in lines 16-19. Please also notice Expression.Variable in line 18 — this is the code which creates actual variable using lambdas. This lambda will be translated into ordinary variable definition of type SimpleObject with specified name, so this will be something like: SimpleObject name;.

Next, in line 24 we assign value to variable. We pass our visitor to ValueExpression, so the value will be calculated in runtime (if it is needed).

Assignment defines no labels, so FindLables simply does nothing. Please remember, that we use labels to perform gotos, we will handle them in next parts.

To sump up: this C# code creates new variable if it needed and assigns value to it. Variable is created in two places: one place is our local list of variables, so we can track them and handle them correctly, second place is lambda. The latter place is the place where all magic happens and the variable is actually created. Assignment is handled in only one place and is performed in runtime — whether it is translated to assigning constant or function call is up to ValueExpression.Accept result.

Please also notice, that we do not have scopes. All variables are stored in one collection, we do not verify whether these variables are properly scoped. We could do it here, but let’s not bother with it for now.

OK, let’s move on. We can assign constants to variables, so let’s see the C# code:

No magic here — since we have parsed value from PLY, we can simply create a lambda representing constant (line 11) with correct type (determined at runtime by examining the value, it is not done by the parser, however, it could be). Next, we return a lambda representing call to static function of YaulCompiler which simply creates new object with value and returns it. We could replace this lambda will direct call to SimpleObject constructor, however, using helper function is better, since we have exactly one place of variables creation.

Let’s now see how we can assign one variable to another. In order to do that, we need to dereference existing variable. Here is the code:

First, we traverse list of variables and try to find variable matching by name. If we found one, we return it — in other case we throw an exception describing the problem.

So now we are able to assign literal to variable and variable to variable. Let’s handle some more sophisticated scenarios.


Let’s start with empty array:

We created an actual array of values in Python code, so now we only need to create a constant representing the object. Please notice, that Expression.Constant means a predefined value, not a constant like const int. We don’t care whether this array is with predefined size or created from expression list — we have all the values provided by PLY and we can create the array.

When it comes to accessing array elements, we have the following code:

In line 13 we extract the index of element. Since the index might be a value calculated in runtime, we simply transform it to lambdas and call helper method from SimpleObject (line 14). Please also notice that we don’t check whether we have variable defined or not — in the latter situation we will throw an exception. Here you can see why it is a good idea to have custom exception types — getting NullReferenceException explains much less than custom type.

Let’s now see the code for changing array’s element:

First, we look for variable. If we can’t find it — we throw. Next, we call helper method SetElement and pass all required arguments — array variable, array index, and value for element.


There is one more thing which we can cover today — binary operations. In PLY we defined a function for parsing binary operations like addition, here is C# code for performing actual calculations:

A bit more code than in other snippets, however, there is nothing fancy here. We simply try to match operator and create correct lambda for performing the operation. You can also notice, that we handle much more operators than in PLY (namely, comparison operators) — we will explain them in next parts.


We are now able to assign values to variables. In next part we are going to examine if construct.