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Writing a compiler

A compiler plugin must either implement Compiler interface, or extend more bloat-free AbstractCompiler class. Common practice is to utilize ANTLR parser generator, which has a direct runtime support in emuStudio.

As every plug-in root class, compiler class must use annotation PluginRoot.

Sample implementation of a compiler might look as follows (just some methods are implemented):

        type = PLUGIN_TYPE.COMPILER,
        title = "Sample compiler"
public class CompilerImpl extends AbstractCompiler {
    private final static Logger LOGGER = LoggerFactory.getLogger(CompilerImpl.class);
    private final static List<SourceFileExtension> SOURCE_FILE_EXTENSIONS = List.of(
            new SourceFileExtension("asm", "Assembler source file")

    private MemoryContext<Byte> memory;

    public CompilerImpl(long pluginID, ApplicationApi applicationApi, PluginSettings settings) {
        super(pluginID, applicationApi, settings);

    public void initialize() throws PluginInitializationException {
        Optional.ofNullable(applicationApi.getContextPool()).ifPresent(pool -> {
            try {
                memory = pool.getMemoryContext(pluginID, MemoryContext.class);
                if (memory.getDataType() != Byte.class) {
                    throw new InvalidContextException(
                            "Unexpected memory cell type. Expected Byte but was: " + memory.getDataType()
            } catch (InvalidContextException | ContextNotFoundException e) {
                LOGGER.warn("Memory is not available", e);

    public boolean compile(String inputFileName, String outputFileName) {
        notifyInfo(getTitle() + ", version " + getVersion());

        try (Reader reader = new FileReader(inputFileName)) {
            SampleLexer lexer = createLexer(CharStreams.fromReader(reader));
            lexer.addErrorListener(new ParserErrorListener());
            CommonTokenStream tokens = new CommonTokenStream(lexer);

            SampleParser parser = createParser(tokens);
            parser.addErrorListener(new ParserErrorListener());

            Program program = new Program(); // TODO: Create your AST
            new CreateProgramVisitor(program).visit(parser.rStart()); // TODO: Create AST creator visitor

            IntelHEX hex = new IntelHEX();
            NodeVisitor[] visitors = new NodeVisitor[]{
                    // TODO: create your semantic analysis and code generating visitors

            for (NodeVisitor visitor : visitors) {

            if (program.env().hasNoErrors()) {
                int programLocation = hex.findProgramLocation();

                        "Compile was successful.\n\tOutput: %s\n\tProgram starts at 0x%s",
                        outputFileName, RadixUtils.formatWordHexString(programLocation)

                if (memory != null) {
                    hex.loadIntoMemory(memory, b -> b);
                    notifyInfo("Compiled file was loaded into memory.");
                } else {
                    notifyWarning("Memory is not available.");
                return true;
            } else {
                for (CompileError error : program.env().getErrors()) {
                    notifyError(error.line, error.column, error.msg);
                return false;
        } catch (CompileException e) {
            notifyError(e.line, e.column, e.getMessage());
            return false;
        } catch (IOException e) {
            notifyError("Compilation error: " + e);
            return false;
        } finally {

    public boolean compile(String inputFileName) {
        String outputFileName = stripKnownExtension(inputFileName, SOURCE_FILE_EXTENSIONS) + ".hex";
        return compile(inputFileName, outputFileName);

    public LexicalAnalyzer createLexer() {
        return new LexicalAnalyzerImpl(createLexer(null));

    public List<FileExtension> getSourceFileExtensions() {

    public String getVersion() {
        return "1.0.0";

    public String getCopyright() {
        return "(c) Copyright 2006-2023, you";

    public String getDescription() {
        return "Sample compiler";

    private SampleLexer createLexer(CharStream input) {
        return null; // TODO: create your lexer

    private SampleParser createParser(TokenStream tokenStream) {
        return null; // TODO: create your parser

Main outcomes are:

  • this sample compiler uses ANTLR parser generator for generating parser and lexer - they must be written manually
  • it optionally loads program output into memory
  • it generates output file in Intel HEX format
  • AST (abstract syntax tree) in form of classes must be written manually
  • All semantic-analysis visitors must be written manually, including code generation (this is probably the hardest compiler work)

The compiler does not register any plugin context, but when initialized, it obtains optional memory context (in this example, memory must have cells of Byte type). If the memory is available, after compilation the program will be loaded in the memory.

Lexer and parser are not shown here, but they are created using mentioned ANTLR parser generator. Please check out this nice ANTLR tutorial.

The compiler utilizes a helper class IntelHEX from emuLib for generating output files.

Abstract syntax tree is the most important part of the compiler. In general, the flow of transforming the source code into output is going through AST. In the beginning, AST is isomorphic to the parse tree. Then some transformations are applied - like expression evaluation, include files expansion, by-value identifiers replacements, intermediate code generation with relative addresses, macro expansion, preprocessor code evaluation, absolute address assignment and final transformation into binary code or whatever the compiler produces. So in time, AST changes, nodes are moved, replaced by others, or removed. At the final stage, AST represents program output.

Transformations of AST is best done using visitors (see Visitor pattern). A visitor is accepting some or all node types from the AST and performs changes to the nodes, or the whole AST. It’s a detached, isolated functionality operating on AST, which can be separately tested.

For more information, see the code of some existing compilers.

Lexical analyzer

emuStudio application uses standardized token types in order to support syntax highlighting in general, for any compiler kind. It is thus required to provide a lexer which returns emuStudio-like token types:

public interface LexicalAnalyzer extends Iterable<Token> {
    Token next();

    boolean hasNext();

    void reset(String input);
    void reset(InputStream is) throws IOException;

The implementation is usually manual, tokens generated by ANTLR are converted into the standardized variants, e.g.:

public class LexicalAnalyzerImpl implements LexicalAnalyzer {
    public static final int[] tokenMap = new int[SampleLexer.EOL + 1]; // EOL has the highest number in this case

    static { // TODO: not complete
        tokenMap[COMMENT] = Token.COMMENT;
        tokenMap[EOL] = Token.WHITESPACE;
        tokenMap[WS] = Token.WHITESPACE;
        tokenMap[OPCODE_ADC] = Token.RESERVED;
        tokenMap[OPCODE_AND] = Token.RESERVED;
        tokenMap[OPCODE_ADD] = Token.RESERVED;
        tokenMap[PREP_ORG] = Token.PREPROCESSOR;
        tokenMap[PREP_EQU] = Token.PREPROCESSOR;
        tokenMap[PREP_VAR] = Token.PREPROCESSOR;
        tokenMap[REG_A] = Token.REGISTER;
        tokenMap[REG_B] = Token.REGISTER;
        tokenMap[REG_C] = Token.REGISTER;
        tokenMap[SEP_LPAR] = Token.SEPARATOR;
        tokenMap[SEP_RPAR] = Token.SEPARATOR;
        tokenMap[SEP_COMMA] = Token.SEPARATOR;
        tokenMap[OP_ADD] = Token.OPERATOR;
        tokenMap[OP_SUBTRACT] = Token.OPERATOR;
        tokenMap[OP_MULTIPLY] = Token.OPERATOR;
        tokenMap[OP_DIVIDE] = Token.OPERATOR;
        tokenMap[LIT_NUMBER] = Token.LITERAL;
        tokenMap[LIT_HEXNUMBER] = Token.LITERAL;
        tokenMap[LIT_OCTNUMBER] = Token.LITERAL;
        tokenMap[LIT_STRING] = Token.LITERAL;

        tokenMap[ID_IDENTIFIER] = Token.IDENTIFIER;
        tokenMap[ID_LABEL] = Token.IDENTIFIER;

        tokenMap[ERROR] = Token.ERROR;

    private final SampleLexer lexer;
    public LexicalAnalyzerImpl(SampleLexer lexer) {
        this.lexer = Objects.requireNonNull(lexer);

    public Token next() {
        org.antlr.v4.runtime.Token token = lexer.nextToken();
        return new Token() {
            public int getType() {
                return convertLexerTokenType(token.getType());

            public int getOffset() {
                return token.getStartIndex();

            public String getText() {
                return token.getText();

    public boolean hasNext() {
        return !lexer._hitEOF;

    public void reset(InputStream inputStream) throws IOException {

    public void reset(String source) {

    private int convertLexerTokenType(int tokenType) {
        if (tokenType == EOF) {
            return Token.EOF;
        return tokenMap[tokenType];