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3.4.8.1 Using Midrule Actions

A midrule action may refer to the components preceding it using $n, but it may not refer to subsequent components because it is run before they are parsed.

The midrule action itself counts as one of the components of the rule. This makes a difference when there is another action later in the same rule (and usually there is another at the end): you have to count the actions along with the symbols when working out which number n to use in $n.

The midrule action can also have a semantic value. The action can set its value with an assignment to $$, and actions later in the rule can refer to the value using $n. Since there is no symbol to name the action, there is no way to declare a data type for the value in advance, so you must use the ‘$<…>n’ construct to specify a data type each time you refer to this value.

There is no way to set the value of the entire rule with a midrule action, because assignments to $$ do not have that effect. The only way to set the value for the entire rule is with an ordinary action at the end of the rule.

Here is an example from a hypothetical compiler, handling a let statement that looks like ‘let (variable) statement’ and serves to create a variable named variable temporarily for the duration of statement. To parse this construct, we must put variable into the symbol table while statement is parsed, then remove it afterward. Here is how it is done:

stmt:
  "let" '(' var ')'
    {
      $<context>$ = push_context ();
      declare_variable ($3);
    }
  stmt
    {
      $$ = $6;
      pop_context ($<context>5);
    }

As soon as ‘let (variable)’ has been recognized, the first action is run. It saves a copy of the current semantic context (the list of accessible variables) as its semantic value, using alternative context in the data-type union. Then it calls declare_variable to add the new variable to that list. Once the first action is finished, the embedded statement stmt can be parsed.

Note that the midrule action is component number 5, so the ‘stmt’ is component number 6. Named references can be used to improve the readability and maintainability (see section Named References):

stmt:
  "let" '(' var ')'
    {
      $<context>let = push_context ();
      declare_variable ($3);
    }[let]
  stmt
    {
      $$ = $6;
      pop_context ($<context>let);
    }

After the embedded statement is parsed, its semantic value becomes the value of the entire let-statement. Then the semantic value from the earlier action is used to restore the prior list of variables. This removes the temporary let-variable from the list so that it won’t appear to exist while the rest of the program is parsed.

Because the types of the semantic values of midrule actions are unknown to Bison, type-based features (e.g., ‘%printer’, ‘%destructor’) do not work, which could result in memory leaks. They also forbid the use of the variant implementation of the api.value.type in C++ (see section C++ Variants).

See section Typed Midrule Actions, for one way to address this issue, and Midrule Action Translation, for another: turning mid-action actions into regular actions.


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